Community radio is normally a non-profit, short-range radio station that caters for the information needs of people living in a particular community in languages and formats that suit that specific community. 

With 3.6 million listeners tuning into radio stations around South Africa every week, radio remains one of the most effective ways to communicate to a community as very few listeners face barriers receiving broadcast signals. 

Community radio provides an open mic for people from communities who are often overlooked by other broadcast media. This is because they don’t chase the big audiences, instead they look for an audience made up of the people of the community.

This doesn’t mean other commercial radio stations don’t make an effort to strive for diverse stories. But as we all know, the capital’s news, politics and the government take priority over news from smaller communities.

Unlike commercial radio, which is required to air adverts and have specific segments, community radio offers far more freedom. It attempts to provide unmediated airtime, where individuals and community representatives have an opportunity to speak for themselves with minimal to no editing. 

According to a representative from Newsclip Media Monitoring, the content of community radio stations is cheap to create and consume. It thrives in small communities as it doesn’t matter whether the creator or the consumers of the radio content can read or write due to the oral nature of radio.

This means that there are very few barriers to creating and consuming this content, which is extremely beneficial in rural communities as many people may not have the ability to read or write. Therefore, radio is the ideal medium to consume this content. 

Community radio emphasises direct communication with the audience and puts community issues first. 

Here are seven reasons why community radio is important:

1. Community radio provides validation

Hearing someone who shares your everyday experiences and comes from your community to share their story on the radio is validating. It also assures people in the community that they are not alone and that there are people in the same situations that they are. 

Community radio helps to strengthen ties and build awareness of common values, challenges and solutions within the community.

2. Community radio informs listeners

Like all radio stations, community radio informs people. But in this case, it informs people about what is happening in their specific community, not in the country as a whole. 

People in smaller and poorer communities would care more about their farming community that hasn’t had substantial amounts of rain in months than hearing about a South African Airlines’ strike. 

It is extremely important for people in these communities to be informed about what is happening in their area as it allows them to formulate informed opinions, begin to form interest groups as well as mobilise to address common issues within the community. 

This also means that, like commercial radio stations, community stations will be able to hold people in power accountable within the community. This aids the education and development of the community as a whole. 

People of these kinds of communities often get news through word of mouth and rely on the literate population of the community to read newspapers and pass on the information. However, with radio, you don’t need to be able to read or write to consume the content.  

3. Community radio speaks to people in their own language 

People always prefer to have shows in their own language; whether it’s news, chats, sports, weather, etc. Using a language that is spoken by the majority of the community ensures that a large majority of the community will be able to consume the content put out by the radio station. 

Using the language of the community also ensures that people who are not able to speak English, for example, are not left out like they are with most commercial radio stations. It also gives those people who don’t speak any other language a sense of independence as they are able to consume the information without having to rely on someone to translate. 

The content of the radio is much more relatable and consumable for the community as a whole when it is presented in the language of the area. 

4. Community radio helps to build a sense of community

Community radio gives a voice to the voiceless communities. Listeners are empowered to express their opinions or point of view on what matters to them. Again showing people of a community that they are not alone and there are others who feel the same. 

A sense of community is created around these radio stations as people will gather to listen to radio programmes and will discuss the topics covered in the show. It also shapes the opinions of the people in the area as a whole, allowing for more discussion. This kind of discussion can help to create a tight-knit community.

The fact that people will start to listen to the presenters regularly and begin to feel like they know them also allows for a sense of community to be forged as a large portion of the people will turn to the radio presenters as their source of trusted information. 

5. Jobs are created because of community radio stations 

Anyone with an interest can get involved in these stations’ activities. Local people can become board members, managers, technicians, admin support or journalists. 

This gives people the opportunity to get more involved in the community and create more job opportunities. This also goes towards the development of the community as unemployment will drop. 

These radio stations can actually be the starting point for people that will later go on to work at commercial radio stations. The community radio station gives the people that work there training and new skills which then allows them to go work elsewhere in the future.

6. Community radio promotes economic growth

This type of radio station promotes economic growth via local entrepreneurs and traders who can advertise their business. However, political parties are not allowed to advertise on community radio. Therefore it promotes community businesses and increases business for the brand which then subsequently puts more money into the local economy.

The creation of more jobs also contributes towards the growth of the local economy allowing for businesses to expand their horizons and the standard of living to be raised. 

7. Community radio preserves local culture and traditions 

There are some community radio shows that retell traditional stories. For example, Voices of Ancestors is a community station programme in which grandmothers and fathers tell stories of their Zulu ancestors and pass on traditional customs.  

These retelling of stories is a way of passing down traditional information down to the younger generations. This then ensures that the local culture and traditions of the community are continually being talked about, therefore, keeping them preserved.

What are experiences with community radio and why do you think it’s important? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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A large part of community radio is talking to people within the community about their experiences. Check out our article, An eight-step guide to a successful media interview, to ensure that you get the best out of every interview for your station. 

*Image courtesy of Vecteezy