By Conrad Schwellnus

Moderator Claire Mawisa wasn’t kidding when she started off the final session of Radio Days Africa 2020 by suggesting that we were saving the best for last. Panelists Aisha Mohamed (Marketing Director at Sony Music Entertainment Africa), James Cridland (Renowned Radio Futurologist in Australia) and Melissa Mbugua (Co-Founder at Africa Podfest in Kenya) each contributed to what was an engaging conversation about their respective sectors, while also touching on the important question of “where to next?” for radio, music and podcasting. The session featured a flurry of questions from delegates, preluding a common notion that collaboration is going to be vital in driving the various sectors of audio consumption forward in a post-pandemic landscape. 

“There isn’t enough collaboration happening yet,” Melissa suggested in the context of the African podcasting landscape. “We need to make investments as existing media practitioners to connect and collaborate with alternative options”. This doesn’t necessarily refer only to financial investment, and is more about important players across the spectrum of audio consumption coming together to see how they can start to learn more from each other about what works and what doesn’t. “We need to be cross pollinating and hanging out a little bit more, sharing ideas and making experiments”, she added. “Technology is changing, culture is changing, and the stories people want to hear are changing”. 

Irrespective of these changes, radio will always be a great avenue for storytelling on the continent, according to James. “It helps to remember that there are more radios in Africa than there are mattresses,” he told the panel. “That really shows the power of what radio can do”. People want to feel more associated with their community, and radio is a trusted voice. According to him, the world can learn a lot from African radio in how it really understands who the listener is, and what their respective needs within their local communities are. “African radio has a lot that it can share with the rest of the world [in this regard]”, he added. By keeping these foundations of the medium in mind, the industry can continue to remain relevant irrespective of changes and challenges in regards to alternate or additional avenues for audio consumption that are being introduced into the market. 

Aisha knows all about these various avenues of audio consumption, as the music industry has seen its fair share of new platforms for consumers to listen to music to in recent years. These DSP’s are pursuing the African market rather assertively. In spite of this, she believes that radio continues to play a big role in helping people to discover music. “It’s a symbiotic relationship that will exist forever,” she said. In terms of thinking innovatively about the future of music across all these platforms, she is more focused on the content itself, rather than getting stuck on how it gets consumed. “It will come to you as a consumer or lover of music in some or other way,” she said. For her, “it’s not about the how, but rather what the offering is”.

So where to next for the music, podcasting and radio sectors in a post-pandemic world? “We’re going to see a lot of change compared to the way we’ve been approaching things in the past”, Aisha said. She referenced the innovations of various companies during lockdown (like certain businesses becoming delivery services in spite of this not being part of their business model) as a smart way to adapt and stay afloat in the ‘new normal’. “We might find ourselves in a situation where businesses see radio as a content platform,” she said, adding that it is a very exciting time for the sector. “We’re going to end up in a middle ground somewhere along the spectrum of remote (online) and offline,” Melissa said. In her opinion, striking a balance between the two will be key in order for many industries to adapt to the forever changed nature of the global landscape. 

Speaking more broadly to the world radio landscape post-2020, James touched on what the pandemic has taught the industry first. “This year has taught us that radio is resilient. It is really needed by communities and has played a tremendous part in mental health across the world”, he said. “There will be even more ways of consuming audio in the future. What I would caution people working in radio to do is to not think of [themselves] as FM broadcasters only”, he added. He encouraged stations to remember that they are having a shared experience with their listeners in what is ultimately a unique opportunity for human connection. He encouraged broadcasters to get dynamic and adaptable in their work, rethinking the primacy of live broadcasting, and focusing instead on creating great audio for people that can be consumed across the board on the various platforms that they choose to consume their audio from. 

In closing the conference shortly after, organiser Franz Krüger highlighted that across the twenty sessions, Radio Days Africa 2020 had seen 62 speakers, 5 moderators and 2800 session attendances. “That’s a lot of people in the room,” he said. “We’ve retained a community of radio people on the continent”. Citing the wonderful energy of everyone involved, he thanked the sponsors, moderators, panelists and delegates for a very successful effort in spite of the world being in a time of crisis. “What we’ve seen in this conference is that a moment of crisis is a time for innovation,” he added. “That’s true for the conference [operating in a digital format for the first time], as much as anything else”. It’s clear that radio continues to be a powerful uniting medium across the African continent. We look forward to welcoming the community back to Radio Days Africa again in 2021.