How to Run a Successful Radio Station in Uganda

Radio On Air
Radio On-Air

In this article, I attempt to address the matter of how you can run a successful Radio Station in Uganda. I will try to discuss the secrets that most successful radio stations hold and some of the things that make radio stations fail in this country.

Before we get into the crux of the matter, let me categorically state that while I hold a respectable 18 years of experience in radio, I do not make any attempt to claim to be the fountain of understanding of how radios work in Uganda.

The narrative below should be treated as an interested party’s point of view rather than an industry-wide guideline. I would be glad if you shared your opinion in the comment section below this article.

Situation Analysis.

As of January 2019, Uganda had over 292 licensed FM radio stations operating across her 134 districts. The majority of these radio stations have been born out of “a need” by the many mushrooming districts, Uganda’s diverse tribal lines and other mainly political reasons.

It’s estimated that Uganda’s population currently stands at approximately 40 million people. The last national census was conducted in August 2014 and the population at that time was close to 35 million Ugandans.

By far, radio is still the most popular medium of information dissemination in Uganda followed by the emerging and often misleading social media platforms.

Radio is greatly listened to by the semi-urban to rural communities. Almost three-quarters of  Uganda’s population own a mobile phone on which the majority of radio listeners now tune to their favourite stations.

By every measure, over 292 radio stations for a population of just 40 million people is on the higher side. If the numbers were to be shared equally, no radio station in this country would command a mere 200,000 listeners. Take note that my hypothesis assumes even babies would be listening to some radio station. The question therefore is, how do you turn yours into a Successful Radio Station in Uganda.

Things to do to Run a Successful Radio Station in Uganda.

The following are some of the things you could do to turn your radio station into a successful radio station in Uganda.

1. Invest in the right equipment.

Radio is primarily about sound. Your listeners will be listening to your sound for information and entertainment. Many of these, especially among the affluent communities, have invested heavily in sound gadgets to get the highest sound quality they possibly could.

Any radio station of choice to this group must equally invest in the right equipment to make the listening experience of its listeners great.

A great transmitter, audio processor, Sound cards and studio soundproofing are just some of the many types of equipment that a successful radio station will invest in to keep their sound quality optimized.

If you listen to the top radio moneybags in Kampala, for example, you will hear a particular, distinct sound with admirable quality. The likes of Capital, Radio One and CBS have mastered a distinct sound that is recognizable even if you did not hear jingles with their call signs.

Sadly, this equipment is very expensive and out of reach for their financially less privileged competitors.

2. Invest In Human Capital.

The quality of output of a radio station is greatly affected by the quality of human resource available at its disposal.

The human resource will interface with the technology, the content, and ultimately the listeners. How good they are will determine how efficiently and effectively they use every resource available to the benefit of the radio station and its listeners.

I have previously consulted for a radio station that owned a professional licence for Simian broadcasting software. At that time (in 2006) Simian was probably among the best five radio automation software available in the country. Unfortunately, the human resource could not take advantage of what they had over their competition. They were instead making do with the cracked low-end version of the very basic Raduga.

For you to gain an advantage over the rest and turn into a successful radio station in Uganda, you will need to invest in the right people. Needless to say, the higher the quality the more expensive they will come.

3. Develop a robust Radio Format and stick to It.

Many radio stations, especially those started for political reasons, lack a good foundation on which they are built.

The Radio owners often have no idea of running a commercial radio station. The pressures of politics also often mean the station suffers from undue influence in staffing, programming and sometimes remuneration.

Quite often, these radios lack a proper programming format or where it exists adherence is a big problem. Management is sometimes driven by politics and nepotism rather than ability, skill and understanding.

This is something successful radio stations have mastered and taken advantage of. Take for example Capital Fm. The station has lost some of its all-time greats like DJ Berry, DJ Ronnie, Alex Ndawula, Allan The Canterkarous, Roger Mugisha, Allan Kasujja, Christine Mawadri name them. Its almost plug and play. The situation is almost similar at CBS et al. Invest in the structure and you will reap the dividends over time.

4. Learn the Secrets of Radio Show Preps

As part of their structure, successful radio stations invest time in prep. Unlike those small and struggling radio brands, successful radio stations employ fulltime content managers. These are often called Program Managers, Program Directors and sometimes add show producers.

By having a dedicated content manager, a radio will be able to plan what they put on air, what they want to achieve with it and how it will tie in the bigger goal of growing the station.

The content managers also remove the risk of having all shows discuss similar content and appealing to the same audience without room for diversification.

These content managers also help show hosts and presenters have evaluation sessions and aircheck to identify what needs to be fixed and how to better the next shows.

Now let’s talk about unsuccessful radio stations! Their presenters jump from the street to studio with little or no prep done. After the show, they run back to the streets without evaluations. They are running some kind of routine that they believe they have mastered. Sadly the listener hates routine. Listeners love to find something new.

5. Invest in Good Production.

Many radio stations do not appreciate the value of great production but it keeps the station fresh and wows listeners.

I remember around 2005-2006 while working with a consulting firm called Competitive choices, I had the privilege of consulting for CBS. During a focused group discussion, we asked participants why they loved CBS and lo and behold, they unanimously said they loved their adverts!

