Truth be told, I loved listening to radio as tween and teenager until school took full control of my schedule and its one thing that i miss most.Whenever I have time, I always tune in to local radio station online.Although I adored my radio set, for now I only need my iPhone.No electricity or battery replacement every now and then is needed.This points to a reality that radio fanatics like me who were in born in 20th century, have to adjust and accept that future of radio is digital but that future is at risk for traditional radio because of the dwindling advertising business.There are many radio stations around the world providing on-air services in digital form as part of the first phase of the switchover to digital with new projects and services starting regularly.But all of this is at risk, due to a advertising shortfall.In Africa for example, budget the government provides to state owned stations is always said to be short by around 50% on the basic transmission costs.Such funding is critical to meeting the government’s public policy objective for community sector inclusion in digital radio.In some countries, digital radio legislation requires broadcasters to share a common transmission facility fed by standardised data and audio encoding equipment. Of course, this means small broadcasters must build systems and incur costs in the same manner as successful broadcasters. In fact, in some countries, legislation specifically prevents community broadcasters establishing transmission facilities in any other way. According to studies I have seen, there are a variety of reasons for the legislation being constructed in this manner but the upshot is that linking, data and transmission costs need to be covered by direct government funding support. Not for profit community radio services are unable to cover these costs at this stage of the medium’s development, as well as the content, studio and staffing costs.In some countries, time is now running short and the number and range of current digital services will have to be reduced.
In Africa, radio is the number one medium of media and if some radio stations have to turn off services to cope with this revenue shortfall, I doubt they will ever be able to be turned on again.About the small stations, or regional stations that have served millions of African population over the years, the chances of closing their businesses is high. What is worrying trend in Africa is that big national stations have failed to stay on digital radio and i don’t see how the smaller licensed stations, who often serve a vital community will need manage the situation.Just like digital television, digital radio is clearly the future, and even if there is no policy to turn off FM or AM radio that I so much adore to this day, my biggest question is whether I will be able to buy an FM receiver come 2026 oracles willing.For those who don’t know, digital radio is not online broadcasting. It is not streaming or mobile apps. There are issues around social equity as radio is free to receive, once you buy the receiver. It is also the most efficient use of this valuable digital spectrum. Moving to streaming or internet platforms only, would mean drop outs, and huge costs to broadcasters, it would be almost impossible to have all current radio listeners to radio, listen at an audio stream at the same time.Media diversity in Africa will suffer if community radio cannot fully make the leap to digital. The community radio sector is made up of stations, serving diverse communities and interests that aren’t catered for by mainstream media. For many Africans, community media is the only media that they access, and across Africa, 700 million Africans listen to Radio each week according to a recent survey.This sector also provides local news and information through commercial and state owned stations and through regional areas where the community radio station is often the only medium that isn’t syndicated from somewhere else.It would be a shame to turn off digital radio, not to mention a waste of the resources already invested. Community radio is great at innovation. It takes risks and helps drive the take up of this new medium.It is vital that community radio be helped make the switch to the digital future.