Kenya may have 84 radio stations with every major ethnic group in this eastern African nation with at least a radio station in its language, but an estimated 58% of the 40 million strong nation does not listen to radio despite the fact that almost any one can afford a radio set. BETHSHEBA ACHITSA tells you why.
Kenya’s broadcasting sector has been growing ever following the liberalisation of airwaves in the 1990s that opened doors to investment by other stakeholders. From the times when Kenya Broadcasting Corporation was the sole player, the present day broadcasting industry is occupied by 84 stations in radio, Kenya has come along way but surprisingly this growth means little to the contemporary Kenyan citizen as the important roles of radio-educating and informing- have been downplayed by the present day radio presenters.
Every major tribe in Kenya now has a vernacular FM station and some like the Kikuyu and the Luo have two.Â This implies how stakeholders are eager to get information to the nation; however the coming of vernacular stations to the broadcasting scene has had its negative effects. In one of Kenya’s worst political crisis, the vernacular stations were accused of propagating hate messages that played a role in the chaos that almost plunged the country into a civil war following the disputed 2007 elections. This not only signaled how much the African media itself had squandered its credibility as it struggled to find a new role after the heady 1990s but left many wondering what had happened to the present day radio journalism.
Vernacular stations are not the main reason why close to 58% of the country’s population does not listen to radio. Mainstream radio stations appeal only to the hippy generation who are least interested in news and more fascinated by the cranky music played on those stations. Kiss FM, for instance, offers hourly news reports that are entertainment-oriented; the station’s music menu of hip-hop, R’n’B and rap take centre stage. Classic FM on the other hand serves its listeners with the old school music, while capital FM covers all manner of musical genres. The older generation is thus left out in most of these stations as the news bulletin offered does not last longer than a minute or two and does little to enlighten them on serious national issues. We know of some people who are permanently tuned in to BBC radio and other international radio stations for news on what is happening in Kenya; these people will never be caught dead listening to a local FM radio station!
Annoyingly other radio stations like Homeboyz and Ghetto Radio which claim to be representing the low class population hire less elite sounding presenters who speak in the slang language of Sheng or are hugely affected by their vernacular accents.
So, why despite the liberalisation of the airwaves is radio presenting headed for the dust bin?
Recycling of yesterday’s presenters seems to be among the key issues. Some of the presenters in many of the radio stations have been there for a while yet managers do not see anything wrong with this. Cess Mutungi, for instance, was once quoted to have said that she was not interested with radio anymore after she had been shown the door. The presenter who has worked on most radio stations in Kenya is however back at Capital FM presenting the Jam show. Italia Masiero has also made a come back at capital FM after a long break. And even after ditching Capital FM to allegedly start his own business, Fareed Khimani was quickly recruited in the new XFM 105.5.
This monotony of same voices leaves no room for new talent, the old faces seem to fall short of ideas which have resulted in most stations lacking unique identity and often preferring to ape foreign stations abroad, hence the existence of same station names, signatures and jingles, programme and news presentation and music formats as in other countries.
Nurturing of fresh talent seems to be the problem not because there are no qualified people in this field but because employers in most stations seem keener to employ people with a particular accent and not necessarily clean CVs. Managers want to employ people who already connect with the audience explaining why for a long time the radio industry has been invaded by musicians ‘wannabe’ actors, actresses, emcees, models and comedians.
This invasion has blighted the radio industry in Kenya as most of the presenters lacked in the broadcasting professionalism and could only indulge the listeners in cheap talk. And although this uptake could not last long, there are few stations that still hire the services of these comedians to drive their early morning or evening shows.
Radio presentation is at its climax but with no stepping blocks in place the future of radio presentation is bleak.
But perhaps this is where established multi-national broadcasters like the British Broadcasting Corporation come in.
The BBC World Service that has set up a scholarship to help build the capacity of presenters on its partner stations, has announced the winners of The Kari Blackburn Bursary. Three young journalists from the BBC’s partner radio stations in Kenya and Uganda will spend two months at the corporation. They will receive training and work alongside BBC teams in London and UK regions.
The three are Michelle Katami Guda of Radio Jambo and Doreen Nambui of KU FM of Kenya and Matthew McMott of Uganda’s Dembe FM. The scholarship commemorates the late BBC journalist, Kari Blackburn, whose journalistic career was dedicated to the coverage of Africa and who nurtured many talents from across the continent.
The Kari Blackburn Bursary, supported by BBC World Service and the BBC World Service Trust, is aimed at young journalists who are currently working as broadcast journalists for the BBC’s partner stations in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Kari worked hard to help establish partnership relations with local FM broadcasters in these countries where BBC World Service now partners three major FM radio networks.
The Kari Blackburn Bursary coordinator, BBC World Service’s Training Manager for Africa and Middle East, Jackie Chambers, says: “It is very fitting that three enthusiastic and ambitious African journalists should be supported by a BBC bursary in Kari’s name. The BBC was made all the better for Kari’s being here, and we will make sure the time Michelle, Matthew and Doreen spend alongside our journalists is a rewarding experience for all involved.”
The bursary programme begins with an introductory BBC training course, followed by placements tailored to the journalists’ own interests. They will have opportunities to spend time with various programme departments and become actively involved in programme-making. Assigned mentors will guide them through their traineeship with the BBC and offer them career guidance.