Volume Not Violence: World Radio Day 2023

By Tim Zunckel, Regional Media Business Advisor, Internews Africa

I’m celebrating World Radio Day with colleagues, enthusiasts, listeners, and professionals in the West African country of Liberia. It’s a country that understands radio and peace. As a country, Liberia was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and was seen as a beacon of hope and refuge during the American fight for civil rights and the apartheid era. Central to the national motto of Liberia, is liberty, and central to the people is the fight for it.

On my first trip to Monrovia a year ago, to the month, I listened to stories of colleagues who were exposed to the brutalities of two definitive civil wars that have changed the landscape of this Atlantic bordering nation forever. Physically you can see the destruction of the Liberian Civil Wars, bullet-damaged structures still linger downtown, and the capital remains a shadow of the prosperity it once represented. Ironically, the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out at the time of my visit, different decades yet similar destruction.

This past weekend I spent an afternoon looking for the Monrovia that was home to Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. The liberty of Liberia where Nina Simone taught piano, smoked tobacco, and sought solace. Where the Liberian Broadcasting Corporation spun international soul music so fresh that New York lagged and where the Nimba Disco movement was born close to the border of Guinea. The reality is that the military silenced the music but through that pain, there is a new peace.

Liberia is a country of just over five million people and has over 165 radio stations. That’s a station for every 30 000 people and the concept of community radio thrives in the presence of these broadcasters. It is however a challenged sector. The financial growth is slow, and the economics of the country does not support a thriving media sector, food before frequencies! Sustainability remains a central theme to the industry as many stations grapple to survive in the absence of advertisers, donations, and sponsorships.

So why continue? I think the answer lies in their national motto, “The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here”. No society can thrive in the absence of independent media and there is no liberty if there are no listening options, and no radio stations, the journey to peace in Liberia is a journey supported by radio.

Radio is a platform best designed for dialogue. Speaking and listening. Debate. Discussions don’t have to be definitive, but every conflict is ended by starting one conversation, and radio is a medium designed for conversing. Conversations about conflict and commonalities. Discussions about despair, displacement, and disdain. Audio can articulate angst, anguish, and anger. I’ve never believed that radio is the voice of the people, radio articulates and amplifies the voice of the community. Radio speaks, listens, and reacts.

If we’ve learned anything from the digital world, trust is easily lost in the world of misinformation. In a digital heartbeat, disinformation can change the narrative and people are often left looking for answers. Radio is trusted. It’s a relationship built over time. It’s not a screen grab, re-tweet, or a questionable source verified by a bogus link. It’s a voice, a real person, a citizen in a community, and a network of trusted information advocates that seek truth above profits or fame. Radio doesn’t need to prove its worth in the media economy, it is a platform that thrives in its simplicity and purpose.

Radio is a medium that incubates content and ideas. It allows ideas to grow and be shaped by those who listen and contribute. The impact of radio content doesn’t have to be immediate because it is a consistent medium, always on. With consistent, accurate, and truthful messaging, radio content can lead the drive to a common understanding. Balanced broadcasts foster an environment of peace and understanding, content is the driver of the message.

People are at peace when they feel secure in their language and culture. Radio is an expression of both, it’s an artist, performer, preacher, healer, educator, historian, developer, rhythm, and a north star. Information, education, and entertainment are powerful when they embody the essence of language and culture. Radio speaks and is heard but radio also listens.

As a change agent radio isn’t just a media platform. Radio is often the gathering place of people, the vehicle to teach, and the toolbox to empower progress. Besides, radio empowers and promotes the hopes, fears, and future of the community it serves.

Radio is not a self-serving medium and integrates with other media platforms and community organizations. Because radio has always understood the value of networking, it fosters cooperation and acts as the conduit for opposing ideas, and allows for the expression of disparate thinking.

The obvious benefits of cost, agility, scalability, and reliability remain a constant in the power and success of the medium.

My work in Liberia is a project built out of radio and peace. With the end of the 2nd Civil War and the onset of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL Radio was established even quicker than most of the formal structures to foster unity, nation building and to create a source of trusted information. With a nationwide network, UNMIL Radio served the people of Liberia until 2018 with the departure of the mission. The peace mission took on a new meaning and the service continued to operate with a renewed agenda to promote good governance, stability, and democracy under the banner of ECOWAS Radio.

On World Radio Day, we will launch the next stage of the journey and will acknowledge the ongoing role that radio plays in peace and democracy, in West Africa. Collaborating with an extended network of community radio stations through the Association of Liberian Community Radio (ALICOR), supported by the Swedish International Development Corporation (SIDA), we will assist in amplifying the voice of the people.

Chat GBT summarises peace as “a state of tranquillity and calmness characterised by the absence of violence, conflict, and disorder. It is a concept that encompasses physical, emotional, and psychological well-being and the absence of harmful acts and thoughts. Peace can be seen as a positive, desirable state of being that is essential for individual and collective happiness and prosperity. “

Albert Hammond may not have been a hit on the Nimba Disco scene, but his Peacemaker lyrics ring true to radio and peace:

“There’s a little more conversation
A little more conversation
A battle’s lost and a war is won
I think we’ve cleared the air
You will take good care of me
I’ll be your caretaker
You’ll be the maker of the peace
I’ll be the peacemaker.”

Tim Zunckel is the Regional Media Business Advisor for Internews in Africa. He is currently on assignment in Liberia.