FEATURE: Togetherness Through Sound: Getting Western Music and Radio Out to the Developing World



Togetherness Through Sound


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Getting Western Music and Radio Out to the Developing World


YOU might think those in the developing world…


would favour medication, food and relief above music (you’d be right). I am not pitching the idea (that the) gift of music is more important than healthcare and clean water – those are issues and concerns we in the developed world should be taking care of! I have been thinking about music and how it manages to reach most of us around the world. Whether it is radio or something like Spotify – most of us can receive some form of music during our days. Poorer nations do not have the same luxuries as we do. It is shocking thinking about their plight and what an average day entails. The degree of poverty and neglect is enough to provoke anger and pointed questions. It is not easy curing famine and ensuring developing nations are subsidised and constantly cared for. We do our best here but, in a lot of ways, it is impossible to control the rise of death and famine in these nations. We can do our very best – raise funds and get the message out – but it is a huge fight. Communication with the rest of the world is limited. Large swathes of Africa is cut off from everyone else and do not hear outside voices. Radios are fairly inexpensive but, without the luxury of broadband and the Internet; it is hard to introduce music to the struggling masses. As I said; I know this addition does not solve their daily woes and struggle – it would provide a degree of comfort and, through radio, we can speak directly to them and let them know we are thinking of them.


I wonder how many people in the developing world have heard Western music?! It is said over 75% of households in the developing world have access to a radio. There are over 44,000 radio stations worldwide and most communities, however remote, are able to transmit some form of broadcast. I will look at the problems regarding transmission distance and limitation – and why we need to think more about radio/music and doing something about it. Whereas most of us consider radio a form of entertainment; for many in struggling nations, it is a form of education and information:

Although in the developing world radio is considered a device for entertainment it can also very easily educate. In this paper, Mary Myers describes various ways radio is used to educate throughout the world. One example she uses to support her claim is an example of a radio program used as a strategy to teach farmers in rural areas new farming methods. Certain studies showed that there a lot of farmers listening to the broadcast listened to the advice that was given on the show and indeed did improve the agricultural fields in the country discussed.  Radio shows can also educate individuals especially women about certain health risks and factors.  A fiction radio soap opera has the power to educate women listening to their show about several issues regarding sexual and reproductive health as well as child and parent relationships. According to a study 85% of respondents who listened to such a program have implemented changes in their lives as a result of the knowledge they learned by the radio show (Myers   7). Myers does indeed justify her statement that radio really does matter”.


That might sound like quite an idea and comforting picture: people are able to hear from nearby communities (and people) are able to reach out and spread those important lessons/messages through the airwaves. The actual cost of setting up communications infrastructure is high. Logistically, it is impossible to implement a continent-wide radio network that would be able to feed stations from around the world. The UN wrote an article (in 2005) that highlighted the issues faced:

“The cost of setting up communications infrastructure is steep, however, especially in rural areas, where distances are vast and population densities are low. Most areas outside the major towns do not have the electricity necessary for operating land telephones or computers. Radios, by contrast, are inexpensive and can run on batteries or solar power. As a result, radio is by far the dominant mass medium in Africa. There is one radio receiver for every five people (compared with one telephone for every 100 people).

The content of radio programmes is also “cheap to create and cheap to consume,” says Ms. Grace Githaiga, executive director of EcoNews Africa. This is especially important in countries with high illiteracy rates and where many rural people speak primarily local, indigenous languages. “Neither the creators nor the consumers of radio content need to be able to read or write, due to the oral nature of the radio,” Ms. Githaiga adds”.


