University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Professionals are important people in the society. Our lives would be miserable without the teachers, engineers, doctors and the increasing number of those described as professionals. But many have worried about the increasing gap between professionals and the clients they are supposed to serve (Safeer and Keenan, 2005; Donnelly, 2003). Think of the blame game between teachers and parents; the misunderstanding between doctors and patients; and the quarrels between lawyers and their clients. Whose duty is it to cross the gap and enter the world of the other? Most people will agree that it is the duty of the professional to cross the gap and enter the world of the client. Yet most professionals feel helpless when it comes to doing just that. In this presentation, I address the guidelines that a set of professionals can follow as they seek to serve their clients. In this context, the professionals are radio programme makers and the clients are members of the community.
I also intend to let community audiences know that they should be involved in making programmes meant for them. We have come to depend so much on professionals that we have forgotten that we can render certain basic services to ourselves. Talking to our neighbours about market days or about the problem of stray animals in the neighbourhood through a short-range community FM radio station is one of the things we all can do! We do not need to be ‘certified professionals’ to do that! This short piece tries to teach us aspects of that self-reliance. We need to be cured of over-dependence on professionals (Vedder, 2011; Illich, 1976).
In Africa, when we think of communities, we often think of a group of close-knit people living in rural areas. The sleepy picture of dusty roads and huts is what comes up. This definition or description of community is correct but it is not complete. There are two types of community: geographical communities and communities of interests.
A geographical community is located in one physical tangible place. You can see the members of the community, buildings and animals. The community has a definite or almost definite geographical boundary. The rural communities that we often think about when we mention the word ‘community’ belong to this category of communities. But urban communities are also part of this category. In the large African cities and capitals, there are clean-cut or blurring communities. In many places, the rich come together and build a gated community from which they ban poor people and stray animals. The poor also form their own communities described by the rich as ‘slums’ or ghettos. The poor and stray animals do not ban the rich from their own communities; the rich are simply afraid of going there. Whether in the city or in the rural areas, rich or poor, any physical community located in one place is a geographical community.
A community of interests is also made up of people, people united by a common interest. These people are, however, located in different places. They may reside in different parts of a town or even in different towns. They share common interests. In some parts of the world, there are communities of mushroom gatherers, jazz music lovers, enthusiasts of strange foods and so on. Each of these groups is a community.
So, what makes a community community? It is not every group of people inhabiting a location that can be referred to as a community. A community shares a way of communication; members have ‘presence’ or relationship with one another; they participate in addressing issues concerning them, and they have a consciousness that they belong to that community. Some call this consciousness ‘community spirit’ or commitment.
Community audiences are members of a community for whom a radio programme or a newspaper is being prepared. Since every community is unique, community audiences are not the same from one community to another. In spite of this diversity, there are general and specific principles for making programmes for community audiences. The principles discussed here pertain mainly to radio though they can be adapted to other media.
Principles for making programmes for community audiences
We can summarise the principles for preparing programmes for community audiences into two: (1) know your medium; (2) know your audience.
Know your Medium. Radio has strengths and weaknesses. A good programme maker must be aware of these and make provisions for them in his/her design and delivery of the radio programmes.
Radio uses only audio, not visuals. This has implications for the kind of message you can pass to the audience and for how you pass it. Complex information has to be completely simplified. If any piece of information cannot be simplified it cannot go into the radio programme.
Radio is personal and intimate. Yes, radio is a mass medium that speaks to a large, far-flung audience, but it is also a personal and intimate medium. You can pass on warmth, friendship, compassion and laughter through your voices and sound effects on radio just as you can also pass on hatred, insinuations, anger and pain. In radio, even silence says a lot. Therefore, you must be careful of what is said and how, and of what is not said on radio. The personal and intimate influence of radio is felt more because radio sometimes reaches listeners when they are alone.
Radio lacks permanence. A person reading a book or a newspaper can read and re-read. Listeners cannot re-listen. Once a thing is said on radio, it is gone except when there is a repeat broadcast — and no one can promise that for sure or promise that the listeners will be there.
Radio stimulates imagination. Radio, through words, sound and silence creates mental pictures in the minds of the listeners. The story is often told of a schoolchild who was asked to choose between radio and television drama. “I like the radio drama”, he says, “because I see the scenery much more clearly”. Radio makes listeners to see with the eyes of the mind. With a careful combination of words, sound and silence, you can lead the listener to ‘see’ with their minds.
Know your audience. This is where many programme makers have problems. Many assume that they know the audience out there, and that the audience is doing just one thing — listening to them. That is a grave mistake. Most programme makers do not know their audience. How do you know your audience? It is by living among and mixing with them. Jump on the bus and listen to passengers converse; spend time at relaxation centres; attend general community meetings; and listen to their music. Some more specific issues that knowing your audience involves are discussed here.
