Performing arts through radio on the rise

It is a beacon of infotainment amid sensational talk shows

In Summary

• Radio theatre acts as a platform for our cultural education for the masses

Illustration of a radio session in Africa
Illustration of a radio session in Africa

Our rich history of radio theatre dates back to the colonial era, when the first radio station was established in 1928 as the East Africa Broadcasting Corporation (EABC).

Initially, radio served as a tool for British colonialists to spread their ideology.

However, over time, it transformed into a powerful medium for engaging the Kenyan public on social, economic and political issues.

Following Independence, radio in the country experienced remarkable growth in popularity and diversity.

Today, more than 120 radio stations cater to audiences across various linguistic and ethnic groups, providing a wealth of information and entertainment.

This expansion has facilitated greater access to diverse perspectives and a broader range of content.

A distinct difference exists between state-owned and private radio stations in Kenya.

State-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) acts as the voice of the government.

The content it broadcasts focuses on law and order, health and education, cultural and shaping political discourse.

In contrast, private stations are commercially driven and cater to various interests, offering content that appeals to different tastes and preferences.

Radio performing arts are theatrical and use a range of creative storytelling methods to enhance their dramatic appeal. Sound effects help create a realistic atmosphere, while dialogue breathes life into stories.

Music serves as a bridge between topics and sets the programme’s tone, while narration guides listeners through each story. These techniques work together to captivate audiences and keep them engaged.

To talk of performing arts using radio is to conceptualise radio theatre as the popular art form in which storytelling is presented through audio alone.

It encompasses a broad range of genres and styles, from traditional plays adapted for radio to original scripts created specifically for audio performance.

Radio theatre relies on sound effects, dialogue, narration and music to convey the story and evoke emotional responses in the listener.

Radio drama is a subset of radio theatre that focuses specifically on scripted, fictional narratives.

These narratives can range from single-episode plays to serials with ongoing story arcs and recurring characters.

Radio drama typically features actors performing dialogue and uses sound effects and music to create a rich auditory experience.

Both radio theatre and radio drama require skilled voice acting and sound design to create immersive and engaging audio experiences for the audience.

Radio theatre can play a crucial role in raising awareness about a variety of social and political issues.

Thought-provoking dramas inspire discussions and encourage listeners to think critically about their world. Additionally, radio offers educational content, health advice and agricultural information, particularly to rural audiences.

The classic radio dramas Tushauriane and Ushikwapo, Shikamana aired on KBC during the 1970s and 1980s and became well-loved household names.

These programmes tackled a variety of social issues, from family dynamics to national politics, engaging audiences with memorable characters and compelling narratives.

On KBC Kiswahili Service, Jee, Huu Ni Ungwana is hosted by Leonard Mambo Mbotela, who delves into the intricacies of social behaviour and etiquette in Kenyan society.

Through skits and discussions, the programme offers thoughtful commentary on societal norms and cultural expectations, making it a staple of Kiswahili-language radio.

Another beloved Kiswahili-language programme is Patanisho on Radio Jambo, hosted by Gidi and Ghost. This show brings together couples going through relationship challenges and seeks to reunite them through drama and dialogue.

The programme resonates with audiences, sparking discussions about relationships and marriage.

Mtunze Punda Akutunze on KBC takes a different approach, focusing on the plight of donkeys in Kenyan agriculture. This radio play educates listeners on effective ways to use donkeys for farm work and shares important agricultural knowledge with the audience, blending drama with practical education.

These samples show how performing arts deployed via radio platforms are powerful tools for advocating social change and raising awareness of important issues.

 Productions in mothertongue radio stations using the performing arts approach can help educate our people at the grassroots level on topics such as gender equality, healthcare, education and environmental conservation, fostering dialogue and promoting solutions.

By engaging listeners in thought-provoking narratives, radio dramas help shape a more equitable and just society.

One of radio drama’s greatest strengths is its ability to reach audiences across Kenya, bridging the gap between urban and rural areas.

Radio remains a primary source of information and entertainment in many remote regions, making it a crucial tool for fostering communication and understanding among different communities.


Despite its success, radio broadcasting in Kenya faces challenges, especially at the level of small private outfits, in upholding professional ethics and avoiding sensationalism or inappropriate content.

The rise of mobile telephony and social media has influenced talk show content, sometimes resulting in sensational or provocative discussions.

However, radio remains a powerful medium among us, particularly in rural areas, where other forms of communication are limited. Digital platforms have made radio programmes more accessible than ever, ensuring that radio theatre continues to inspire, educate and mobilise diverse audiences.

Kenyan radio stations continue to embrace technological advancements, using them to enhance listener experience and broaden their reach. Streaming services and podcasts allow audiences to access their favorite radio dramas at any time, creating new opportunities for engagement.

As radio stations adopt new technologies, I believe that radio-mediated performing arts will continue to grow and evolve. We should, in the spirit of the new curriculum, teach this art.

In recent years, there has been a revival of classic radio dramas in Kenya. These beloved productions are being revisited and reimagined for modern audiences, blending nostalgia with contemporary storytelling. This resurgence offers an opportunity to honour the history of radio theatre, while exploring fresh narratives that resonate with youthful listeners.

The future of radio theatre in our motherland looks bright as it continues to adapt and innovate. By blending traditional storytelling with modern themes and techniques, radio theatre remains relevant in the digital age.

Let us adopt radio theatre arts as a platform for our cultural education for generations to come. Let us integrate it into the Competency-based curriculum.

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