• Absence of a live audience doesn’t diminish the connection between hosts, listeners
In a recent conversation with my eldest daughter, the topic of our professions arose. She expressed her love for my career in teaching, but showed a strong preference for her own path in the field of beauty. As a poet, I understand the profound significance of aesthetics, which can be expressed in various forms across our lives and lifestyles.
My daughter has always had an affinity for the topics I delve into each semester. She is particularly drawn to stories and has been addicted to them since her childhood. Recently, I informed her about our upcoming semester on oral literature and folklore, and she lamented that the art of storytelling might disappear due to rural-urban migration and generational attrition as elders from her septuagenarian grandparent’s era fade away. However, I hold a different perspective.
In my view, modernity and urban spaces do not pose a danger to the tradition of storytelling. Rather, they are landscapes to which the art of storytelling has adapted remarkably. Consider this: in our bustling towns, where traffic jams are a daily challenge, a remarkable cultural revival is taking place through the airwaves.
Early morning radio talk shows have emerged as a captivating fusion of entertainment, information and oral storytelling. They are rekindling the art of orality as a vibrant heritage in contemporary African communities. In Kenya, these shows are not just thriving; they are flourishing.
One noteworthy example is the Classic 105 FM morning show, hosted by the celebrity co-presenters Maina Kageni and Daniel Ndambuki, also known as King’ang’i. This dynamic duo has captured the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of listeners who eagerly tune in every morning for their dose of engaging discussions. Similarly, the Kiss FM Breakfast Show ranks high in popularity, providing a fascinating blend of entertainment and information to a broad audience.
In the vibrant Swahili broadcasting scene, Gidi and Ghost take the reins on Radio Jambo during the weekdays. Their show draws a significant following and adds a Swahili flavour to the radio talk show landscape. The vernacular languages are doing well in the hands of the likes of Dumenico Githingithia.
What makes these talk shows particularly enthralling is their connection to age-old storytelling traditions. Think of the hosts as modern-day raconteurs, the orators of living history who capture our daily topical experiences through spoken word.
Several key elements of traditional storytelling are embedded in these shows. They depend on the spoken word, which mirrors how our stories were traditionally passed down through generations. These shows follow a narrative structure with a clear beginning, middle and end, just like classic tales. The dynamic conversations between hosts echo the communal nature of traditional storytelling, inviting the audience to participate actively in the discussion.
While traditional storytelling relied on live, in-person audiences, radio talk shows adapt to a modern, broadcasted audience. The absence of a live audience doesn’t diminish the emotional connection between hosts and listeners. In fact, it strengthens the bond, as these hosts become the voices that accompany their listeners on their daily journeys.
An intriguing feature of these talk shows is the interactive call-in segment, where the audience becomes directly involved, sharing their opinions and stories. It’s an opportunity for listeners to become active participants in the storytelling process, akin to how the traditional audience interjected with questions and comments.
The hosts act as facilitators, weaving these diverse contributions into the ongoing narrative. It’s a cooperative experience that allows the audience to shape the story and become part of a collective storytelling effort. The dialogical call-and-response format used in early morning radio talk shows is a unique stylistic technique. Two hosts take opposing positions in a discussion, akin to the spirited debates during traditional storytelling sessions.
This format creates tension and engagement, sparking dialogue among listeners. The lively conversations between hosts, each representing a different viewpoint, mirror the dialogues of storytellers and their audiences in times past. The goal is not just to entertain but to stimulate critical thinking and discussion.
The phenomenal success of early morning radio talk shows in Africa is deeply rooted in postmodernism. Postmodernism challenges conventional boundaries and narratives, and these shows embody that spirit in various ways.
Radio talk shows blend elements of news, entertainment, personal anecdotes and public opinions, mirroring the postmodern tendency to combine diverse narrative styles and genres. Postmodernism celebrates multiple perspectives and truths. The dialogical format and call-in segments promote a multitude of voices and viewpoints. In this postmodern era, we question grand, overarching narratives and emphasise that stories are constructed.
Radio talk shows deconstruct topics and issues, encouraging listeners to critically engage with the stories being told. In Kenya they are sustaining and revitalising our ancient art of storytelling and orality, albeit in a contemporary setting.
They offer a fresh interpretation of traditional fireside gatherings, fostering a sense of community and shared narratives for a diverse audience from the city to the village. With their dialogical formats, interactive call-ins and embrace of dynamic postmodern storytelling elements, these shows remind us of the enduring power of a well-crafted narrative in a rapidly changing world of this century of wonders.