Zambia’s Breeze 89.3FM becomes a key regional player, mixing vernacular and English

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In countries that have liberalised their airwaves, radio has become one of the most crowded sectors. Some countries have well over 100 radio stations. The stars of this upsurge have been vernacular radio stations that broadcast in local languages, often on a local or regional basis. In this issue Russell Southwood talks to Mike Daka, founder and Director of Breeze 89.3FM who has managed to carve himself a commercial niche in the Eastern Province of Zambia.

Mike Daka, founder and Director of Zambia’s Breeze 89.3FM started the radio station shortly after Zambia liberalised its air waves:”Two things happened. I’d begun to not quite understand what the value of my journalistic work was in the late 1990s and by that time, I’d done close to 30 years in journalism. So I had to try and figure out what to next”.

“Then the Government liberalised the airwaves and individuals and organisations could apply for licences. I was running a media training scheme in Lusaka which was not only training people but preparing a new generation to set up broadcast stations. So I thought, if I can help others do it, why not set up on my own?”

Daka chose, his own home town Chipata, the capital of Zambia’s Eastern Province which borders Malawi. But since his parents had left it for the capital Lusaka in the 1940s, Daka had to spend some time getting to know the place.

The process of launching Breeze 89.3FM was started in 2002 with an audience survey that looked at listening patterns and needs not serviced. This was followed by a feasibility study to investigate who would pay for the station.

What the audience survey discovered was that Zambia’s Government broadcaster was running programmes in the local language of the region twice a week for two hours. Obviously this meant that only those who could understand English well could listen to radio throughout the week. So this provided an opening for the new station. In addition, there was (and still is) a Catholic radio station which was being used to evangelise the population.

The audience survey also found at that people wanted what Daka calls “development information confronting the people” on subjects like hygiene, health and agriculture. For example, local pea farmers wanted to know to get better yields and everyone wanted to know how to combat common diseases like malaria. They also wanted to know what to do about deforested areas that were causing flooding.

The radio station, which now has a staff of 26 people, transmits in the local language Linyanja and in English, as people in urban areas are more likely to speak the latter. The mix is 50/50 during the week and 70/30 in favour of Linyanja on the weekends. Being close to Zambia’s borders, the signal reaches not only the Eastern Province but also parts of Malawi and Mozambique.

The programme format is a mixture of talk and music but Daka tries to make sure that it is not “too overwhelmed with talk.” He has also introduced an African storytelling format that makes use of his oldest staff member. He not only tells the stories but also explains the idioms within them. On air, he’s known as Gogo (Grandfather) Breeze:”Listeners write in and ask him questions.” The station collects information from the 8 districts it covers and the levels of interaction between staff and listeners is very high. Daka seeks to demystify radio and encourages people to come and see the station on air:”They want to visit when they come to Chipata and there is an open door policy. They are welcomed.”

In audience terms, the station has a population of 1.4 million people in Eastern Province it can talk to. Daka estimates that his listenership is probably around 800,000. However, it’s not possible to count listeners in north west Malawi and north east Mozambique or in two of Zambia’s neighbouring provinces which also get the signal.

The focus on interacting with its audience and understanding them has paid off in terms of advertising:”We’ve created a level of advertising at the lowest level. Ordinary people pay for announcements: births, deaths and marriages. We’ve also created a rate level for small-scale businesses in the townships and the villages: people selling groceries in the market, hair salons, restaurants and bars. It’s all fairly reasonably priced.”

In addition, there are also multinationals with local offices, companies that support agriculture, banks, insurance and microfinance companies. NGOs and local government pay for public service announcements and information programmes. For example, the FAO has a contract with them to produce information for farmers. There also the national cellphone companies from Lusaka who run ads and sponsor programmes five days a week.

Breeze 89.3FM has five potential competitors: the Catholic radio station, 3 community radio stations and the Government’s national radio station. The latter has improved its programming and is now broadcasting in the vernacular language every day of the week. Daka believes that his listeners prefer local radio stations but that they do also listen to national news bulletins on the Government radio station:”We think that the local stations complement each other but we are definitely dominant in our region. Before we set up, the national broadcaster in Malawi was listened to a lot. Very few in our coverage area now listen to it. They listen to us.”


2nd Africa Broadcast and Film Conference, Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, 28-29 July 2010

The conference is aimed at senior and middle managers in:

• National television stations • National radio stations.

• Pay TV companies using cable, IP-TV or satellite.

• International Broadcasting Stations like CNN, BBC, NBC, VOA, China Radio, Al Jazeera, Radio Japan, Deutsche Welle and Radio Netherlands.

• Television and film production companies.

• Facilities providers including production equipment hire, post-production and outside broadcast.

• Organisations like donors and faith-based organisations that run their own broadcast organisations for development purposes.

• Television and film equipment vendors and satellite capacity suppliers.

• Advertising and marketing agencies.

• Mobile and fixed telephone operators looking at convergence opportunities.

• Library Facilities for music, commercials and programmes.

Day One – 28 July 2010

Introductory overview session: Africa’s prospects over the next three years Russell Southwood, Balancing Act will look at the changes in the industry across the continent over the last two years and the changes affecting its future growth.

Session 1: Africa’s Free-To-Air and Pay TV challengers Chair: Cathy Fogler, CAfrica Sports; Speakers: Euan Fanell, CEO, Wananchi (Kenya); Lara Kantor, Group Executive: Regulatory, eTV (South Africa); Mactar Silla, Chairman of APPTA (Association of Private Producers and Televisions of Africa); George Twumasi, CEO, African Broadcast Networks; Joe Frans, CEO and President, NGB Africa; Robert Grant, Head of Media Investment, FCMB;

Session 2: Getting local content through advance sales, commissions, sponsorship and co-productions: the economic rules of the production game Chair: Salim Amin, CEO, A24 Speakers: Wachira Waruru, CEO, Citizen; Lizzie Chingoti, CEO, Kenya Film Commission; Cherise Barsell, DISCOP; Charles Igwe, CEO, Bob TV; Nneka Isaac Moses, CEO, Goge Africa; Myke Rybar, CEO, Home Boyz Entertainment; Mike Dearham, Head M-Net Library Acquisition and Sales; George Lutta, Regional Director, Scan Group; Biola Adekanbi, Operations Director, MNet Africa

Session 3: Delivering broadcast output in new ways Chair: Andrea Bohnstedt, Publisher of Speakers: Steve Rich, Vice President and General Manager, SES Astra, Africa (South Africa); Eyal Coppitt, SVP Sales Africa, Amos Spacecom (Israel); Suhayl Esmailjee, COO, Wananchi (Kenya); George Lasry, Channelot; Ronnie Andrews, Consultant, Townsend Andrews Consultants.

Session 4: The Digital Transition – How can Africa make this work for broadcasters and audiences? Anton Lan, Business Development Director, Altech UEC (South Africa); Daniel Obam, Digital Task Force (Kenya); Jason Lobel, Regional Sales Director, Sub-Saharan Africa, NDS; Eng. Jared Baraza, Snr Telecoms Consultant, African Advanced Level Telecoms Institute (AFRALTI); Anne-Marie Meijer, East Africa Manager, Globecast

Day Two – 29 July 2010

Session 1: Broadcast regulation – Holding the industry back or spurring it on? Speakers: Francis Wangusi, Broadcasting, Communications Commission of Kenya; Lekan Ogunbanwo, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation; Cherise Barsell, DISCOP on piracy; N.Habbi Gunze, Director, Department of Broadcasting, TCRA

Parallel session 2: FM radio stations – How to compete in a crowded market place Chair: Bill Torrey, Director of Operations, Office of Marketing and Program Placement, US International Broadcasting Bureau Speakers: Patrick Quarcoo, Kiss FM (Kenya); Joe Otin, Synovate (Kenya); Moses Nyama, Director, Q-FM, Zambia; Addis Alemayhou, Managing Director, Paconet Media; Samuel Attah-Mensah, Managing Director, Citi 97.3fm; Charles Ekanem, Director, ESJ Interactive on using the use of SMS by radio stations;

Parallel session 2: Programming – Getting the most out of themed channels Robyn Cox, Managing Director, IMG (South Africa); Lenny Nganga, Director, Saracen OMD; Michael Gyang, General Manager, African Film and Music Company (creators of the Homebase Channel); David Campbell, CEO, Mediae; George Kimani, CEO, Head of Direct Sales, Kiss TV and Classic TV

Parallel session 3: In the danger zone – what should broadcasters say or not say Panellists include: Oscar Beauttah, (Kenya); George Apiyo, (To be confirmed); Wallace Kantai, Television Commentator in Kenya; Godfrey Mwappembwa (Gado); Anthony Dara, CEO, NN24

Parallel session 3: After Nollywood, what next? – Getting African film seen across the continent Speakers: Keynote speaker: Imruh Bakari, Savannah Films (Tanzania); Lola Sanusi, Director of Operations, Continental TV;  Trushna Buddhev Patel, General Manager – Africa, Pan-African Film Distributors (EA); Wanuri Kahiu, Film-maker; Mike Dearham, Head M-Net Library Acquisition and Sales; Mercy Murugi, Hot Sun Films.

Session 4: Multi-platform strategies – Creating something that is more than words Chair: Guillame Pierre, Director Africa and Indian Ocean, CFI Panelists include: Kelvin Karungu, CEO, Habari TV; Fidelis Ndege, D-G, (UK);  Salim Amin, CEO, A24 Media; Daudi Were, Africhange (Kenya); Anton Lan, Business Development Director, Altech UEC (South Africa); David Lomosi, CEO, KenyaTV; Joe Mucheru, Regional Lead Sub-Saharan Africa, Google on social media