Thursday, 13 November 2008

South Africa Radio Forum

One of the first things you see when you land at Johannesburg Airport is a large red and white sign proclaiming “FIREARMS – IMPORT / EXPORT”. I would have taken a photo of it but didn’t... for fear of being shot. It’s a little disconcerting.
The next thing you notice is that cars on the highways have no lane discipline whatsoever... so a trip from the airport is a little bit like an episode of ‘Wacky Races’, with seemingly random lane changes being the norm. If you’re not changing lane every 10 seconds, I think you’re perceived to be a little odd.

However, both these things pale into insignificance when compared with the next thing you notice when you get to South Africa, which is the genuine friendliness of the people. They’re just great... and do make you feel so very welcome in their country. I was here a few years ago to produce UK radio coverage of the ‘Live 8’ Concert in Johannesburg, with guest speaker... a certain Mr Mandela, and it’s really nice to be back. (Nelson – did you get my SMS? I’m in town if you want to hook up for a quick beer...)

I’m here to present a session at the ‘South Africa Radio Forum’ which promises to be an interesting affair with a good range of speakers.

As anyone who works in radio tends to do when they touch down somewhere foreign, I conducted the obligatory scan up and down the FM dial to see what was on offer. Jo’burg is awash with over 40 radio stations, and with a whole range of formats targeting the wide mix of cultures and tastes that are prevalent in the city. From the now ubiquitous ‘Insert Name of City’s Hit Music Station’ to a luscious ‘African Gospel’ format, there’s something for everyone.

There are quite a few decent talk formats in this market too. Expressing opinions on the radio has been important for South Africans for many years now. I asked my driver on the kamikaze route to the hotel what the ‘hot topic’ was in South Africa this week. What’s everyone talking about? The current South African edition of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which is top of the TV ratings perhaps? The first black President of the United States?


He answered with 2 words. “Credit Crunch”... he said with a rather woeful tone. It really has permeated every corner of the world. It’s good to see that quite a few radio stations around the globe understand what this means to their listeners and are offering ‘beat the credit crunch’ cash promotions. New Year would be good time to consider running a “Pay Your Bills” station promotion or something similar.

Sitting here in ‘Nelson Mandela Square’ in the rather swanky and upmarket area of Sandton, the reality of the credit crunch seems a long way away as affluent Jo’burgers (I guess that’s what you call them?) enjoy the summer sun, go about their lives... have lunch... order latte’s and chat about stuff. But I’m sure they’ll want their Morning Shows to be relating to the financial crisis it in some way or another. It’s the hot topic.

My session at the radio conference tomorrow is called ‘The Perfect Recipe for a Great Morning Show’. I think you can guess that ‘relating to the hot topics of the moment in a creative way’ is somewhere in the list of tasty ingredients!!

By the way – Mandela’s much taller than you think, isn’t he...

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