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WORLD RADIO DAY

Radio has come a long way in Kenya

It is now 93 years old.

In Summary
  • There are more than 131 commercial radio stations and 42 community radio stations in Kenya.
  • Radio stations are classified into public broadcasting services, private or commercial broadcasting services, community broadcasting services and signal distribution.
Radio microphone
Radio microphone
Image: Courtesy

Radio is now 93 years old in Kenya and with nearly 200 radio stations, it is one of the media with the widest reach in the country and fastest-growing medium for sharing information.

Through specialised features and documentaries and use of technology, including podcasts, radio has been a critical player in Kenya through the provision of information on health, education, business and politics.

With the growth in the number of community radio stations, local vernacular stations and expansion on national and global platforms, with related growth in listenership at the grassroots, radio is a major player in the country's politics. 

The availability of radio, especially in vernacular language at the local level, has provided development experts and political mobilisers with a unique opportunity for confidence building, correcting misperceptions and prejudices, and educating the masses on the values of diversity and involvement on governance matters.

The radio industry is comprised of a wide range of stations in terms of coverage areas and in the type of audience they target. In Kenya, radio stations are classified into public broadcasting services, private or commercial broadcasting services, community broadcasting services and signal distribution.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya quarterly report December 2018/2019, there are more than 131 commercial radio stations and 42 community radio stations in Kenya.

The industry continues to witness major changes and this is evident when we see consolidation and transformation mainly to strengthen revenue collection and increase market share. For example, whereas more radio frequencies are being allocated, existing stations are facing closure due to untenable market conditions. 

Also, radio stations face unprecedented challenges from digital services and the changing needs of listeners. As such, radio stations should be allowed to decide when and where to produce their programme, which means they can invest heavily to produce high-quality programmes.

Some stations have allowed advertisements to dominate, including during prime time news. A number are operating below returns and fully depend on volunteer staff for operations, which highly compromises the quality of content. However, a number are serious investments with high-quality content, are highly professional and play in the league of international broadcasters.

Because of poor business plans, poor management and reduced revenue streams, there are significant differences within salaries and pay grades across the radio stations, with some journalists getting as high as Sh200,000 monthly pay with others taking home just Sh5,000. The radio industry is expanding rapidly and more organisations are opening new stations or acquiring existing ones.

To promote the growth of radio in Kenya, the CA has significantly simplified the process of registering radio stations. For example, to open a community radio station one requires Sh1,000 registration fee and initial licence fee of Sh5,000, while to set up a public station (non-commercial) one needs Sh2,500 registration fee and an initial fee of Sh5,000.  Rules encourage growth in radio for vulnerable and minority groups as they emphasise the importance of preserving indigenous language and culture.

As we mark World Radio Day today, it’s interesting to acknowledge the tremendous growth witnessed in the radio industry by highlighting a few things. The Media Council of Kenya undertook a study on diversity in radio stations and found that the industry is dominated by private commercial stations that broadcast in vernacular and Kiswahili. Community radios are making a big contribution. 

Major funding for the operation of radio stations comes from advertising, with a few supporting their activities through grants. However, they are serious lapses in observing advertising rules, with many adverts promoting witchcraft and gambling.  Sessions discussing relationships get the highest call-ins.

Some stations have allowed advertisements to dominate, including during prime time news. A number are operating below returns and fully depend on volunteer staff for operations, which highly compromises the quality of content. However, a number are serious investments with high-quality content, are highly professional and play in the league of international broadcasters.

The MCK study concludes that the availability of radio programming in Kenya has been dramatically enhanced by the opening up of the sector, which has opened up more diverse programming options available, especially for audiences in rural areas and small towns with only a few over-the-air signals available. This radio programming diversity does come, in part, from the availability of digital signal and ease of broadcasting registration processes.