Radio originates way back from the 1895, the first radio transmission was set up from a temporary station by Guglielmo Marconi. The revolutionary work in the field drew the attention of many great minds of people such as Alessandro Volta, Andre- Marie- Ampere, Georg Ohm and James Clerk Maxwell.
In Namibia, radio broadcasting began in 1956 when the South West African Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC) was established, under South Africa former apartheid regime. History has it that, SWABC used to disseminate information in favour of the former apartheid regime in Namibia. When the liberation struggle intensified in the 1960s, however, SWABC reportedly gave birth to three local language services such as the Oshiwambo, Otjiherero and Damara/Nama. These indigenous services unfortunately were again used, reportedly, to effectively employ the “divide and rule” tactic of the then South African ruling regime.
However, in today’s Namibia, the use of radio as a vital tool in the development process has been restored, as attested to by rural dwellers. They tell tales of how radio has impacted their lives positively.
13 February is set aside each year to mark World Radio Day. This alone speaks to the importance of radio in the lives of many people around the world. History informs us, that radio was used as a tool of propaganda during World War II; it was used as a catalyst in spreading the information that fueled the war.
However, these days in Namibia, as in other developing countries, radio has, by virtue of this important role, gone beyond that basic importance. Radio is no longer a luxury to be used only by the affluent members of a given society. It has become a necessity, an indispensable tool of communication for ordinary people, especially those who live further away from urban settlements. In most cases, the rural dwellers cannot imagine a day without the use of radio. Radio brings to them messages to improve and develop their livelihood; radio has become a medium of rural development, it mediates between developmental partners such as government and its stakeholders in disseminating information about development projects.
About 62 % of the Namibian population lives in rural areas and their access to modern communication technologies is very limited. Newspaper distribution and cellphones coverage have yet to reach many of the rural dwellers in time to have any significant impact on their lives. This lack of a wide range of news coverage leaves these people with not many options but to continue to chiefly rely on radio for information. And so far, radio seemingly has served this particular need of rural people as they tune in to the radio to find out more about current affairs or information that can actually help them make informed decisions to live their lives fully and to participate in the processes of a democratic society.
Although the newer communication technologies will, arguably, not even by a long shot replace radio, they, on the other hand, have significantly complemented radio programming. They actually have enhanced radio broadcast greatly. It now perhaps makes sense when those marketing the newest technologies would put forward a strong argument that gadgets such as cellphones would contribute to development in African countries.
Radio is a significant tool for information dissemination and it has defied the odds in the times of new digital age. Radio has proven to be the most favourable and accessible medium of communication to many people, especially in rural areas. Its importance is relevant also in urban areas where there are other means of communication such as internet and television. In nations where internet and electricity are limited, radio is the strongest medium for connecting isolated communities. Radio is still the dominant mass medium in Africa, reaching further than newspapers and television, both in terms of audience numbers and geographical reach. Radio can be used as a platform for linkage and exchange between policymakers, government bodies, communities and researchers. There are potential benefits of linking radio with other forms of media such as the internet and mobile phones. Radio has the ability to raise awareness and stimulate social change amongst the target audience.
*Marina Matundu is the manager for the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Omurari FM.