Radio Days Jo’burg 2013 – Day 1

By about seven o’clock I was feeling really really tired. I’d spent the day thinking and talking, and foremost in my mind was the idea of going home and hopping in bed. Two things kept me at the opening night activities of the Radio Days Jo’burg Conference. The first, a rather practical one was the busy taking us back to our accommodation wasn’t ready. Second, the fact that I was enjoying watching the night’s entertainment. I’m not sure who was accompanying who. Was it the band accompanying the sand-artists or was it the other way around? Or perhaps, more likely, they were in harmony, adding to each other’s performance. Either way, I found it really interesting and really entertaining.

Thank goodness I had a comfy chair to sit and enjoy the experience, because I’d been up and on my feet from quite early. I’m still experiencing a bit of jet-lag (which is odd for me), and so I woke in the middle of the night, and couldn’t get back to sleep for a while. On top of the jet-lag, I also had a couple of ideas about things I wanted to add to the paper I was due to present later in the afternoon. At about two o’clock this morning, I booted up my lap-top, added a few paragraphs, and subtracted a few others. “The only deadline I have is the actual presentation itself”, I told a colleague from Australia who was also presenting. He is also experiencing quite difficult jet-lag, by the way. There must be something about the length and direction of the flight which makes it hard for Australians, perhaps?

As well as my own “presentation duties” on the conference opening panel, and also talking about pop up radio stations, I was a guest on a local television program about the media, and spent as much time as I could listening to presentations by others. I was interviewed on the “Maggs On Media” program shown on commercial television in here South Africa. Jeremy Maggs (a well known radio and television presenter here) asked me about some of the trends with digital radio in Australia, and also asked what I thought of South African radio. After a couple of days listening it’s hard to generalise, but I told him it was fascinating to hear programs in different languages and I thought there was probably more musical variety than on Australian radio.

I was absolutely fascinated by the twin presentations about the local radio station, Kaya FM. Kaya is a community radio station with a commercial perspective. That is, their purpose is to serve their local community, but in doing so, they need to make money to keep the organisation viable. In the early days of the station, however, they struggled to maintain a balance between the two. Though with good intentions, they were losing money and staff, and it sounds as if they struggled with board tensions as well. Charlene Deacon described in a powerful and yet also humorous way how the station was turned around and has now become the “Station Of The Year” in South Africa. Interestingly, while many radio station rely on different types of personas to articulate their target audience, Charlene said they had one listener in mind, declaring that person in these terms… “She’s 35, she’s single, she’s black and she’s professional”. Charlene also argued that radio station managers need to “be brave” and she talked about the initial resistance to a decision to put the first female black presenter on a Breakfast Show, a decision which paid off in spades despite the earlier concerns of some. “Be brave. Try new things” was a common refrain throughout the day, incidentally.

One of the other strong themes I picked up from today’s conference, both from those in both academia and in the community radio sector is concern about the South African Broadcasting Corporation. One academic from the University of Pretoria, Pippa Green spoke about the role of the SABC in the early days of the new democratic South Africa. The SABC was for many years a very politicised broadcasting operation. Pippa argued the organisation still is very political, even though the lion’s share of funding comes from the private sector. “As the ANC has consolidated its power, there’s less enthusiasm now than there was an independent broadcaster”, she argued. Over lunch, a number of people told me there’s a lot of “public broadcaster” bashing in South Africa as in other parts of the world. “They do some great things, but you only hear about the negative. And then when something negative comes out, it re-inforces some people’s negative views about the SABC” one bloke told me.

On top of the presentations, there were the fascinating lunchtime and coffee break conversations with some amazing people. This is like no other radio conference I’ve ever been to in terms of the variety of presentations and people attending. Now it’s time for bed.

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