Radio, for developing nations, is vital. Education and awareness are the primary desires. It is important news regarding health, conflict and problems are communicated so that people are aware. There are so many daily problems for those in poorer nations – having a daily feed of news and talk means they get to connect with neighbouring communities and informed of any troubles. Schools are underfunded and it can be difficult maintaining all the educational facilities in the developing world. Because of that; radio is indispensable for children and adults alike. There are radio soaps and local music but there is that missing link: a direct connection to the rest of the world. Developing nations in Asia do seem to be in a better position than those in Africa. In terms of radio access and the Internet; there is hope of development and breakthrough. It is hard to gauge exact figures but, looking at a report published a few years ago; it outlines the gaps and discrepancies in the developing world:

The excluded far outnumber the connected and even while the Internet is bringing about profound changes to the world, the vast majority of the world's population has no direct access to it (much less any influence over the nature of the changes it brings with it). Of an estimated 179 million people with access to the Internet (barely 3% of the world's population), more than 80% are in North America or Europe, home to 10% of the world's population (4). In most developing countries less than 1% of the population has direct access to the technology that is changing the world. With the growth of the global knowledge economy there is a very real danger that the ever-widening gap between the info-rich and the info-poor may obliterate any chance of a more equitable world order.


Over the past few years a number of experiments have begun to develop ways of blending independent local radio and the Internet. These were presented and discussed at a conference Converging Responsibility: Broadcasting and the Internet in Developing Countries, held in Kuala Lumpur in September, 1999.

Some of these projects have sought to introduce more diversity and a democratic environment into radio programming by using the Internet as a distribution network among independent broadcasters for news and programmes. Examples of this type of experiment include: two projects in Indonesia, Kantor Berita Radio 68H - www.isai.or.id, and Local Radio Meeting Point - www.un.or.id/unesco/localrad/frontpage.htm; the Panos Institute's Banque de Programmes On Line, located in Mali with correspondents in twenty francophone African countries - www.oneworld.org/panos_audio/; and Latin America's Agencia Informativa Púlsar - www.pulsar.org.ec.

Others, such as Sri Lanka's Kotmale Community Radio -www.kirana.lk, seek to address the problem of the growing gap between the info-rich and info-poor by providing collective access to the knowledge resources available on the Internet -- using the radio as a sort of people's gateway making the Internet's resources available to rural and marginalised communities”.

Radio stations in developing nations are highlighting the gulfs between them and the developed world. Whilst some communities have access to radio-fed education and entertainment; for most, something as basic as that – which we all take for granted – is denied.


Not only could a more ambitious infrastructure provide education and news links to the rest of the world; many struggling communities could – probably for the first time – hear music from the West. Not only that but, by linking our big stations with local broadcast, create a direct link between the developed and developing world – making it easier to gauge levels of poverty and need. We know the power music has in the developing world. Not only can it bridge gaps between communities and help bring about unity and understanding – it touches millions of lives and can help us through some dark times. Having that ‘outside’ voice is vital; knowing those in the developing world are not alone would go a long way. So, then…how does this ambition turn into reality? One cannot alter the topography and landscape of parts of Africa and Asia so that developers can install satellites and provide them access to radio stations around the world. We cannot give the people the power of the Internet: one must be realistic when thinking about this! There is mobile technology available but the way it is being used it ineffective – not linking with local radio access/stations and providing streaming licenses. Reports have come out in past years that highlighted how tough it was for India’s poor and marginalised communities to gain access to commutations networks – India’s media policies being stringent and very rigid.


Governments in Africa – from the wealthier nations – need to provide an incentive to telecoms companies to push infrastructure out to rural communities...this extends to Asia and other nations in the developing world. Mobile telephony can open up the world and bringing about change. Developed nations have their priorities when it comes to poorer communities. We see adverts from charities like Water Aid asking for donations so that struggling communities can have access to clean water. We know the AIDs epidemic in poorer nations and how rife other diseases (like tuberculosis) are. I understand saving lives and providing education are more important than providing music and worldwide radio. The thing is; radio can give so much to poorer areas of the planet. Not only can we communicate directly with them: they, in turn, can speak to us and we can get a much better understanding of their plight. Various stations can bring news and education whilst the gamut of Internet stations means people will have access to a library of wonderful music. Music itself has the power to elevate lives and make people feel less alone: radio can bridge the developed and developing world and, through effective use, help bring about accelerated change and improvement. Charities are doing fantastic work and doing all they can to help communities in the developing world. I feel, with a better telecoms system and better investment in these areas; it can bring something new and extraordinary to those in the developing world and, in time, bring the developed and developing world…


CLOSER together.