Patterns of production and consumption of local language radio in Kenya: a comparative study of rural audiences
Liberalization of the media industry in Kenya that started in the 1990's has seen tremendous and unprecedented developments in the broadcasting sector in the country. At the centre of these unprecedented developments has been the need to ensure most of the population get information. One segment of particular interest in Kenya has been the rural audience that makes up 68 per cent of the country's population (KNBS 2010). Using a multi-method approach to capture data for the research, I comparatively examined the patterns of production and consumption of local language radio in two rural settings in Kenya with an objective of finding out how these patterns of production and consumption feeds into people's lives in rural Kenya. Data was collected using interviewing, focus-group discussions, observation methods, and documents analysis. Clearly, consumption patterns of radio programmes in the rural areas vary from one individual to the other. Listeners tune-in to a wide range of radio stations. The local language stations have the highest listenership, but listeners also listen to the national stations as well as the urban English stations sometimes, almost interchangeably. People in rural Kenya listen to radio more during certain times of the day when they are available and are likely to make sure that they tune into their preferred program when it is on air. Most radio listening occurs in the early morning hours before people start their daily activities and in the evenings after work. There are no major differences between the amount of time spent listening to radio during the weekdays (Monday to Friday) and during the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Many listeners are free from their work during the weekends and one would expect that they would listen more during this time. However, this is not case. However, male listeners spend more hours listening to radio than women. This research concludes that media liberalization and commercialization of radio in Kenya has led to the emergence of a competitive radio industry which provides multiple local language outlets and a wide variety of content in local languages from which people can choose. Secondly, the study found public access to radio in rural Kenya is most assured when local languages are used, content is appropriate, and feedback mechanisms are in place. Of particular importance, cell phones played a key role in connecting audiences to the station especially in far flung rural areas and vice versa. At the same time, patterns of consumption are related to language of broadcast, content, and timing for programmes in local language radio. Therefore, the research argues that a true Kenyan broadcast system that allows for mass participation can develop only if radio producers, broadcasters and policy makers address the cultural and local language elements within Kenya's radio broadcasting system.