My mother still reminisces about her teen years in the 60s and how she and her friends used to listen to Radio Lourenco Marques, blasting into Rhodesia all the way from Portuguese-run Mozambique. When I was a teen in the late 80s I liked nothing better than to tune into Radio Bop on shortwave-radio and listen to all the latest mbaqanga tunes being blasted, all the way from the South African Bantustan of Bophuthatswana. Later on in the early 90s, whilst living in London, I was hooked on pirate-radio stations. Some of those pirate-radio stations popped up on the radio for only a few hours at a time, but boy did they have some heavy tunes on rotation!
The point I’m trying to make here is that people (especially youths) will find a way of listening to whatever they want, whenever they want, in whatever format they want. The 60s era policy — much beloved by many African Govts — of fencing off their populations to outside radio influences is now redundant. The reasons for this are mostly technological:
–it’s always been easy to transmit a radio signal from a neighboring country. The more powerful the transmitters, the more powerful the signal. This works even moreso if you have unfriendly neighbours on your doorstep (read Botswana for Zimbabwe).
— the ever-falling price of bandwidth and the increasing availability of high-speed internet. Falling prices will make it much easier for even the urban poor to listen to any radio-station via the internet (either through their mobile phones or via digital-radio receivers).
–the technology now exists for a radio signal to be sent thousands of miles away (over the oceans), unscrambled by a relay transmitter and then “broadcast” over a local spectrum via an analog signal. In effect this technological advance renders moot any Govt’s attempt at “controlling its airwaves” within its own borders.
As I’ve shown you in just the three examples above, increased competition, falling prices, and (most importantly) technological improvements, will drastically open up the airwaves within the next five to ten years. The Zimbabwe Govt needs to recognise this new reality and open up the airwaves, much like their continental counterparts. Uganda now has 125 radio-stations and Kenya has 116, but in my beloved Zimbabwe only two commercial radio-stations have been licensed since 2012. This puts us in dubious company with Continental laggards like Eritrea (where all the media space is tightly controlled by the Govt).
Bulawayo alone could easily support three commercial radio-stations, and multiple community radio-stations dealing with issues such as religion, sports and culture. Every single one of Zimbabwe’s districts should have its own community radio-station dealing with issues that affect its environs. The opening up of the airwaves should not be seen as a threat to the ruling party, Zanu-PF. In fact allowing people a greater voice to air their views will win ZPF kudos from its base support in the rural areas.