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Local Radio Stations Perform Poorly in Tanzania. Here’s How That Situation Can Change

Most Tanzanians depend on radio stations for education, entertainment, access to real-time news, and maintaining family connections, necessitating the need for the medium to do better.

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“The last time we paid salaries to our journalists was six months ago,” said Jacob Mwenga, the station manager of Ice FM located in Makambako town, Njombe region. “One might ask why we are still broadcasting. The answer is simple: we love serving the community.”

Now, that is the sad financial picture of many radio stations located in various parts of the country, which depend on small adverts and donations from their listeners to run their stations. In Tanzania, most of the population lives in rural areas due to economic activities and various social factors.

Most of the population depends on radio stations for education, entertainment, access to real-time news, and maintaining family connections. According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Tanzania Mainland has 218 radio stations, while Zanzibar has 27.

Despite the intervention of many media projects and institutions, these radio stations are struggling financially. Some are facing closures by authorities due to failure to pay the annual fee charged by the regulator, among other issues.

Poor content

Many media owners think running a radio business is like managing a shop, believing people will tune in regardless of their content’s attractiveness. If you tune into most radio stations, you’ll find their content heavily focused on entertainment, with only twenty or ten per cent dedicated to local and national news, often centred around government issues and political parties. 

READ MORE: Surviving on Brown Envelopes: Tanzania’s ‘Volunteer’ Radio Journalists in Limbo

This observation is supported by the 2022 Yearbook on Media Quality, published annually by the University of Dar es Salaam School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC). The lack of data-driven radio programmes and effective marketing strategies poses a significant threat to the sustainability of many local radio stations. 

Most stations lack information on their listeners’ needs, hindering decision-making in creating content that appeals to a broad audience and attracts advertisers. Journalists also double as marketing officers in many radio stations, handling advertising duties alongside their journalistic responsibilities.

To address this, media owners must hire marketing professionals to collect data to understand audience preferences better and attract new listeners and advertisers. 

This approach ensures their stations’ financial sustainability. Additionally, comprehensive training and mentoring programmes should be provided for owners and station leaders to improve financial management, increase revenue, and reinvest in engaging content that resonates with their audiences.

Poor usage of social media

In Tanzania, almost all regions have internet access. Yet, most radio stations are not very active on social media—those who are active often post content unrelated to their audiences and fail to interact with them effectively. 

READ MORE: Media Freedom and Climate Crisis in Tanzania

They need to realise that increased use of social media could enhance their viability with a younger, urban audience and help them monetise their content, thereby contributing to the sustainability of their stations.

They miss out on new online marketing opportunities and potential audiences by remaining inactive. Many of these stations lack the necessary resources and expertise to manage social media platforms effectively and will require significant support to develop this capability.

Most journalists work voluntarily, and after receiving training from various organisations at their radio stations, they are often noticed and recruited by larger radio stations in major cities. Staff turnover weakens these local radios because when experienced staff members leave, they take valuable skills and knowledge with them.

This results in poorer quality programmes and leaves remaining employees feeling overworked, which can lead to difficulties in day-to-day operations. Consequently, it becomes harder for the station to attract and retain listeners and advertisers.

Staff turnover poses a significant obstacle to the sustainability and success of local radio stations. It undermines operational efficiency and weakens staff morale.

Geographical constraints

Owners often start these radio stations in remote areas without proper market research, often for political reasons. The lack of research leads them to have unrealistic expectations, such as assuming advertisers will line up at their door with cash. 

READ MORE: Embattled Simalenga Speaks Out As Journalists Declare Coverage Boycott

When this doesn’t happen, they often abandon the stations to the staff because they lack new marketing ideas. This results in difficulties in reaching a broader audience, which impacts the stations’ potential for growth and sustainability.

Additionally, these remote radio stations often overlook local solutions, instead seeking big advertisers that are difficult to attract rather than focusing on their audience and local events like football games and musical concerts. These activities draw their audience closer and generate income through local sponsorships.

Some advertisers are attracted by the large attendance at these events, as it provides a prime opportunity to interact with consumers. These stations can charge local and national advertisers for posters at the location and sponsorship advertisements on the radio. They can also ensure that local digital advertisements are designed and widely shared on social media platforms.

To address these challenges, media owners need to invest in professional marketing teams and comprehensive training programmes to enhance financial management and content development. 

Radio stations can improve their financial sustainability by focusing on audience preferences, leveraging social media, and engaging in local community events and continuing to serve their vital role in Tanzanian society.

Temigunga Mahondo is a seasoned journalist and media trainer. He’s available at temig2003@gmail.com. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at editor@thechanzo.com

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