Contrary to the belief that listeners hate commercials, here was a group appreciating the production arm of the station for having great commercials?

A good and active production unit will keep your radio refreshed. The take-home is that studio-produced shows have very little room for error. You practically cut out all that you don’t want and run your show the way the listener loves it!

I have known a few other radio stations like Super Fm, Radio Simba and KFm for making some money from their production units. Super and Simba, in particular, integrate production work into regular programming to add humour and life to their regular content.

6. Don’t stand in the middle of the road.

If you decide to do something, do it like your life depends on it. If you brand your radio as a news radio station, you must go every length to make sure all news is covered and in a timely manner.

If its sports, then do everything to exhaust the trade. Good is not enough where better is possible. Make Your Radio Station “Addictive” so that the listener will have a good addition to relying on you for what you are known for.

Standing in the middle of the road means that listeners will listen to you when they have the time but will be just fine if they get busy and can not make the time. They do not feel like they are missing anything.

If they can’t fall in love with you, at least make them fall out not stand in the middle. We tend to stalk on our exs. By falling out you won’t really have a great audience but you will have regular stalkers LOL.

7. Avoid the Content Clutter If you Can.

Have you noticed that radios tend to do the same thing at the same time? If one is doing News and is good at it, all the rest follow.

It’s not rare to hear someone say “but how will radio sound? That’s not how radio sounds at that time.” Most radio programmers have fallen in the pit of just replicating what successful radios are doing without wondering what else they can do to beat that dominance.

I remember somewhere in 2008 or Early 2009, I made a wild proposal to my then employer to take over Kampala semi-urban audience with “disco-radio”. The concept was to turn the radio into a disco and appeal to the semi-urban saloon, shops, market, and youthful audience. I was reminded that radio doesn’t “sound” like disco. Then Galaxy Fm broke that “how radio sounds” and the rest is history.

Sometimes you need to respect the competition when they are good at something and offer an alternative to those that may not like what competition is doing rather than fight for the same audience and lose to the dominant competitor.

8. Invest in Research

We can sit in boardrooms and imagine what is good for the listener, but until we ask the listener what they want, we may not be addressing their need.

Research unearths many things we may have taken for granted. I love to use the example of Capital Fm. The music Policy at Capital has long been known not to accept band music.

Around 2011 something “strange” did happen. Angela Kalule had a runaway hit banger called Katikitiki. It was a band song. Ordinarily, Capital was not meant to play the song. Then, I am told, they did research among their listeners and found it was their most loved song at the moment. How capital played Katikitiki like an anthem!

Without proper research, they would have buried their heads in the sand and stuck to “That is not our kind of song” while their listeners ran elsewhere to get the song!

9. Go online and Social.

I think I need to say very little about this. If in 2020 you don’t know how important it is to be online and on social media, I hasten to add, you plainly shouldn’t be reading this.

You have no eye for crowds and you are wasting time getting involved in a business that relies heavily on numbers.

10. Position for the Market and Attract Business.

It finally comes down to money. If we generate great ideas but they can not generate money, we will soon not be able to finance them.

If you attract great talent but you fail to turn that into money, you will soon fail to pay them!

While generating content always ask yourself who would want to spend money on such content. You should position your brand and content in a way that generates money.

I hate to add for ethical reasons that if your brand does not help others eat at various levels, they will be hesitant to help it feed.

Why Most Radio stations fail in Uganda.

Now I will also deal with factors that may not necessarily make your radio succeed but their absence could make your radio station struggle.

a) Lack of understanding of how agencies work.

Uganda’s radio industry has a major player called Agencies. These are independent advertising and PR companies that help corporate entities manage their whole advertising needs for a commission.

In order to give value to the advertisers, agencies demand a certain and strict way of doing business while you work with them. From advert traffic to billing and invoicing, the agencies demand that you know some basics of how they work.

b) Owner and staff Complacency.

Some times the two major stakeholders in the business (Staff and owner) start feeling that they are too big for each other. The end result is that they will inevitably fall out with each other. While this may not necessarily mean the radio will fail, some times it causes unnecessary shocks to other stakeholders like the listeners and in some cases advertisers.

c) Lack of an Identifiable Brand strategy.

You need to have something you are selling on the market. Something you sale to the listener and what you sale to the advertiser. Without proper branding, it might be hard for the listener to put a word to it yet when research is conducted they require that the listener mentions it. If you are in dought that branding is critical, what comes to your mind when we are talking about and I mention the word Zina? Am sure you thought of Galaxy Fm not so? Your listeners should remember and name the brand and its components so that you benefit from listenership surveys.

d) Studio Centred Inactive and selfish mentality.

Most radio stations in Uganda have no technology to have any form of outside broadcasting. Taking the radio to the people though is a great idea to grow new audiences.

Some radios will also take years without any activation or promo. Such ideas are great for listener engagement, reward, retention and recruitment.

e) Indiscipline.

Without it, even the greatest idea will not bring any fruits. It will be run down by error and bad decisions without end.

If you have some ideas you think can help one run a successful Radio Station in Uganda, kindly share with us in the comment section below.



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  2. You are one of the people I can stand and say you have good knowledge of how a successful radio works.

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