Keynote address to AGM on the launch of Radio Grahamstown, 1996.
by Guy Berger, 1996
Now the rain has come, and small streams are on the edge of
becoming a river. This is the position today of the Grahamstown
Community River, sorry, Radio.
A river provides water for living: it is useful, you can play
with it, it is transparent and hides nothing, it can irrigate the
fields around it.
A river and a community radio are very similar. But the one is
given to us by God; the other is made by human beings. The Lord
gives and the Lord takes away. Humans make or humans break.
I have seen the long, arduous work that has gone into the
launch of "Radio Grahamstown" as a formal organisation. Can water
run uphill, against gravity? This group has proved it can.
Against all the odds, out of the midst of poverty and against the
potential despair that progress would never be made, we have
strong reason to celebrate today.
There is still a long way to go: this water may yet spread too
thinly, evapourate, be channelled off elsewhere. But we are here
today at a watershed. It is possible to stand here, and finally
to begin to see a promised land, down to which our river will
flow - faster and faster until we're there.
Yet, despite the welcome rain falling about us, and which has
brought us to this point, we must not be blinded as to the
quality of that land lying ahead. Grahamstown Radio needs have a
vision and a mission statement about how to get to the promised
place. And that vision must not be a pipe-dream. It must be based
on a realistic assessment of the prospects.
The organisers (and their many friends like NCRF, Keith Watt,
Bill Siemering, Don Pinnock etc) who helped bring things to this
point deserve the utmost respect. So too we acknowledge that the
joy of this water will not make them drunk and distort their
judgement. I know they will continue to plan so that the river
does indeed flow, and further, that they will plan so that it
does not dry up further down the line.
Grahamstown Radio will succeed, not only because of its
leadership, but also because, like water, it is something that is
needed by the people of this town. It can be guaranteed to give
life to 100s and 1000s of voices of this diverse and divided
Some will be voices of wisdom, others will be emotion. Some will
be educational, others entertaining, some will be educational and
entertaining at one and the same time. Some will be angry, others
will call for peace. There will be rough, and there will be
But of one thing we can be sure: there will be lots of voices
here: men, women, youth, children, grannies, black, white, pink,
green, visitors, residents, experts, lay-persons, priests,
politicians, police, teachers, businesspeople, labourers, the
unemployed. Some voices may want to control and dominate; I am
confident that this station will defend its independence. It will
have a life of its own. Some voices may be hard to find; I am
sure Grahamstown Radio will seek them out.
On this station, there will be music, and different tongues
spoken. There will be singing on the air - and among the
listeners there will be dancing.
And so we will harvest a field of flowers that owes its
brightness to the river called Grahamstown Radio. In this field,
none shall be declared weeds.
Yet, while a river or a radio can do all this good, we need to
take care. Too much education on your station, and you may find
people seeking their water elsewhere. Too much local content, and
you may find people cutting down their intake - specially if it
is badly done local content.
Too much seriousness, and you may find people don't want your
beverage at all. In short, too much of one thing may be a bad
thing for this station.
Your water must sparkle with a million diamonds.
If it does not, your listeners will leave you. There are many
other drinks there, all seeking their attention.
People often go for what they like, not what they need. They buy
junk food or smoke cigarettes, even though they should be more
healthy. At Grahamstown Radio, your water may be as pure as pure
can be: but remember, there are sweetened and coloured fizzy
drinks available - free - for every single one of your potential
audience. Their brand names are Metro, CKEI, Xhosa, 5FM, SAFM,
etc., and more are coming.
In theory, it is easy to say Grahamstown Radio will be clever
enough to keep its listeners loyal. In practise, it is more
difficult. Why? Just as a river needs new supplies of water all
the time, so a radio station needs continuous content to put on
the airwaves. A station must be fed, and what you put in is what
will come out.
Put poor, propagandistic or boring content in; get poor,
propagandistic or boring content out.
So where do you get flavour-filled water for your river? From
your community's existing resources - and there is a lot there,
sometimes deep below; resources that are untapped right now. I
mean here the stories each individual person has to tell, the
songs people can sing and the music they can make. I mean the
experience of NGOs and businesses, the information from
officials, the messages of institutions like schools, churches,
youth groups, and the like.
You also get this water from dams elsewhere: from other radio
stations, in South Africa and internationally. And whatever water
you get, it is up to you to become professional communicators in
filtering it, cleaning it, mixing it, setting the amount to be
That is where you get your supplies from. How do you pay to get
them? Even if you don't pay for the labour, you need to pay to
keep your equipment running and your costs like phone calls and
fees to Semtech signal distributors. If you get content from
outside, which is probably necessary if you going to keep the
river flowing, you will probably have to pay for that as well. If
you plan to play music, you will have to buy it and pay a fee to
For all this you will need money. In fact, I think you should try
to find money for some salaries even, because it is not likely
this station can run forever on fulltime volunteers with families
What on earth can you do in this regard? From where in the world
can you get money?
There are the typical sources, like funders and advertisers. Both
need to be explored, and new ones discovered. The newly elected
council should be asked for sponsorship (without political
strings attached). The government must be lobbied to create a
top-up system for stations that are not viable because their
listeners are too poor to attract enough advertising. But this
must be only for stations that can prove that they meet a demand.
That of course is the key issue. No government or council should
divert money to a station just because it says it is a community
station. If it is bad community radio, and if no one listens to it,
then it is simply a waste of taxpayers money.
Grahamstown Radio will need to find ways to check that it meets
the felt needs of an audience. It will also need to prove that it
has support from that audience even if that support is not
American public radio makes successful appeals for funds from its
relatively wealthy audience. Grahamstown Radio could appeal for
small amounts, or for voluntary help on it, or on community
projects, and keep a record the amounts. The station needs to
conduct research as well, whether through quizzes, call-ins, or
questionairres, to see if it is - indeed - serving its audience.
Besides for seeking money from advertising, funders, government
and town council, Grahamstown Radio could explore other ways too.
The main thing is to survive, and that may mean creative ways to
collect even a few pennies. If you have to outlay money for
music, then charge your listeners if they make requests. Sign up
some sellers, like the scratch card sellers, and get them to sell
requests and dedications at R1 a time: they keep 50c. Send them
out to schools, sports matches, shops, shebeens. Sell community
announcements: cheaply, so people can afford it, but enough so
that your own money can begin to add up. If you believe in the
importance of what you are doing with the station, you have to
find ways to make money to do that.
If you have a computer, sell typing services to the public. If
you have an Internet link, sell access to the world of
information on line that you can download. If you have some
recording facilities, rent time to local choirs and musicians. If
you can run a mobile discotheque like RMR, do so. Advertise it
all on the air.
If you can do a partnership with Checkers to publicise a special
project, go for it. If you can persuade the National English
Literary Museum to run a Learn English series on the air, then
charge them for it too. The initiative will have to come from you
in most instances: you need to be creative as to identifying who
could be interested in your ability to reach an audience, and
then to convince them to use you at a given price.
These kind of activities are not the core activities of a
radio station. They are on the side. It means, simply, making
little streams to feed into the river. These are streams of
revenue, but they are also ways in which your station will
promote its name and also help the community in ways that go far
Much as you see yourselves as broadcasters, you will need to put
buying and selling very high on your agenda if you are going to
keep Grahamstown Radio station going.
If you do all this, there is no doubt that this station could
become a model project for many others around the world. I
believe you can do it. In time, then, there will be many - very
many - people who hear of you, and who take a trip to drink from
the river that springs from this city.