Radio – an Important Human Technology

Mwambao studio

The broadcasting room at Mwambao FM, Tanga, Tanzania. Photo: Camilla Simonsen

by Camilla Simonsen

The technology of radio broadcasting has met strong competition from television, internet and mobile phones with social media. However, the good old FM broadcasting technology, pioneered by American electrical engineer and inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong in the 1930ies, has far from outplayed its enormous role. In countries with less competition than here in the Western world however, this contemporary impact is clearer.

New Study: Radio for Democracy in Tanzania
In the City of Tanga on the Northern East coast of Tanzania, many people do not have every day access to newspapers, television or internet. Necessary infrastructure is missing for bringing in newspapers from outside, and electricity is missing for producing newspapers, or for running a television or a computer with internet. One result is that radio is the most powerful mass media in the area.

A new RUC thesis, a case study of a radio station in Tanga, Tanzania, shows clearly, that it is the case for a lot of people in villages surrounding the city, that their main daily source of information is this regional radio station. The study explores the connection between radio and democracy, but has not arrived to any final conclusions yet.

Some numbers from the study can be drawn now though. In an area where as good as no people have frequent access to newspapers, magazines or television, two surveyed villages had respectively 70.4 % and 73.9 % who indicated themselves as (frequent or less frequent) listeners of one specific, regional, commercial radio. In a third village, the number of listeners was only 36 %, which seemed mainly to be due to a temporary weak signal at the time the survey was conducted.


Kisimatui, one of the villages around Tanga in Tanzania. Photo: Camilla Simonsen

Africa’s medium of choice
Radio is in many places in contemporary academic literature called as ‘Africa’s medium of choice’ and the like. E.g. very clearly in Winston Mano’s essay “Why Radio is Africa’s medium of choice in the global age” it is noted that: “radio has remained the top medium in Africa in the global era because of its ready adaptability to rapidly changing living conditions on the continent. It is much more important and more widespread than any other mass medium”.

Also in the introduction to the collection of essays that the above mentioned essay is from, ‘Radio in Africa’, the importance and potential of this medium is underlined: “Its affordability and its ability to serve rural and urban communities, including those who move between Africa’s cities and towns and its dense rural spaces, make radio highly suited to African social usage”.

Not least radio’s role in development, knowledge and information sharing and education on a range of topics in Africa is subject of a large and growing amount of interest within academia as well as in development agencies, national and international NGOs and other international bodies.

The study about radio in Tanzania is expected to be finished in the winter 2013. For more information, please contact Camilla Simonsen at


2 Comments to "Radio – an Important Human Technology"

  1. Connie Svabo says:

    Interesting. I wonder if this also reflects a more auditory culture than the visual orientation of the geographical North?
    What do people listen to?

    • Camilla Simonsen says:

      Well, thank you for some really good questions!

      To the first question, I am sure it does reflect a more auditory culture, yes. Not least since illiteracy is still much more common in Tanzania and the surrounding countries than up here in the North.

      People listen to a lot of different programs; content wise Mwambao FM is quite similar to a big mix of the Danish radio programs P1-P4 I would say – but with commercials. Eastern African Taarab music and Bongo Flava is popular, but also international pop music; regional and local news are very popular, but they also broadcast international news produced by Deutche Welle; and talk shows are popular too.

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