A book by two development and communication specialists describes radio as a strategy for reaching the world’s poor in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States, on September 11, 2001 (often referred as 9/11). Their views are based on decades of work in communication and development. One of the co-authors, William A Smith, is the executive vice president of the Academy for Educational Development (AED). The academy, based in Washington DC, is a humanitarian organization with projects in developing countries.
But did radio become a strategic communication tool only after 9/11? “No, not really,” said Smith. “We are trying to share with people our belief that radio is underutilized.” He continued by saying that despite the excitement [over] faster and more complex communication technology, the power of radio should not be underestimated. “Pretty much one in three Africans own a radio, where with mobile phones it’s one in 35; computers, one in a 130; Internet, one in 160. So the fundamental way to talk to and listen to Africans is still through radio,” he said. But he added that a fundamental problem is that poor people can’t afford access to all the modern media and he recommended that they embrace the concept of the more affordable small community radio stations. He described them as “very effective FM broadcast stations, [which] open up a huge potential for getting community radio really popular in Africa.”
Asked about political control of the media, Smith said that problem is not limited to poor countries. “That’s true in London, New York, as well as Nairobi. The way to change that control is to put more media in the hands of more people.” That way, he said, there will be tremendous opportunities to get people together to make decisions. He also discussed combining the traditional sense of community that exists in Africa with the natural broadcasting talents of Africans, so radio is not limited to a sense of “we’re here to tell you,” but also encourages input from the audience. “We need to release the tremendous talents of Africans to become broadcasters,” he said. “So I’m hoping that we can stimulate a new generation of Africans to become excited about ways to combine it (radio) with the new media, and [for listeners) to really talk to their communities…to help that natural ability of Africans to think together.”