Over around two decades or so, community radio stations have sprung up across the country in growing numbers, becoming an important part of the landscape.
For many, they represent “local voice” - an important source of local news and a place to debate local issues and concerns. For others, they have become a training ground and an opportunity to build a media career. Yet others compete, sometimes bitterly, for the influence and prestige community radio can offer.
Nevertheless, basic information on the sector is hard to come by. It is known that the combined audience is substantial (around 8.5 million people, or every fourth South African adult, listen to a community radio station at some point in the week), and that around 270 licences have been issued. But it is not clear how many people work in the sector, nor even how many of these stations are actually on air. (We estimate around 200).
In response, the Wits Radio Academy embarked on a survey of community radio stations, and the result is before you in the form of this interactive map. A questionnaire was developed and we set out to get feedback from every single community radio station. This proved impossible, as many stations’ contact details were out of date, stations were in some cases unwilling to participate, and sometimes did not have the information we were looking for. In the end, we reached 68 stations in detail, a reasonable sample.
The result is far from perfect. It represents a rough snapshot of community radio at a particular moment, between September and November 2019 when we collected the data. To complicate matters further, this was just as the Independent Communications Authority of SA was enforcing newly tightened conditions on licence-holders, which led to considerable anxiety and the closure of several stations.
Nevertheless, the exercise has provided significant new information, about the size of the sector, its distribution, types of broadcasters, language and much else. This is information that is useful to the sector itself, policy-makers, indeed anyone interested in media. We invite you to explore the map and associated information. And please do let us know where we have made mistakes.
Thanks must go to the research team – Manana Monareng, Prince Moloi, Gladys Matasane, Ntombi Gijana and Siya Ntuli – to Laura Grant and Alastair Otter of Mediahack who produced the map and graphs, and to the Raith Foundation who supported the exercise. Please email lead researcher Prof Franz Krüger at firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback, queries, corrections or anything else.