8 July 2021 by Conrad Schwellnus: Day 4’s attendees at Radio Days Africa 2021 were in for a treat thanks to “Podcasting 101”, a masterclass presented by Jon Savage. With thirteen years of podcasting experience under his belt, the session was jam-packed with details about how to get started and sustain a show of your own in this growing digital branch of broadcasting.
Questions came pouring into the chat box right from the get go, reaffirming that podcasting is a hot topic in the audio realm. “Broadcasting doesn’t mean just radio and TV anymore,” Savage began. “These days it includes podcasting, YouTube, Instagram and even WhatsApp”. According to him, podcasts are all about discovery. Unlike with traditional formats, consumers can listen to what they want, when they want to. “We’re truly heading into the dawn of a new era for audio”, he said.
So how do you go about starting a podcast? Savage ran through the easiest way to do this, reminding attendees to always think of podcasting as an “audio-first medium”. In his view, you need to get the audio quality right from the beginning, and the good news is that a USB microphone (and even the mics included in reputable smartphones) are an accessible way of doing so. Cleaning up and editing the audio after recording is simple enough with a free service like Audacity. In terms of distribution, Spotify also has a free service called Anchor, which has monetisation tools built in as well. Using these, “you can get your podcast online within an hour”, according to him.
Over and above simplicity to enter the market, what else is working well in the podcasting space? Savage says that video accompaniment (through a platform like YouTube) is a go-to for serious podcast creators around the world. This amplifies commercial opportunities and gives followers of a particular show a chance to choose their preferred method of consumption. He also spoke of a leaning towards a strategy of consistency, rather than focusing on frequency of new episodes. “Think about a 50 episode strategy, not a short-term one”, he said. Long form podcasts have worked well for many years, but as shorter shows (of 5 to 10 minutes) are starting to make gains internationally, these are worth considering too.
Conversely, there are some things about the podcasting landscape that aren’t working all that well yet. Music rights are complicated, and there is a gray area about when and how you can legally use music in an episode. Brand partnerships in Africa can be tricky too. Many still label podcasting as “cheap”, failing to recognise the opportunity for getting specific products and services in front of niche audiences. Savage encouraged everyone to forget the conventional “reach” metric of radio, and focus on engagement when it comes to showcasing the commercial viability of a podcast.
Podcasting has come a long way in Africa, but it is still in its infancy relative to other markets around the world. If you’re keen to join the party and start one of your own, Savage’s advice is to come up with 100 subjects to cover to affirm that your overall show concept has actual longevity. Put plainly by him during the session, if you can’t do this, “don’t even bother”.
On a slightly different note, Savage offered some insightful parting words for wannabe podcasters looking to start recording. “Remember that podcasting is not about you,” he said. “The whole value of a podcast is about the value you can bring to your audience”.
The afternoon session brought us right back to traditional radio — more specifically community radio — and the status of the medium in Africa. Nigerian TV & radio host Jonathan Lyamgohn led a diverse panel of speakers from across the continent in a session titled “Update Africa”. Contributors included Eshetu Belay Welle (CEO of Ahadu Radio in Ethiopia), Jacob Ntshangase (Head of Wits Radio Academy in South Africa) and Meck Phiri (Coordinating Mentor: Capacity Development at BBC Media Action in Zambia).
Lyamgohn set the stage for the discussion by reminding the panel about the power of African radio in his opening remarks. “On the continent, if you intend to be kept up to date with developments, radio remains the most widely consulted medium”, he said. This provided a perfect segue into a formal presentation by Ntshangase, detailing the findings of a brand new study titled ‘Mapping Community Radio in Sub-Saharan Africa’. It is based on research conducted across 11 different African countries, over the period of ten months.
According to him, there were immediate challenges in doing so. “Community radio is often trapped in the complex understanding of the notion of community” he said. This was in reference to the fact that even just the term ‘community’ is widely associated with geograpraphical or social based groups. “Our research encountered stations that do not fall neatly into these categories. Some of these are partly commercial, others are set up to speak to churches, and so forth”.
In terms of actual shared challenges by stations across the included territories, Ntshangase highlighted ownership and control challenges, especially in cases where international development agencies had set up the station and handed it over to governments later. He also spoke about an overreliance on outside donor funding, and the trend of government policy restrictions limiting how some stations can access (commercial) funding from advertising.
Welle echoed these thoughts in reference to the landscape in Ethiopia, while citing his own experience of waiting fifteen years to get a community radio broadcasting license. Phiri was quick to agree with a lot of what Ntshangase’s study concluded, especially when it comes to station ownership challenges in Zambia specifically. He changed the tone of the discussion somewhat by saying that “community radio has a huge task ahead, but there is still and will always be a need for it in Africa”.
This need creates a drive for exciting new opportunities and innovation in the community radio sphere on the content. From better networking to content sharing, coordinated training efforts and mentoring, there are multiple possibilities for the sector to keep growing. New technologies make it easier for coordinated efforts across different regions, and digital broadcasting also presents an exciting opportunity, especially as internet connectivity becomes more widely available over time.
Lyamgohn acknowledged that even just having access to recorded podcasts from Radio Days Africa was a form of innovation with the potential to change the way people learn about radio and the audio landscape.
By slowly working to overcome existing challenges, and embracing innovation as a collective, the community radio sector can continue to do what it does best: connecting people and sharing incredible stories by Africans, for Africans.