Some time ago, I had written an opinion piece analysing the choice of starting a radio station as a poor economic decision. An abridged version of that article was published in a magazine shared at the launch of a radio station in Abeokuta.
The event was indeed colorful as it commanded the presence of General Managers of radio stations, ace broadcasters, reputable journalists, professors and veterans of the craft.
The icing of the event was the celebration and launch of an annual dialogue in the name of an evergreen, intrepid and invariably golden broadcaster, journalist and retired regulator, Mr Eddy Aina.
The mood of the day was indeed celebratory and the array of reporters, camera tripods, flashlights, and sideline interviews were there to constantly remind you that were at a media event.
Towards the end of the event my older friend, an avid radio listener and lover of the medium whom I had specially invited, Akorede Khameel pulled me aside after the event to question my choice of title ‘Why We Should Stop Building Radio Stations’.
He fired so many questions at me that I can’t recall verbatim as I write this. However, I remember vividly the concept and nature of his query. Being a teacher himself and a smart one at that, he questioned the ironic and hypocritical antithesis behind the decision to publish that aticle when a new station is opening up and further probed along my involvement with the radio station.
After watching me struggle to answer his questions, he fired a last minute screamer, a rhetoric question that left me numb and befuddled for a while. He asked if I gave the advice in the article to the owners of this new station and if they would have followed my advice.
Few years after that write up, like Paul the Octopus that predicted outcomes of FIFA World Cup matches, or like a seer after the order of Michel de Nostredame, French astrologer, apothecary, physician, and reputed seer, whose book ‘Les Propheties’, published in 1555 predicted future events, my opinion is today validated.
While I did not make any outright predictions, the pattern established in the South West today has reinforced my then untested hypothesis.
I had empirically tracked the launch date and number of radio stations in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo States and inadvertently deduced that the growth rate was alarming for an industry with an unimpressive valuation and financial turnover.
The rate at which radio stations open today will make it an unproductive venture to track the number of stations particularly in Lagos and Ibadan. Before you say Dan Foster or Gbenga Adeboye (my adaptative usage of Jack Robinson), another radio station has been announced or worse still another radio station has been rested or shut operations.
I dare say today that Nigeria and particularly the South West of Nigeria is ‘Overradioed’. Overradioed is a term I have loaned and graciously sought permission to use from my brother and friend, Samuel Ibikunle popularly known as Arugboboisi, who is himself a consummate professional known for his historical insights and impeccable use of the Yoruba language in broadcasting. Indeed we’re overradioed because the exponential growth of radio stations in the region is of immense concern amongst practitioners with respect to the needlessness of this expansion and the poor economic decision it represents.
One might argue that more radio stations provide more opportunities for local content expression and job opportunities for practitioners, however, the reality is quite different. The surge in radio stations has led to a saturation of the airwaves.
The result? Listeners are inundated with a cacophony of competing voices, duplicated contents and the quality of content often takes a back seat to quantity. It’s not uncommon to find stations recycling the same content, relying heavily on music and entertainment at the expense of informative and educational programs.
Indeed the South West region of Nigeria is overradioed with this new wave of overproliferation of FM stations, leading to a diluted and noisy broadcasting environment. Sadly, many of these stations are founded by church owners, intending politicians and businessmen who simply want to grow their popularity. With these our airwaves may be flooded by a dramatic return of televangelism via radio, propaganda or hero worshipping, all of which are clearly against the broadcast code.
Concisely, the economics of this FM radio boom are questionable at best. The cost of establishing and maintaining a radio station is not insignificant. The need for expensive broadcasting equipment, licenses, and salaries for employees puts a strain on resources and has always led to either pay slashes, modern day slavery, poor remuneration and nauseating working environments.
Recently, during one of the intellectual exchange of ideas Uzo Adizua and I regularly have, we concluded that the prospects of a new radio station being a success and breaking even today is subject to the conditioning of uncertainty and probability.
Will all new stations fail? No!
Will all new stations succeed? No!
How do we tell the difference? I don’t know!
Our passionate knack for pristine broadcast, something Uzo does seamlessly, further pushed us to conclude that advisers and consultants or would be principal officers do a lot of disservice by advising these proprietors to hire cheap labour which is consequently a recipe for disastrously nauseous broadcast. I sometimes wonder the economic mastery behind spending millions on license and equipment and then turn to hire average hands to use them. It’s wishful thinking to imagine that you’ll upstage existing stations with such structure.
It’s however simplistic and utter mental benightedness to assume that proliferation means woe to the industry and that’s simply because while many fail, some get it right.
One must acknowledge how companies like AIM Group, owners of Cool FM, Nigeria Info and Wazobia; Megalectrics, owners of Beat, Classic, Naija FM and Lagos Talks; and Fresh FM Nigeria operates multiple stations successfully across states in Nigeria. While the feat achieved by AIM Group and Megalectrics can been normalised due largely to being headquartered in Lagos and the subsequent access to advertising revenues right from the source, sprinkled with a tad bit foreign exposure, the tremendous exponential and numerical growth that the Fresh FM Nigeria brand and its subsidiary stations have recorded in the last four years is one that must be duly celebrated and studied in business schools.
While stations, mostly newbies, suffer in the face of increasing fuel cost, dearth of dynamic content, poor revenue and abysmal branding, Fresh FM’s dominance in this space can be attributed to Dr Yinka Ayefele’s je ne sais quoi and maverick ingenuity.
While I protest being overradioed by businessmen who simply want to score a sociopolitical point or use the media to achieve the status conferral function of the mass media as widely taught in classrooms, experts and professionals in the field who have the financial wherewithal must be encouraged. This is so that when we talk of professionalism and upgrade, it does not sound strange or very abstract.
Conclusively, rather than float new stations and overradioing the South West, I recommend that stakeholders must find a way to bring these new investors into existing radio stations and share the stakes. The agelong business ideal of collaboration and formalised joint ownership must be encouraged as a recipe to the growth of the industry.
*Emmanuel Oke is broadcaster, journalist and teacher of media and communication studies who is passionate about excellence, quality delivery and industry best practices