The Cinderella Medium goes to the Ball

If you can recite, from memory, the sound bite intro for Squad Cars. Or you’d still trust Mark Saxon to save the planet rather than Dr. Who, then you will know what a thrill it was for me to be at the Inaugural MTN Radio Awards at Monte Casino on Saturday night. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists. What a great occasion for radio in this country and what a trip down memory lane!
Apart from recognising the overall category winners, the MTN Radio Awards chose to induct into the Radio Hall of Fame, some of Mzansi radio’s all-time greats. Sadly not all were present on the night. The late DJ Khabzela, iconic radio activist from YFM and the greatest cricket commentator of them all, Charles Fortune, among them.
But many great names of radio were present. Peter Lotis. Dan Moyane, always remembered for making Shosholoza the anthem of the 1995 World Cup Final at Ellis Park. Treasure Shabalala, with a voice that even James Earl Jones would envy, and the effervescent (did I spell that right Kate?) Kate Turkington. And, of course, the irrepressible John Berks. Jukkel, stukkel, lekker, lekker, lex!
What a line-up of radio talent.
Seeing one of South Africa’s broadcasting pioneers Justice Tshungu, among those honoured on the night, evoked a particular memory for me. I have never forgotten Justice’s advice to me as a young media planner, to make more of the advertising journey.
“The problem with you whiteys in Joburg is that you are always in a hurry to go somewhere, so that you can get back quickly. You need to slow down a little”!
Sound advice, sadly more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
Understandably, on the night, much was made of the Best Breakfast Show category. Big audiences mean big ad revenues. As a media strategist I know that. But as a judge, working through each individually crafted and motivated entry, I was reminded that there is so much more to radio than drive time. So much more than just big numbers!
The key to drive time is available audience. The equivalent of TV’s prime-time captive audience! The key to radio outside drive time is voluntary audience. Each listener is there, because they choose to be there. Often in preference to Television! Each programme and presenter offers the advertiser a unique programming and advertising environment. Listenership numbers might be lower but listener commitment is not. Price it right and put it on schedule. You’ll get a result.
Against the backdrop of this learning, it was disappointing that so few community radio stations took the opportunity to showcase their talents, and those that did walked away with heads held high. Well done East Rand Radio, Tuks FM and Radio Islam on your well-deserved special commendations and awards.
That’s not to say that community radio doesn’t have some numbers that would make the average marketer sit up and take notice. Every week almost 8 million listeners tune into community radio. That’s more than 5fm and Metro combined.
Ultimately the highlight of the evening for me was the People’s Choice Award. The only award which was not adjudicated by the panel but which was awarded to the station which had the best listener support to an SMS based competition.
Now, you have to figure that the ultimate test of a radio station would be its ability to motivate its own audience community. Right? So it’s got to be one of the big kahunas with the really big audience figures.
And the winner was?
Not one of the big players but Ubuhlebeshowe. Zululand FM 97.0. You’ve probably never even heard of it because you can’t find it in RAMS but it had enough clout in its community to mobilise its listeners and put Zululand FM onto the winner’s podium. If the role of community radio is in fact to stimulate the community into action, then this is the ultimate accolade.
Well done Zululand FM. You made your listeners the big winners on the night!

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