Mike Daka is the founder and director of Breeze FM Radio Station in Eastern Zambia. In this interview with #mediadev he says that knowing the information needs of the audience helps media outlets ensure economic success.
Mike Daka was interviewed at the African Media Leaders Forum in Johannesburg, November 2015. He participated in a 2 day pre-conference workshop on innovative business models, hosted by DW Akademie.
#mediadev: What are the challenges when it comes to financing your media outlet, Breeze FM?
Mike Daka: A major challenge is that donor funding is reducing. There was a time when there was a lot of money coming in to help start up radio stations and small newspapers but now there is no money to sustain operational funding. Another issue is that many of the people that set up radio stations do not have a clear understanding of sales or marketing but also because there is a perception by people that community based radio should be for free. So very few people are willing to pay, and when they do pay, they don’t want to pay the full amounts that we ask for.
Is this the same case in the capital Lusaka?
In Lusaka there are too many radio stations competing for a limited amount of money for advertising so radio stations will take any amount of payment. This has also created a serious problem for radio stations outside the capital city because people say: Why should you charge more than the radio stations in the capital city? But it’s because the radio stations in the capital city are really desperate that they are willing to take any money that comes in.
Is the government doing anything to ease this situation?
I think that the government should be doing much more to support radio stations. With so many radio stations in all the districts, it means that it’s possible to get information to more people than ever before. So the government should be using radio stations as an infrastructure that the country has developed and using them to communicate messages, related to the work that they do, but most government departments or ministries do not do that.
What about NGOs, do they use your service?
NGOs like to use radio stations, but prefer not to pay for the service so that’s another challenge. And then of course you have a lot of organizations that bring information to radio stations, which is essentially advertising, provide it as ‘news’ and so many radio stations are really cash strapped, because not many people are willing to pay for services.
But your radio station, Breeze FM, has existed for quite a long time. You’ve also been able to not only economically survive but also produce good and quality journalism content. What is your secret?
I think the difference between Breeze FM and many other radio stations is that we pay attention to planning at the beginning. We, for instance, carried out an audience survey, which helped us to understand not only the demographics of our audience, but more importantly what their information needs were. And because we provide the information the community needs, we have a sizeable listenership. In fact everyone knows that the majority of the people in our region listen to our station. That has helped us to attract partners, whether it is for sponsoring some programs or indeed paying for adverts, but we’ve established ourselves as the most effective channel of communication in our region, so the national advertising agencies have also realized the benefits to work with us if they want to communicate to people in the eastern part of our country.
What would you recommend?
Most radio stations should first take time to do some research about their listeners, but also about feasibility. We did that, when we did the audience survey and it showed that there was a need for another radio station in our region. We then carried out a feasibility study. We went round finding out from organizations whether they were willing to work with us first, but also to pay for advertising or program sponsorship. Only after there was that confirmation we were confident we would have enough partners, both at the local and national levels and to some extent international development agencies, too. So understanding, I think, the audience clearly and delivering the kind of information that they want helps a lot.
Does that include knowing who the audience is and what the audience’s needs are in terms of topics that you cover in your program? Did you ask them: do you need more about agriculture, do you need more about local business?
Yes, in fact that’s what we did. In the audience survey in addition to demographics, we also wanted to know whether there was a reasonable ownership of radio. If the radio they used to listen was their own or was for their families. So we had a good idea that there was reasonable radio ownership, than we asked for the kind of programs they were listening to and what times they were listening. But we also wanted to find out what programs they felt were important, and which they were not listening to. So that gave us an idea of the programs we needed to produce and they gave us great ideas and that’s what helped us a lot.
What about international organizations, especially media development organizations, such as Deutsche Welle Akademie. How can they support you?
I think the greatest need is training because many of the people that are employed in radio stations such as ours, which are operating outside capital cities, are unable to get qualified journalists or people that are willing to take journalism training. Qualified journalists often tend to prefer working in big cities. In small towns you mainly recruit people who may have a diploma in some other field but are interested in media work and then you must train them. There are very few organizations that provide trainings such as Deutsche Welle Akademie, outside the capital cities.
What would the training needs of radio stations outside the capital be?
Radio stations outside capital cities are in great need for training in all areas, whether it is news or programming, or sales and marketing. There are fewer organizations now providing training, for instance I was director of our Zambia Institute of Mass Communication, which was offering training to media organizations, short specialized training, but it is no longer as effective as it was. Many programs have closed down in recent years so there’s less and less local training taking place. Most of our radio stations, and there are many, can benefit a lot from training at all levels.