While many South Africans might not own a wireless any more, radio is still central to our lives
In 2001, radio was the most popular appliance in the country. Now, while just half of the population now owns a radio, more than 20 million people still tune in.
Radio ownership continues to show a sharp decline in the country, the Census 2022 results released on Tuesday, 10 October, revealed.
Radio has long been popular in South Africa owing to its easy accessibility and the availability of the country’s 11 official languages.
The 2022 census revealed that the country’s population increased from 51.7 million in 2011 to 62 million in 2022, and the government is increasingly finding it difficult to provide basic services that are reliable and face no major disruptions to the populace.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s population has increased to 62 million — a challenge for government to provide basic services
This year marked 100 years since radio was introduced to South Africa through an experimental radio broadcast by the Western Electric Company. Since then, radio has been central in the development of cultural identities and languages.
Currently, 40 commercial and public radio stations, and more than 250 community stations, broadcast in South Africa.
In the 2001 census, radio was the most popular household appliance, with about 70% ownership, beating out the television, refrigerator, landline telephone and cellphone.
This has dramatically changed. In 2022, more people owned cellphones (92.1%), followed by refrigerators (83.2%) and televisions (79%), compared with the radio (50.3%). Only 5.8% of households had a landline phone.
Despite the decrease in radio ownership, more than 26.4 million people listen to the radio several times a week.
According to the 2022 census, the overwhelming majority of households in the country owned a working cellphone, a notable increase from 32.3% in 2001.
“It is noted that households in the Western Cape (39.8%) are three times more likely to own a computer compared with households in the Eastern Cape (13.3%),” reads the report.
“Similarly, over four-fifths of households in the Western Cape (83.8%), Gauteng (81.1%) and the Free State (81%) owned a television compared with 30.2% in the Northern Cape. The ownership of cellphones was universal in most provinces, with the exception of the Eastern Cape (87.9%) and Northern Cape (85.4%).”
The increase in cellphone ownership and access to the internet could be the reason behind the decrease in radio ownership. Gone are the days when listening to the radio was linked to an actual radio appliance. Many cellphones have built-in radio applications.
Radio programmes can also be accessed via streaming and on satellite television. Apart from streaming and internet radio, there is also a growing trend of podcasting in the country.
Ukhozi FM is the most popular radio station in the country, with more than 7 million listeners, followed by Metro FM, with just more than 4 million listeners.
‘No cause for concern’
Dr Sisanda Nkoala, senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of South Africa, said the way people consumed radio was now mostly via their cellphones, and it was expected there would be a decrease in radio ownership.
“Is it a cause for concern? Absolutely not; radio as a medium is still loved in South Africa. People still listen in their millions.”
She added that contrary to emerging belief, radio was not threatened by digital media but, instead, digital media supported radio.
“There were discussions that these platforms were going to displace radio, a minister can go live on X [formerly Twitter] spaces instead of going to a radio station to account. I was one of the people who were overly optimistic, but we do not see much of a change because, again, issues of access, technology and algorithms mean that certain people interact with certain people online.”
Nkoala said that radio still carried a lot of weight in the public discourse and the fact that radio is available in all 11 official languages kept it miles ahead as digital media tended to be in English only.
“A lot of the audience like to engage on radio in their languages. As long as digital media does not catch up, and the content produced on those platforms does not centre on indigenous languages, it will lag behind.” DM