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Opinion: Will the newly licenced radio stations last?

Early this month the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe licenced 8 new radio players out of 21 applicants.

These newly licensed radio stations were received with mixed feelings. While some complimented the move as a step in the right direction others contented that there was no transparency in the manner used to award licences.

The question is will these radio stations last?

The answer is neither simple nor universal. But the dramatic and traumatic contraction of the media industry in the last decade or two suggests that the business models that seemed so stable and certain years ago will not carry forward into the future.

I’m not here to look at the criteria used to allocate these licenses but I want to interrogate the future of these stations.

Following the recent developments in our local media, I found myself listening to the song Mamvemve by Thomas Mapfumo.

Musha wenyu wamaichemera hona waita mamvemve

Musha wenyu wamaichemera hona waita mamvemve

Musha wenyu wamaichemera hona waita mamvemve

Musha wenyu wamaichemera hona waita mamvemve

Chipo Chipo iwe bereka mwana tiende

John John iwe bereka mwana tienda

For sure the country is now similar to mamvemve (rags). I was a toddler when the song was produced and it replicates the fall of a once great nation.

Growing up in the 1990s, I would like it when my old man brought goodies home after work. Surely he would do that often. Was it because he was a responsible father? Maybe, maybe not. I now realise that state of the economy, back then permitted him to do so.

As I grew up things began to change no more goodies for us.  I was old enough to understand why.  Things were now economically bad so he had to stop buying those goodies and focus on the family necessities.

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You might wonder why I’m saying this. It is because the media and economy works hand in glove.

A working economy entails that companies will be operating at maximum capacity and they have funds to spare for advertisement. Without adequate advertisers media houses are doomed.

Newspapers and radio stations do not survive on the money generated from circulation – neither do radio stations survive from license payments. Without constant advertisers, media houses are ruined.

Zim Mail Logo

The Zimbabwe Mail last week made a public announcement that it was suspending operations. The paper closed barely a year after it started operating. The newspaper first transformed from a daily to a weekly and I could smell the danger- so could everyone.

Each time I got hold of the paper I would peruse to see what was happening in the county and outside. I however observed that advertisements were missing.  I usually came across the one about Khanondo Safaris, which is a side business of the owner. Was he paying for that? No, certainly not.

Is it that the marketing team was sleeping on duty? No ways.  I think they tried all they could but the dwindling economy couldn’t allow the marketing team to excel.

Alpha Media’s Southern Eye is also reportedly to be on the verge of closing. Some speculate that it will be turned into a weekly and others cogitate that the struggling Bulawayo based paper will be turned into a NewsDay supplement.

Why all these changes?  Simply because business is deteriorating. Companies do not have budgets for advertising. Bulawayo is one of the country’s industrial hubs which are lying idle. It would have been a miracle if the paper kept on running as a daily.

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It is also reported that Zimpapers Group is on a massive retrenchment drive which will affect all departments owing to poor business and viability problems.

The Chronicle, Manica Post, Kwayedza and Star FM made perennial losses.

Have you ever queried why many people in the media fraternity are losing jobs?  A failed economy will yield a failed media.

After scrutinising the current operations of the media in the country, I wonder if the newly licensed radio stations survive, they won’t survive I bet with my last dollar.

State-owned Kingstons won two licences for Kariba and Harare, while former ZBC chief executive Munyaradzi Hwengwere was given a licence to operate in Zvishavane.

AB Communications, which also runs ZiFM Stereo, was given two licences for Masvingo and Gweru. AB Communications is majority-owned by Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira. Government controlled Zimpapers which already operates StarFM got the Mutare licence.

How would a radio station in Zvishavane survive? Do we have enough advertisers in Zvishavane to keep it going?  Will Harare based companies be keen in throwing adverts in such station? The same goes to Gweru, Masvingo, Kariba and Mutare.

The main solution to a sustainable media is to revive the economy first.  The media is naturally subsidized with advertising to help pay the costs.

Will the newly licensed radio stations survive the acute problems the media is facing? Will they bring in new survival tactics which all the other media houses are failing to employ?

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Journalist based in Harare

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