In late 2020, twelve radio stations, six each in Uganda and Kenya, were selected for a unique learning programme titled Know your Audience – Improve your Radio: Learn.Interpret.Act. Coordinated by CAMECO, the ongoing programme helps community-based radio stations to learn from and about their audiences and gauge the extent to which the audiences are satisfied with the programmes they listen to.
The operation of such a learning platform is fraught with challenges under normal circumstances, and the pandemic has made it significantly more difficult. As for how the journalists working for community-oriented radio stations in Eastern Africa are affected by the pandemic, we have learned that the rising COVID-19 infection rates in their respective countries has curtailed their ability to carry out field reporting. As regards the pandemic’s overall impact on radio journalism, it includes the stations’ failure to broadcast programmes due to various lockdown measures, and reductions in sales and revenue as businesses have been hit hard.
Despite this, however, the stations have seen an increase in demand for airtime with their audiences seeking information on infections in their locality and the ways to prevent them. There has also been demand for information on issues such as domestic violence, the pandemic’s impact on agriculture, home schooling and local e-learning. This increase in airtime demand helps boost the stations’ ratings, enabling them to attract potential advertisements and sponsorships.
Know your Audience – Improve your Radio combines, in a participatory manner, online and offline training elements in the form of easy-to-use and modifiable learning modules with tools and templates, physical on-site visits by mentors allocated to each station, peer-based learning, etc. The programme’s key capacity-building objectives are 1) to help radio managers and producers learn more about their listeners and the effectiveness of their station in achieving its goals; 2) to enable radio managers and producers to determine their share of listenership (measure audience/listener figures) in a competitive media sphere, and 3) to enable each station to start building its own knowledge base on the basis of audience research, which is necessary to attract funding and advertising.
These objectives are achieved by developing and embedding audience research across all areas of the radio stations’ operations, including programming and marketing, to foster timely and appropriate decision-making.
At a time when many radio stations have had to change their schedule and programming in response to the pandemic-related need of their audiences, there are many questions that need to be addressed: Should the new programmes be continued or should the cancelled ones be aired again? Which programmes are still missing? Some stations may have strengthened their relationship with the listeners – how can this be adequately appreciated and leveraged? How can advertisers and sponsors be persuaded to return? The research carried out within the framework of Know your Audience – Improve your Radio can help answer these questions and show a path forward – through the pandemic and beyond.
The project is based on and inspired by previous training measures concerning audience research for Catholic and secular radio stations in Uganda (2014), Malawi (2016) and Tanzania (2018) as well as a working session in Nairobi, Kenya (2017).
All these projects are financially supported by the Dutch foundation Stem van Afrika.
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