Radio, Rwanda and Rolling Cars.

June 22, 2018

Make it and they will come, Tim Zunckel, Lusaka Radio Summit, Zambia, 21 June 2018.

 

 

I like going to new places. Travelling is an education.

 

Experiences on the road teach us about life and they make us interested and interesting. I am lucky that my work in the radio space has allowed me the opportunity to see new places and expand my horizons. Ironically when I was a content maker, presenter and producer, travel wasn’t high on my agenda, work was and I’m poorer for it. The people I was making radio for are also poorer, they gave me their time and in retrospect I often gave them a one-dimensional view.

 

The Lusaka Radio Summit took place in Zambia this week and I was part of a contingent of South African speakers that were invited to share insight into a variety of topics in the radio business. Radio people like to talk, and the radio chatter commenced long before the summit started as speakers started popping up in the departure hall and at passport control.

 

It was great to catch-up with Lance Rothchild who till now has been working on the Liberty Radio Awards and a hectic travel schedule, my programming colleague Siyanda Fikelepi from the SABC who is doing a fair share of travelling himself, RCS software kingpin Robin Prior and old studio colleague from Radio 2000, Claire Mawisa who is now considering buying a Venter trailer. Neil Johnsons name was mentioned so many times he may as well have been there. All my radio friends and colleagues, seasoned travellers

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It was excellent to network and meet people who are passionate about the medium we love. Fellow radio makers, managers and enthusiasts, all of whom are curating, innovating and broadcasting. When we are locked away in our own offices and studios focussing on the daily operational grind we often forget that there is immense value in getting together with our colleagues to talk about what we do. Conferences and summits can at times be loaded with speakers and agenda points that have no relevance or add no value. I believe that if you heard one thing that inspired you, made you think differently about your approach or met someone new it was probably worth it. There are so few opportunities to be in a neutral learning environment take the opportunity to invest and attend.

 

I was recently asked by the New York Radio Festival what the one piece of advice is that I believe in: Invest in Your Own Career. Don’t wait for someone to send you to a conference, pay for it yourself. Don’t wait for the handout, make it happen. Investing in your career is something that benefits you first and your organisation second. I recently had a chat to an ex-colleague who wants to attend the Radio Days Africa Conference, hosted by Wits. It is a project I work on (probably why they called, looking for the radio freebie) but said to me they can’t afford it. At R10 a day for a year, it seems like a small investment if you consider they will do no other training in the year.

 

The Lusaka Radio Summit had until 2018 been on pause for a few years and it was clear from the packed venue that local radio people where keen to engage. It was wonderful to see practitioners that travelled from several parts of the country as well as neighbouring Zimbabwe to participate. We want to connect, we want to share and like our audiences we want to be part of a collective community.

 

When working in large commercial stations or more stable or developed markets it is easy to forget the challenges faced by stations north of our borders. The remarkable thing is, the challenges don’t kill the passion. Radio remains a medium that has an allure and manages to attract dedicated and passionate individuals, this was evident in Lusaka. There is also a certain amount of pride that I haven’t noticed in the South African market, a real sense of brand loyalty by the people working at the various stations. Competitive yes, in Lusaka alone there are seventeen commercial and three community stations, yet I felt like there was a collective mindset of “we’re in this together”.

 

I was reminded of the raw power of radio. The ability of the spoken word delivered in a manner that engages a listener. The example was a stark reminder of the genocide in Rwanda. It is widely accepted that radio played a massive role in mobilising the population to commit acts of genocide. Thousands of deaths are directly attributed to radio who spread the message of “cutting down the tall trees”. The power of radio and the messaging convinced men and women who had never engaged in violence before to literally kill people.

 

Radio is however a strong peace tool too and has been instrumental in rebuilding and bridging the divide in several ravaged and war-torn territories.

 

Change is inevitable and many of the speakers in Lusaka regaled the summit with stories of shutting down campuses, of their Grandmother working as an assembly technician at a radio factory and of the democratisation of the airwaves in Southern Africa. The challenges radio face are real, and it will take smart operators to overcome these, to become more entrenched in the Lusaka market serving two million people.

 

Besides the reminder of the power that radio the one thing that I took away from the Lusaka Radio Summit was, where there’s a microphone there’s a way. As much as people want to be heard they want to listen. Make it and they will come.

 

As a side note – You may be wondering what the “Rolling Cars” in the title of the piece refers to. When next you bump into Lance, Claire, Siya or myself ask, it’s a great story!   

 

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