In the digital age, fake news is plentiful and it can be challenging for consumers to find reliable sources of information — enter radio.

This has always been the medium that brings information and entertainment to its audience, while maintaining charm and authenticity along the way. 

Recently, listenership was increased by the pandemic as radio serves as a form of socially distanced entertainment and a means to access breaking news for free. Because of this, the medium plays a special role in an African context as it is accessible, informative, cheap to produce, and above all, trusted by its listeners. And Namibian radio is no exception to this.

media update’s Taylor Goodman spoke to Gary Stroebel, CEO of Future Media, to gain a deeper understanding of the Namibian broadcast industry.

What sets the Namibian radio industry apart from radio in other countries?

Regulation of spectrum was fairly laissez-faire during the early years, and this allowed a number of enterprising privateers the opportunity to set up national networks in the late 1990s.

The NBC made satellite spectrum available to FM broadcasters to allow for transmitters to operate anywhere in the country. Thus, there are a high number of private broadcasters with national or near-national footprints, which is pretty unique in Africa.

Also, the level of private ownership is extremely high — there are 12 licensed private operators for only 450 000 people in Windhoek. This is in addition to the 11 NBC services.

Has radio always been a thriving medium in Namibia or has it recently started to pick up?

The lockdown and subsequent confusion has created an opportunity for well-run commercial operators to thrive — a credible and efficient communications platform is held in high regard, whether it be news or general content.

Radio is a dominant medium in Namibia. The rapid decline of print readership, coupled with the geographic challenges of such a widespread population for digital access, has meant that radio has always been an invaluable part of the Namibian landscape.

How has the pandemic and lockdown influenced listenership in Namibia?

There is no official or independent data available with which to compare it. Our experience at Future Media is that the situation pushed radio to the forefront, and then, by default, our brands enjoyed a disproportionate benefit from that due to our extremely reputable Future Media News team. This is a team who worked tirelessly to become one of the most trusted voices during the worst of the lockdown.

Our digital streaming stats have shown growth across all our brands, and our engagement levels (contests, call-ins and social media) have also seen good increases.

What are some of the challenges the Namibian broadcast industry faces?

Namibia has a small economy, with a high number of participants. Running large networks is expensive, and so, technical support remains a challenge. It can also be challenging for advertisers, especially those from South Africa, to make sense of such a cluttered market.

Currently, there is very little data available to guide advertisers; and, private operators receive little to no support from the government, who can sometimes see commercial operators as simply competition to the state broadcaster.

What advice can you give to other stations in Namibia to help them grow their listenership?

Technology has brought us many new tools through which to engage with listeners. You can use them to continue to speak with your audiences throughout their day. This allows you to create content that makes their lives better and helps them to make better decisions.

Most of all, focus on how you can make your listeners feel better. Radio can be your best friend — but we all have friends that complain constantly. Don’t be that radio station.

What content resonates most with Namibian listeners?

Namibians are like other listeners around the world in that they want radio to connect them to things that are important to them — this can be local news, traffic info or talk segments on issues relevant to them. Naturally, this differs from person to person. They also want great music, and the breadth of sounds is what makes radio such a diverse and vibrant medium.

Future Media owns four leading national radio stations – Radiowave (HotAC), Fresh FM (Urban), NOVA 1035 (Classic AC), Omulunga Radio (Vernacular — Oshiwambo). Between the four stations, Future Media speaks to around 50% of adult Namibians.

At the end of it, Namibians are proud of their country, and they love good news stories about locals who have achieved great things, or who are taking Namibia to the world.

Do you enjoy listening to the radio? Why or why not? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to learn more about the radio industry’s upswing? Then check out our article, Radio: A relationship medium for more.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy