Surviving in the crowded radio frequencies: Africa No 1

Broadcast

Dominique Guihot, director of “Africa no.1” and of “Patenaire Production” (his own audiovisual production company) is a legend in the Francophone African radio market. Originally a radio journalist, Guihot acquired Africa No 1 in 2000. The man has maintained one of Africa’s most popular radio stations of all time and has helped turn some radio presenters into household names. Dominique Guihot was interviewed by Sylvain Béletre from Balancing Act Africa.

Q: Who is Africa No 1 today and who is your audience?

A: Africa No 1 is the most important Francophone African radio. It is a generalist radio – a radio for all - which focuses on African and international current affairs and cultures. Its programmes target all Africans, with particular features dedicated to the Diaspora, African women, young adults, older generation, Africa’s lovers, etc. We also provide music and sport editions. All our programmes are French speaking.

Q: How many staff do you have today?

A: We have 50 employees in Libreville and 20 in Paris, all full time, plus correspondents across Africa and Europe. In Europe, our correspondents focus on the African Diaspora.

Q: Where is Africa No 1 broadcast today?

A: Its programs are broadcast around the world thanks to our short wave transmitters. We sit on two continents: Africa and Europe where programmes are produced daily and transmitted in real time via satellite. The radio has FM relays (frequency modulation) in 16 capitals of Francophone Africa enabling coverage in 14 African countries (via 14 FM transmitters), and in Paris (via three frequencies incl. 107.5 FM – 11 million area). Altogether, Africa No. 1 broadcast in the major African capitals and in Paris (FM signal), on the internet globally (www.africa1.com) and via satellite package Africasat. We have an office in Libreville (Gabon) and one in Paris near to Bastille.

Q: What are your audience numbers and which are the most popular programmes?

A: Each day, Africa No. 1 is followed by 30 million people worldwide including 130, 000 in the Paris area (“Ile de France”). We have had difficulties tracking audience in Africa since there is a lack of audience measurement in Francophone regions. Information / current affairs are what drive the highest audience. Interactive magazines and music programmes usually come second in audience terms.

Q: How do you produce your programmes and what is your editorial angle?

A: Our programmes are produced by our editorial team located in Libreville and Paris, and by correspondents throughout Africa and Europe.
Africa No. 1 offers listeners information and interaction on Africa’s issues and on the African Diaspora. It also focuses on African culture and local creativity.
Audience-wise, current affairs gather broad success. We provide news every hour between 5:30 and 23:00 (GMT) and major editions in the morning (5:30 to 8:30), afternoon (12:00) and evening (18:00). Our interactive magazines, music and sports programmes (driven by Robert Brazza and Manu Dibango) are well followed. On top, we provide entertainment and more group-targeted magazines.

Q: How did you come to buy the radio station?

A: I bought the company back in the year 2000. I was involved in AIDS campaigns in Africa back in the 1980s’ and this is how I got in touch with the radio’s staff. Its owner (the Government) wanted to sell the company and I decided to acquire it.

Q: Where have you invested recently and where do you plan to invest over the next few months to support the radio’s developments?

A: We want to maintain dialogue between Africans and drive the largest African community. Financing and expanding an international radio station is very costly.
We have thus put a lot of efforts into our internet strategy to boost the radio’s footprint. Thanks to the internet, the radio is available live anywhere in the world provided that you have broadband access. The radio’s website aims to be intuitive, interactive and informative. It provides real time information and analysis, interactive tools and games, podcasts and videos for replay, Film/DVD, concerts and book highlights. We also want it to be a social network and a mean of reducing isolation for all. We have built our dedicated pages on Facebook and Twitter – a growing media especially over political crisis - which require daily feeds and attention to best serve its communities. Additionally we have started establishing partnerships with third parties to set up links that drive people to our site.

Q: What is your website’s traffic today?

A: We have reached 6 million pages views per year and 700,000 unique visitors this year and growing. Almost 40% of its traffic comes from direct access, 43% from search engines and 17% from external links (source: eStat Mediametrie).

Q: Maintaining such radio network is very expensive. Is the station profitable?

A: Today, we have managed to reach break even point. We have invested in a strong advertising team and ad revenues have tripled between 2002 and 2010 which proves that there is today a market for ethnic media. Our advertising clients are mainly banks, airlines, telecoms players, transport, cultural products, food industries, etc.

Q: Considering the more fragmented media landscape today, what is your strategy to keep the radio’s competitive status?

A: We take part of our margins to reinvest in the station with a view to best serve our audience, to increase the radio’s brand image and specificities.

Watch the interviews here (in French only)