Today the world is celebrating radio. It is that box of technology that closes distances and creates memory that can linger over a life time. Radio is one of the greatest inventions that keep changing lives in so many ways. Some listen to radio for news; to make sense of what is going on around them and beyond. Others listen to radio to have an idea of the other, the different world that can often sound strange. Radio is part of life of some people because of its capacity to provide entertainment and educating information that can enhance living standard. Radio is above all a medium that symbolizes freedom in so many ways. One can buy radio at will. One can tune it and choose (freely) which channel to devote time to, when and how. The freedom associated with radio allows one to listen to it while doing something else.
Before the aggressive inroad of social media, radio was the favorite medium that provides the interactivity enhanced by social media. It is not always that radio turns out to be a one-way means of communication. With the presenter behind the microphone talking to he who listens, there is at time a chance for the listener to have a say on what is broadcast. These are some of the reasons why across the world, despite all the developments in media, radio is still relevant and a powerful tool of communication.
In underdeveloped countries, radio is more than a medium. It is, in many cases, the medium through which people can have an idea of what is going on around them. One can also describe radio as the only bridge between rural and urban communities. Although mobile devices also changed the way radio is listened to but the attachment to the device has only evolved.
People learn on radio and also clear their doubts. Development scholars have been encouraging the use of radio to help rural communities to learn about hygiene, agriculture and literacy. In so many countries radio was instrumental to reorientation and education.
Despite all the good attributed to radio there are instances in which it is also used as medium of perpetrating hate or even generating destruction. Dictators love radio and they love to control it. They will like to hear their name repeatedly recited on radio – to stamp their authority in many ways. Politicians are obsessed with radio to woo voters and paint their opponents in bad light. Governments love radio for its capacity to reach places where government officials cannot afford to go to. The role of radio in perpetrating the heinous murder during Rwandan genocide is one of the facts that proved that a tool for good can also be a tool for evil. At the height of the genocide, some radio stations were used in laying the ground for brutal bloodshed by giving airtime to merchants of ethnic rhetoric. Through radio those reluctant to pick machetes and hack their neighbors were encouraged. Some radio stations were bold in running false and unfounded stories to provoke one ethnic group to rise against another. Such manipulation of the radio can be possible in any situation where the medium serves as a means of feeding on the fears and anxieties of groups of people. If radio is allowed to be used as means of propagating hatred there will be thousands or millions listening and taking every word seriously.
Culture across many African societies is oral. Literature is transmitted orally. People listen to their leaders, their parents, their religious leaders and retain what they listened to in memory. If at all there is any medium that generates memory it is the radio. Some broadcasts retained in memory are hardly forgotten.
Across the world the freedom signified by radio is also extended to its wider availability. Democracy comes with rapid opening up of the broadcast industry providing space for individuals to acquire license to run a radio station. In some countries individuals can easily acquire permission to run radio stations to serve their communities.
Radio is still important and will continue to be important. For it to remain important it has to be protected from manipulators who may only see it as their tool of controlling gullible people that have no any other means of getting information. Radio will remain relevant if protected from rabble rousers who will always manipulate it to deceive the people. It has to be protected from the control of authorities who are obsessed with controlling people.
While we celebrate radio, it’s good to bear in mind the fact that it is the medium that builds memory that protects us from forgetting.