Radio Breeze FM, Zambia

Open door radio

breezeFM_case_textIn 2002, Mike Daka quit his job as Director of the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication, the country’s leading media training centre, and moved his family to Zambia’s Eastern Province to set up Radio Breeze. For a successful journalist, editor and trainer with more than 30 years’ experience, this was an unusual step. Yet Mike had a burning ambition to establish a financially sustainable rural radio station with a mission.

Prior to 2002, most people in Eastern Province had only limited access to radio news. The leading broadcaster in the region was Zambian state radio but it only broadcast in the local language, Nyanja, for four hours a week, meaning that only the minority who understood English fluently had consistent access to radio news.  In order to serve the whole community, Radio Breeze transmits an equal mix of English and Nyanja during the week, and 70% Nyanja programming at weekends.  Radio Breeze conducted extensive audience research and, based on their listener preferences, focuses on providing local news as well as information on development topics relevant to the community, such as hygiene, health and agriculture.

Mike uniquely seeks to demystify radio by encouraging people to visit the radio station and, through their open door policy, watch the broadcasts live on air. The station also collects information from the districts it covers and has a high level of interaction between staff and listeners.

Not only has this served to lift the veil from radio, it has created a financially profitable station.  People were used to receiving free broadcasts from the national broadcaster and the local Catholic radio station.  However, due to Radio Breeze’s high-level of audience interaction, they have created a diverse advertising base – from ordinary people paying for personal announcements and small-scale businesses purchasing ads for hair salons, restaurants and bars, to ads by multinationals with local offices and NGOs and even the government paying for public service announcements and information programmes.

Over the past decade, Radio Breeze FM has developed a reputation for its high level of professionalism and its unique combination of private ownership, community orientation and advanced management.

However, the attitude of the authorities towards the station has been a challenge. The central government has been uncomfortable with the existence of a strong independent radio station outside its sphere of influence and it repeatedly rejected the station’s applications to expand its geographical coverage. However, in 2011 the authorities finally granted a licence, which enables Breeze FM to extend its geographical coverage, increase its audience and expand its news coverage and programming. The expansion also helps the station to extend its advertising and sales operations.

In 2011, MDIF provided a loan to Radio Breeze to purchase transmission equipment and conduct a follow-up marketing campaign as it expanded its provision of independent news and information to listeners in the far north and west of the province, as well to Linyanja-speakers in parts of neighbouring Malawi.