Two weeks ago's announcement by Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) that it has finally (it must be noted after many months of waiting) issued broadcast licenses for commercial radio stations in three provi
nces was rather refreshing. Refreshing for more than one reason. The airwaves are going to be opened and listeners will have more choice as to who they listen to. Most interesting will be Mpumalanga.
While the partners in an African Media Entertainment (AME) led consortium might be excited about the projected revenue that will line their pockets in the future, it actually is the listener who will, if economics are well-applied, reap rewards of the introduction of M-Power Radio. The station which's application indicated that it will be based in Nelspruit should immediately make an impact when it finally broadcasts, given its ownership and the radio experience some of the partners are bringing.

For starters Johannesburgers and Durbanites have been spoilt for choice for some time now. It's undeniable that when government legislated for the formation of community (not commercial) radio stations its main focus was the rural areas of the country where the signal of the public broadcaster might not be strong enough or again, where a shadowy language called Sepulana might be spoken contrary to Sepedi or Setswana which enjoy wide representation in the airwaves. The undeniable truth is that such noble legislation only benefited largely urban areas whereby every Zodwa, Mpho and Vusi have started their own radio stations to line up their pockets. There was even a socialist station called RASA FM in Soweto, which was 'illegally' started by activist Trevor Ngwane (see picture). But the truth is that Jozi had so many small stations to the point that scandals coming out of the corridors made the Jozi broadcast landscape look like a daylight soapy. More prominent in the playing field was the Dakile Family which was instrumental in the starting and management of Soweto FM.

That's why I say it's interesting times for Mpumalanga with the licensing of the commercial (not community) radio station, M-Power. One of the interesting things to watch will be how M-Power is going to roll out its infrastructure, get skilled people, go out and claim its market share from Ligwalagwala, Radio Bushbuckridge and Barberton FM. Even though the station is optimistic that it's not going for that share but rather the one held by Jacaranda FM, it boils down to, ala, the political landscape; if you want to make serious impact you must go for the black vote. While a sizeable number of darkies are Jacaranda FM fans, it's the thinking darky whose thinks Jeremy Maggs make sense on SAFm, and the young man who thinks hip-hop, house, kwaito and Afro-pop are the in-thing. Very few darkies (who usually frequent jazz festivals) can vouch that Bryan Adams is their number one artist. Thus, the black people who don't listen to Jacaranda but other stations will need to be targetted as well by M-Power.

To quantify the task awaiting M-Power let's play a little numbers game. Yeah, they say statistics don't lie but you can't lie through statistics. Mpumalanga's last audited population figures stood at approximately 3,122 990 million (Census 2001), six years later and without accurate birthrate and mortality figures you can safely give or take 600 thousand more at this point in time.
South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)'s Public Broadcasting Services (PBS)' Ligwalagwala FM's last audited figures (RAMS) stood at 1,47million listeners. Given the population dynamics presented by Census 2001 it leaves a paltry two million residents not being devout listeners. Here as well give or take half a million because the figures are not concentrated in Mpumalanga only but any place where the Ligwalagwala signal can be picked.
But who are the plus-minus two million who are not devout listeners? They are the 1,7 million (South African Advertising Research Foundation) isiNdebele listeners of iKwekwezi FM, plus those hundreds of thousands listeners of Barberton and Radio Bushbuckridge. Then there is a serious market penetration by Jacaranda FM, SAFm, Thobela FM and Munghana Lonene. While M-Power is eyeing Jacaranda's market share it can't ignore the other broadcasters in the playing field.

This is the terrain that M-Power Radio management and business strategists need to navigate. It's not about the best business plan but the juiciest bait. The figures cleary indicate that the new radio moguls, if they have any intention of surviving will have to broaden their scope and go on a poaching spree of presenters and deejays with a belief that they'll bring their listeners with them to the new baby. They'll need to break age old brand loyalty trends and deliver a package that Mpumalanga's Black Diamonds will feel worthy of listening when they drive to work in the morning, in the office and when they drive home at rush hour. Their target of 20 - 35 years old LSM 5-8 indicates that they are unashamed going for the jugular. It's good to know which is another weak spot if you miss the jugular. This is their homework. Good luck.

M-Power Radio's victory should be savoury news for all the provinces's populace because it means the public broadcaster will now have competition, which can only mean more giveaways and more benefits to you the listener, to keep your ear glued to that dial. We'll keep you posted.

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