Despite huge advances in new communication technologies and the widening reach of the internet, few mediums have survived the tectonic shifts in current media landscapes the way radio has. Not only has radio remained culturally significant in the developed world, it continues to transform the way information is shared with remote and marginalised communities on the other side of the digital divide.
This is why, on the 13th of February, we celebrate for the first time World Radio Day.
Proclaimed by UNESCO to "raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio," World Radio Day aims to bring to attention the importance of radio as a tool that empowers communities who do not have access to information or other media.
It is estimated there are over 800 million radios in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the internet and social media tools are becoming increasing prevalent in developing countries, radio is still the most widely used medium to disseminate information. The fact that it is low cost, requires little to no electricity and that it is easily shared among families and larger listener groups; means that it remains well suited for community outreach.
Though radio has been traditionally a one-way information provider, it has become increasingly adaptive to new interactive technologies that allow for greater listener participation and community involvement. Farm Radio International is pioneering the use of ICT and new mobile phone platforms to help small scale farmers. In their latest report, The New Age of Radio; How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa, they state:
"Low cost, modern information and communication technologies (ICTs), including mobile phones, multifunction MP3 recorders, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) can dramatically increase the capacity of rural radio to help farmers improve food security in Sub-Saharan Africa."
Farm Radio International have been using IVR with Freedom Fone in a number of radio stations in Tanzania, Ghana and Mali. They number multiple benefits for radios to use voice-based platforms to target farmers via their mobile phones:
- Firstly, it allows radio stations to make audio information available on demand for farmers to access in their own time should they miss a broadcast.
- Secondly, by using voice based services, radios can share unlimited information with listeners that overcome some of the shortcomings of SMS based services - mainly technological, language and illiteracy barriers.
- Thirdly, it increases interaction between radios and their target audiences allowing farmers the chance to have their own voices and comments heard by broadcasters as well as by other listeners.
While the many new social media tools like Twitter or Facebook are dependent on the internet, platforms like Freedom Fone use standard GSM mobile networks to provide information on demand services. This provides a cheap alternative for radios to engage their audiences, encourage greater involvement in programmes and the chance to get community voices on the air.