I would also like to share my understanding of interactive radio and experiences.
Radio is considered interactive when it allows for people’s voices to be heard. It gives ordinary people a chance to participate in discussions about things that matter to them. Interactive radio usually attracts more audience because listeners enjoy hearing other people’s views on the matter and even start participating themselves. Interactive radio is mostly for programs like talk shows and educational radio. This is where listeners can be invited to ask questions, comment or share their own experience on the topic of the day. Preparation is important as it determines the success of the interactive radio program. The presenter needs to be informed about the topic, promote it enough for people to look forward to it and be accommodative of listener responses.
There are different ways listeners may participate in the program, through sending text messages, calling in, or using social media – facebook, twitter, etc. I would like to share two examples of my radio experience and challenge you to decide if those are examples of interactive radio.
Example 1 - English in Action radio program
In South Africa there was a program that used radio to teach basic English to grade 1 and 2 pupils. The organisation that started the program would prerecord different episodes and prepare a workbook that goes with it. There was a new episode for each day of the week. The English in Action program was featured in my radio slot when I used to present. They even asked me to introduce it to primary schools in the province. Through the education department, I was invited to a teacher’s meeting to introduce the English in Action program. Schools were sponsored with windup radios so they could tune in to the radio at the time of broadcast. The teacher would use the workbook for the day’s activities and send a feedback form that reflected on how the lesson went and what the pupils struggled with. The English in Action team would use the feedback in moving forward. Would you consider this interactive radio?
WHAT WORKED WELL
1.English in Action team provided participating schools with wind-up radios to make it easy for teachers to tune in.
2.The program was also supported by the department of education and that made it easy for teachers to comply with instructions.
3.The program was featured in a woman’s magazine slot. It did not only reach the target audience of grades 1 and 2 pupils but it also reached mostly women at home. We would get calls from women at home showing appreciation. Some would even ask for copies of the program as they say they are learning and gaining confidence in speaking English.
4.The program was very simple and it was easy to understand instructions. Anyone was able to use it.
5.Feedback from teachers was channeled through the department of education office.
6.English in Action team would use the feedback to refine the following year’s production if needed.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK WELL
1.The program was designed for school children and only played at a certain time of day. There were no repeats. If for some reason teachers were not ready on time, they would miss all or part of the broadcast.
2.The lessons were too long, each episode was one hour long.
Example 2 - Community Learning Programs
I worked for an NGO that was training community radio stations on producing radio programs. These were different stations in different communities and content depended on what was identified by that specific community. They had weekly programs. The production team would promote the radio program on social media using facebook. They would introduce the topic and invite comments or questions for the program. Sometimes the stations would even play teasers with clips of pre-recorded vox pops and interviews so that listeners were encouraged not to miss the program. Each community had different listener groups, groups of the target audience that would meet up and listen to the program together. The programs were presented live and would use pre-recorded materials. Listeners would be encouraged to interact live using sms, facebook or phone call. The listener groups were also participating by asking questions or sharing experiences live. They would also provide feedback on the overall program.
WHAT WORKED WELL
The radio production team involved the community or target audience from the onset. They would have sessions to brainstorm issues of concern on a particular topic. They used a method we called Community learning Program, where they list issues of concern, challenges faced, consequences of those challenges, suggested solutions and what would be the benefits of those suggested solution. That information alone equipped the production team on how to go about producing the program.
The feedback from listener groups helped improve the quality of radio programs
Questions from listeners to subject experts allowed for provision of more information so listeners learned more
Listenership figures went up
Some radio stations reported an increase in revenue, they managed to sell the program spot to potential advertisers
WHAT DIDN’T WORK WELL
Sometimes it was difficult to have a dedicated listener group that met every week
Depending on what the topic is, when it is time to ask questions, some listeners did not want to be the first to comment or ask question, they always waited for someone to break the ice before contributing
For stations that worked with pre-recorded programs, some listeners were left out from contributing as whatever comments they wrote on social media would not be read.