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Radio Use And Access In Kenya

The number of private radio stations is growing in Kenya, with many smaller stations broadcasting in local languages.[1]  According to Freedom House, local-language radio has expanded rapidly, “and their call-in shows have fostered increasing public participation as well as commentary that is [sometimes] unfavorable to the government. Unfortunately, many vernacular stations were accused of broadcasting ethnic hate speech in the wake of the [2007] election.” [2]

While commercial local-language radio is vibrant, there are few community radio stations (typically local-language, volunteer-run stations broadcasting to an 8 km radius or less).[3]  The handful of community stations active in the postelection period were praised for their balanced reporting approach.[4]

As in many developing countries, radio is an indispensible tool in Kenya for delivering development information. Nearly all Kenyans are radio listeners, and nearly all of these listeners said they use this medium as a regular source of news and information (as opposed to listening strictly for entertainment): 89 percent of Kenyan adults get news and information from the radio on at least a weekly basis.

Chart 1
                                        

More than half of radio listeners surveyed considered radio to be a very important source of information for every topic included in the national survey (current events, health, agriculture, business/finance, education and government). The news and information provided by radio were also deemed trustworthy by more than 95 percent of all respondents (Chart 1).

 Nearly all radio listeners (defined as those who said they listened to the radio in the last year) said they had used an FM waveband recently (Table 1), while a fair number also listened via mobile phones.

Table 1 
        

Listeners were also asked an open-ended question to list the top three stations they use for news and information (Chart 2).

Chart 2
                     

These overall ratings mask notable differences by demographic group, as shown for the top five stations in Charts 3 to 5. For example, Easy/Nation (a private English-language station run by the Nation Media Group) was mentioned more often than Inooro by men, but Inooro (private media group Royal Media Services’ Kikuyu-language FM station) was more popular than Easy/Nation among women.

Chart 3 
            

Chart 4
           

Chart 5

Notably, youth (15 to 30) have very different preferences from their elders; practically no one over 45 listed Easy/Nation, Kiss FM or Q FM as one of the three stations they listen to most often, but sizable portions of the 15 to 29 age group did. Q FM describes its target audience as under 35, and sees its market niche as filling “the gap in the market for a ‘cool’ Swahili station with a more modern programming format.” [5] KBC Kiswahili, on the other hand, was more commonly cited by those over 45 than by younger respondents, which is not surprising given its 55-year history providing national news from the state-owned media corporation.

Many of the stations’ audiences are regionally concentrated, reflecting both the reach of their broadcast signals and the appeal of their particular combinations of language and content (Chart 6). For example, Musyi FM is the Royal Media Services’ Kamba-language station broadcasting primarily in the Eastern Province. [6]

Chart 6
      

 Mentions of community radio stations did not feature prominently in the survey. Many development organizations operating in Africa champion the establishment of such stations to provide small, rural or remote communities with news, information and a platform for public discussion. However, Kenya has not been a hotbed of community radio growth. As a recent BBC report observed, “Although the first community radio on the entire African continent was established in Kenya—in Homa Bay in 1982 (and deregistered two years later)—community broadcasting has consistently struggled to gain a foothold in the country." The BBC report mentioned only a few existing community outlets: Mangelete FM, Radio Maendeleo, Koch FM, Pamoja FM, Mugambo, Jyetu, Shinyalu and Konoina, which collectively reach a tiny percentage of Kenyans.  Indeed, in the AudienceScapes national survey, there were only 19 mentions of Maendeleo (1 percent of respondents, all in the Nyanza Province and mostly rural women, its target audience), one mention of Pamoja, and none of any other community station.

 


[1] Country Profile: Kenya. BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1024563.stm

[2] Kenya (2008). Freedom of the Press 2009, Freedom House. http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&year=2009

[3]For discussions of the regulatory environment and development of community radio in Kenya, see the Kenya Country Information available from the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)-Africa at http://africa.amarc.org/index.php?p=africa_kenya_country_info

[4] “The Kenyan 2007 Elections and Their Aftermath: The Role of Media and Communication,” Policy Briefing #1, April 2008. BBC World Service Trust. http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/trust/pdf/kenya_policy_briefing_08.pdf

[5] Brands: Q FM,” Nation Media Group. http://www.nationmedia.com/Our%20Brands/-/485388/478380/-/38fpdr/-/index.html

[6]“About Musyi,” Royal Media Services. http://musyifm.co.ke