Africa’s oldest community radio station faces closure

One of South Africa’s oldest community radio stations might be forced to stop broadcasting due to severe financial problems.

Bush Radio’s station management launched an appeal on Tuesday for funds to make up R300 000 in shortfalls, saying the station was “teetering on the brink of closure”.

Bush Radio’s managing director Brenda Leonard confirmed the station’s economic woes to the Mail & Guardian on Thursday.

“We have serious financial problems and will need to scale down. If that doesn’t work then we’ll have to consider other options — of which closure is one of them,” she said.

Leonard said close to R200 000 is outstanding in rent payments alone, and if a tangible proposal is not made to its landlord by the end of August it will face immediate eviction.

Massive decreases in advertising spend and tough financial conditions within the community radio sector are said to be the source of Bush Radio’s problems, with a shortfall of income being experienced on a monthly basis.

“This didn’t happen overnight. The recession heavily impacted our revenues and we’re battling to keep up. Big advertisers are steering away from community radio stations and opting for bigger audiences,” Leonard said.

Vital role
Bush Radio started broadcasting in April 1993 through the Cassette Education Trust (Caset), a community initiative to develop small-scale radio projects in the Western Cape. Broadcasting on 89.5 MHz FM from Woodstock in Cape Town, it serves a diverse audience of approximately 100 000 listeners, aiming at an age group between 19 and 39.

It is also seen by many as the ideal training ground for budding talent in the country.

“Bush Radio has an enormously proud history and it would be incredibly sad if they were to close and cease to play the vital role they have been fulfilling in training and nurturing radio talent,” Professor Franz Kruger, director of the radio academy at the University of the Witwatersrand, told the M&G.

Endemic problem
Sonnyboy Masingi, chairperson of the National Community Radio Forum, maintained the problems being experienced by Bush Radio were widespread in the community radio industry.

“A number of community radios stations are facing the same problems, especially with regards to the rental of the space they occupy,” Masingi told the M&G.

These concerns were echoed by Kruger who said funding is hard to come by nowadays.

“Some thought needs to be put in to how these stations can fund themselves as a lot of community radio projects struggle to find the resources even though they have significant listenership,” Kruger said.

Masingi suggests government should get involved in protecting the future of community radio.

“We need to start a conversation about how government can provide space through municipalities at no cost to protect these vital institutions,” he said.

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