What happened to those days when the radio provided communal entertainment, culture and news? Does anyone remember the ghetto-blaster or those radiograms which families in the high-density suburbs took out of their living rooms during weekends to show-off on the family lawn?
The radios had an important social impact in that they quickly relayed information to the masses, whether it was news or advertising. Radio also promoted popular culture. Now the only radio anyone ever listens to is the one in the car as motorists drive to and from work. Most motorists don’t even bother to tune into programmes on the national broadcaster preferring instead to listen to the music they have compiled themselves onto compact discs or on flash sticks which they play on their FM modulators.
The golden age of radio is over; radio belongs to the dark ages. People no longer seek entertainment, information and fellowship from radio.
Worldwide the coming of the information age has meant that people have switched to quicker and friendlier sources of information and entertainment than radio. The information age, also known as the computer or digital age, has taken over the space formerly occupied by radio. This new age is “characterised by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to information that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously”.
What is most important in the digital age is that people no longer want to listen to something that has been packaged for them; they want to be active participants in the compilation of their own entertainment and news. The last vestiges of radio are in talk radio but that too will die soon because, as they say, “radio is a background medium” as most listeners would be doing something else while listening, eg driving or household chores. It’s expensive too, as the phone charges while one talks.
Radio as we used to know it is now out-dated the world over; hence it is very interesting that in Zimbabwe the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity has the impudence to say that it will keep the monopoly on who gets broadcasting licences when Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is already clearly obsolete.
According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 9th Ed, “Obsolescence is the state of being which occurs when an object, service or practice is no longer wanted even though it may still be in good working order. Obsolescence frequently occurs because a replacement has become available that is superior in one or more aspects. Obsolete refers to something that is already disused or discarded, or antiquated. Typically, obsolescence is preceded by a gradual decline in popularity.” An apt description of ZBC!
Whereas in other countries, radio has been made obsolete by the coming in of the information age alone, in Zimbabwe its death has been accelerated by the poor programming and its partisan use for spreading tired propaganda. Poor programming has meant that the ZBC has not been responsive to people’s needs. Glaring examples are the recent failure to broadcast the on-going Twenty20 triangular series and the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League. Instead, the national broadcaster has never failed to carry tired propaganda music and grainy film footage glorifying a past everyone wishes to forget because it has become a millstone around our necks.
But the writing is on the wall, literally. The satellite dishes that now ubiquitously sit on the walls and roofs of even the humblest dwellings round the country show that the generality of our people have moved on from ZBC. The ministry may deny this but it is a universal truth that people have sought and found alternative sources of information and entertainment.
Through the satellite dishes people are able to access television programmes of their choice beamed from all over the world. Most of the countries from which these programmes are beamed have done better than us in terms of democratic advancement hence their influence on the thinking of Zimbabwean viewers is immense. If the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity believes that by keeping ZBC backward they are denying Zimbabweans information on how other countries are being run and how the information age has influenced how people wish to be ruled, it is grossly mistaken.
Satellite television is hardly the only source of information and entertainment Zimbabweans have migrated to. It’s not an overstatement that almost every household in the country now has access to a mobile phone; this includes rural households. It’s also important to note that most phones used by youths in urban areas are what are called smartphones. These transmit written messages, voice and video; users can send each other information backed by photographs and videos. This means faster access to information and news.
Even the simple cellular phone can be used through its messaging system to send information and news and also to entertain at very little or no cost. Through a platform such as WhatsApp, users can send information across the world for literally nothing.
Governments can try to control this movement of information but new technologies are constantly being thrown onto the market to circumvent this.
The Zimbabwe government’s paranoia which has driven it to refuse to open up the airwaves by licensing independent players in radio and television becomes laughable in the face of the new technological advances.
The Zanu PF side of government thinks that it can turn back the information age and keep the populace in the dark age of ZBC radio and television so as to stem the democratic movement which they fear might lead to North African-style uprising that led to the fall of autocratic regimes. If such uprisings have to happen in Zimbabwe they will despite the shutting up of the airwaves because information has become a spirit that can no longer be restricted within certain boundaries.
In the near future, this side of government may have a rude awakening when no one needs radio licences anymore.