Digital Communication: Success Without Radio Play


After a week in Accra, being back in Cape Town means I no longer hear afrobeats from every sound system in earshot. In Ghana’s capital, the afrobeat genre is king, and artists of the genre monopolize airwaves. This only reminded me of how South African radio is as Western as Ronald McDonald. Throughout the world, radio stations playing their locally produced sounds is the standard; why not in South Africa? In South Africa, why aren’t our artists eating well?

The problem with South African radio

gray and brown transistor radio on table

In 2017, former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng announced a 90% local content direction for public radio broadcasters. Artists and members of the public, alike, offered their support and believed the new regulation to be a win for the local music industry. However within mere months, the regulation had fallen short of expectations, with everyone giving varying reasons for its demise. Nevertheless, if the goal is to get local content onto the radio, going back and forth over why the regulation didn’t work, without applying the same amount of energy in determining a way forward, is futile.

Music has always been big business, but there was also a level of exclusivity to it. A&R people would scour the underground to find new talent, and a radio jockey would break the song if they thought it was hot. Getting your song on the radio during these times was huge! More so, radio jockeys wanted to be known as the people with their ears to the ground when it came to new releases. I cannot say I’ve observed that spirit in South Africa.

“Music is music, but business is business”

Watching my mother in crisis has taught me the art of focusing on the things we have control over, and detaching from those we cannot influence. With this said, if radio is not going to play South African, or any African content for that matter, it is important for our artists to finesse the system. If the radio jockeys aren’t going to play your music, win by streaming. My followers know how much I rant online about artists not taking themselves seriously, and my goodness it feels like I’m screaming into a void sometimes.

Granted, my rants are not baseless; I’ve done the question asking, been the digital intern of a prominent South African rapper, and analyzed South Africa’s music business closely. In summary, funding music projects in South Africa is difficult, making it hard to produce quality music. How will music play on the radio if it’s not been properly recorded/mixed, a radio cut has been created, or marketing marketing materials to promote the single have not been produced.

The alternative to radio success is (digital) independence

The latter point leads to the biggest hardship for South African musical acts; the inability to effectively execute the communication of their own narratives. While we rally for better media coverage in A&E, it is important for creators to get their ducks in a row. Press kits, websites, well developed marketing material, marketing strategies, and so much more are things for which record labels once took responsibility. Now that labels aren’t signing people with enough money to maintain them, and in the South African context are labels worth signing to at all, independence is the greener pasture. Being independent is more than being able to decide when music drops and owning your own masters, being independent is about taking care of yourself; even when the industry is designed for you to starve.


Featured image by Sabelo Mkhabela

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