Radio: an “old” technology that is as relevant as ever

Have you listened to the radio today?

The question may seem trivial, even insignificant. February 13 has been designated by the United Nations as World Radio Day. What are we celebrating?

Why is radio important for us, ultra connected on our smart phones and in front of our screens all day? What is the specificity of the radio? We listen to the radio; it accompanies us, usually in the morning, in our homes and in our cars. Then why do we say that radio is a traditional media, an “old” media? Is this true?

The choice of a media, to work with the radio rather than television, web or print, is based on the kind of relationship is has with the public that we want to reach, serve, entertain, and inform. With radio, this relationship is simple, warm, intimate, and direct. Radio technology is lightweight, easy, mobile, and accessible to the greatest number of people, no matter where they are.

Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss NGO founded by journalists nearly 20 years ago, specializes in the creation of independent media and the support to existing media in countries in crisis or political transition. Nine times out of ten, radio is the medium of choice to fulfill this mission of media in its literal sense, that is to say an intermediary between two points.

In countries in crisis or conflict, information is crucial to knowing what is happening, to understanding the issues and to making choices, often vital and at times lifesaving. Communication with the public on the receiving end of the information is possible if it is on a human scale, if it is simple. The radio allows this type of relationship. Our experience shows that this relationship is even stronger in difficult contexts. The fact that it is the voice, not the images, which creates this link is an important factor. Work in an oral medium, especially in local languages, and dialogue is created.

Our experience today in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, to cite just two examples, has shown us that for people living in situations of violence, uncertainty and fear, the radio can help create trust while providing an essential form of aid. Radio Ndeke Luka, which means “bird of luck” in Sango, broadcasts from Bangui on FM and across the country on shortwave. There’s a generation in Europe and the US who have never listened to shortwave. For many people in Africa, however, it is the sole means of connecting beyond their communities, a relatively low cost technology capable of broadcasting information in the most remote and isolated areas.

For months, the population of CAR has lived under threat, with looting and extortion by armed men commonplace. Since December 5, 2013, the situation has spiraled into chaos; fear and horror permeate the atmosphere in Bangui and the rest of the country. Radio Ndeke Luka has had to adapt its program schedule to take into account security constraints and schedules curfew but continues to broadcast throughout the day and produce news and programs for Central Africans because it is the “moral pact” between radio and its listeners, and the mission of the radio. “I listen to Radio Ndeke Luka and it makes me feel good.” This text message received from a listener in Bangui on December 24, 2013, shows the intimacy that develops between a radio and public and the mutual attachment that can be created.

Today we salute the radio, media “of proximity” par excellence. We salute the men and women of radio, technicians and journalists, especially those in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Guinea and Tunisia; it is these men and women who create the relationship with the listener. Above all, we celebrate the public, all listeners who recognize in their radio a useful and valuable object, and who place their trust in us.

Caroline Vuillemin, Chief Operations Officer, Fondation Hirondelle