Participatory and listener-oriented radio: that was the goal of the three-year "Radio for the People" project in northern Vietnam. DW Akademie project manager Thorsten Karg reflects on the results.
At the end of March I traveled to the northern Vietnamese province Quang Ninh together with Maren Wintersberg, head of the foreign language department at DW Berlin. We were there to hold the final workshop for "Radio for the People", a long-term project aimed at modernizing radio at the regional broadcaster, QTV.
In 2010 DW Akademie began working with QTV, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Hanoi, and the Vietnamese Academy for Journalism and Communication (AJC). The long-term goal was to modernize QTV radio by introducing listener participation. Program heads and editors were asked to re-think their overall programming, to move away from mere propaganda and towards more public-oriented, service-oriented content. This was also seen as a step to increase citizen participation in other social processes.
Three years ago, listener research conducted by AJC showed that few people listened to the station. That came as a shock to QTV staff and prompted DW Akademie trainers and Vietnamese colleagues to develop "Rush Hour", a prime time program that continues to run every morning and afternoon. The show has been enormously successful with its mix of music, service tips, call-ins and quizzes.
Additional radio station for the province
Listeners are pleased, and so is the broadcaster's director-general, Trần Mạnh Hùng. Other Vietnamese broadcasters are increasingly curious to learn more about the station's success, and listener-orientation is the key. "We want to extend the rights of citizens," says QTV's director-general. "Vietnam is undergoing a democratization process and that also applies to journalism." He says the public is becoming more involved and this can be seen by the growing number of listener calls and e-mails. As a result, he has announced plans to launch a second radio station in Quang Ninh.
In the final workshop QTV's chief editors, Maren Wintersberg and I together planned a concept for the new station. The target group is the province's working population aged 20 to 49. Music, service tips and participatory segments are aimed at attracting these potential listeners. Workshop participants also developed editorial structures and discussed ways to involve listeners via social media and text messaging.
In just two weeks participants designed the programming with several new components. "The participants were incredibly dedicated and can be proud of what they achieved in such a short time," says Maren Wintersberg. "They also produced a pilot program to reflect the sound of the new station."
I, personally, was also impressed to see how far QTV had come in terms of understanding modern, listener-oriented radio. During our first workshop in 2010 a young editor told me that although she worked for the station she never listened to the shows - they were simply too boring. Seven workshops later that's all changed. Over the last three years QTV has hired several young and enthusiastic editors who want to produce programs that appeal to their target audience. And that affirms our approach. At the closing ceremony the director-general said, "It used to be that all the QTV editors wanted to work for television. Now they all want to work for radio."
DW Akademie project manager and trainer, Thorsten Karg, headed the three-year Vietnamese "Radio for the People" project. It got underway in 2010 and included seven workshops. The final workshop was held in March 2013.