Turn up the radio, blast the stereo louder….

“A cockroach can’t defeat a dinosaur. But the cockroach is good at one thing and it has ensured it’s survival through the ages:adaptation. One could adapt to the environment and one couldn’t.”

(George’s St-Pierre)

In 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and lots of people died needlessly because the ships in its vicinity did not monitor their receivers. Two years before that, US Congress had passed the Wireless Ship Act requiring all ships using the US port and carrying more than 50 passengers to have a working wireless and operator. Apparently having them was one thing but using them was optional? To avoid future incidents, legislation that strengthened rules regarding shipboard wireless and that required wireless operators to be licensed was enacted in what was known as the Radio Act of 1912.

They also established spheres of authority for federal and state governments who were rubbing operators the wrong way by regulating what was to become broadcasting. The operators challenged the act in court, won their case and the chaos ensued.Radio sales and profits dropped significantly, stations changed frequencies, power and hours of operation on a whim and there was constant interference between stations often intentionally. This mess would eventually be resolved by the Radio Act of 1927 but let’s fast forward to 2016 where if you listen to radio regularly it’s highly unlikely that you carry a boombox around with you.

old radio set

Radio has remained a popular and relevant mass medium since it’s invention in 1895 because of two main reasons:

  1. It is portable- We no longer have to wait to listen to radio in the house on the radio set, we listen in the car, in restaurants, even the most basic phone has radio as a feature.
  2.  It is local- In a country such as Kenya where people first identify themselves by tribe, radio has evolved to accommodate vernacular stations that target specific communities. This translates to specialized advertising like with newspapers.

Speaking of which, the rise of vernacular stations has raised questions on their ability to be fair and objective given the blatant bias and misuse of such stations during the 2007 post-election violence. On the other hand a lot of good has come out of them especially with regards to civic education the empowerment of marginalized communities through community radio. Follow the discussion here and here and leave a comment below I’d like to hear your take on this.

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