You must ask critical and important questions about the audience. Who are they? By which is meant their age, sex, religious backgrounds and creed, occupations and languages spoken. What is their history? History of migration and settlement; conflict and peace-making; relationship with neighbouring communities or other segments of the society are all aspects of the critical questions. What kind of jokes or talk is allowed in this community and which ones are forbidden? A careless one-line joke can set a whole community ablaze.
In Southwest Nigeria, there is a small community with a history of valour. It had conquered its much bigger neighbours and reduced them to vassals. Decades after inter-communal wars had ended, this small, rustic and government-abandoned community still maintained its praise name: the small ant that rides the elephants. During one of its town development fundraising events, it invited its ‘elephant’ neighbours to donate to its development projects. They sent representatives and donated quite generously. Then came the time to dance. The musician raised the song of the ant that rode elephants and the audience caught it. The representatives of the neighbouring communities protested; demanded that their donations be returned to them. There were quarrels, fights and injuries. The radio programme maker can do even worse things if he or she is not sensitive to community history.
You must note that most radio listeners are doing other things while listening. They may be fishing, washing clothes, winnowing rice, shelling maize on the farm or chatting over a keg of palm wine under a mango tree while listening. This is called multitasking. Listening is just one of the several things they are doing. And how do you ensure that they don’t miss your messages? The good radio programme maker must find ways of ensuring that she gets and keeps the attention of these busy listeners. By providing a good beginning for her programme. Not only this, careful repetition should be made to give listeners a second chance.
Remember that community audiences don’t speak just a language; they speak a dialect, and a sociolect. Language is one of the important tools of radio. Incidentally, it is also one of the things that set a community apart. No two communities speak the same language the same way. There are always dialectal variations. A dialect is a variant of a language spoken by a sub-ethnic group. A dialect unites its speakers in a magical way, because it sets them apart from other speakers of the same language. It is always better to get someone from within the community present a programme to that community so that he or she can speak the dialect and use the metaphors of the community. Of course, you may think ‘a prophet has no honour in his town’ and think a doctor from the city will command more listenership than the one in the village clinic. But if your city doctor brings all his city terms and dialect, he cannot reach the rural listeners.
Audiences speak their sociolects as well. Even within a community that you think speaks a dialect, there are sociolects. The way a woman speaks is different from the way a man does. Her examples and anecdotes, her illustrations and metaphors differ significantly from those of a man. If you are seeking to reach women with a programme, in most cases, the better voice is that of a woman. The same is true when you are thinking of youths, aged people, settlers, fishermen, artisans or children. The programme must feature the voice of the community as much as possible. Every community delights in hearing its own voice on its radio. I strongly suggest that the professional who is not a member of the community should serve only as a programme guide to members of the community who should be trained to be presenters. Give the community its voice.
Raw materials for a radio programme
The four raw materials for a radio programme are words, sounds, music and silence.
Spoken words form the primary code of radio. On radio, the words spoken show many things. They show the mood of the presenter, the type of programme being presented and also the type of radio station.
Words in radio programmes are always written. The producer/presenter writes down the words that will be spoken. The document containing such words is called the radio script. However, the way the words are read is such that the listener will not know that they are being read. They are presented as spontaneous natural spoken speech. They sound like normal conversation. Words used on radio must be simple and commonly used words in the community. Colloquial and slang expressions are encouraged except when it is a serious programme such as news.
Sounds are commonly used as effects in radio to stand for the presence of something. The sounds of falling rain, cockcrow, moving vehicles etc are meant to make the radio programme sound real. In radio language, sounds are used as effects and are called sound effects (SFX). Sounds are commonly used in radio drama but they are also used in other programmes and especially in jingles, spots and testimonials.
Most of the sounds we hear on radio are produced in the studio rather than taped from actual situations. Computers used in studio come with sounds that can be copied and used in production. For instance, to create the sound of someone walking in a forest on dry leaves, rhythmic rumpling of papers would do. Where a community radio doesn’t have a computer, producers can improvise. And water poured into a bowl from a bottle can create the impression of someone urinating in an open place.
Sounds must be carefully used in producing a radio programme. Too many sounds or use of unnecessary sounds may cause confusion. Sounds should be used to establish mood (pleasant or unpleasant); time (e.g cockcrow suggests early morning or dawn).
Sounds and words work together. When sounds are backed with narration or discussion, they easily convey the intended impression. For instance, the sound of rumpling papers will more easily create the impression of someone walking through the bush of dry leaves if a narrator says something like this: “it is dry season; dry leaves are everywhere…”
Music provides entertainment for radio listeners but it also performs other functions. Music acts as fillers. When a radio station has just completed a programme and it is not yet time to begin another programme, music is played to fill the gap between these two programmes. However, such music is carefully chosen: it must be a good ending for the programme just concluded and a good introduction to the one being expected. Careful selection of music requires good judgement.
Music can also be used as sound effects. Carefully chosen music can signify war or violence, the scene of a party or any other setting.
Silence in radio programmes speaks. Silence usually suggests that something is happening. It may suggest that someone is thinking or is shocked or is even dead. In the famous radio play, War of the Worlds, few seconds of silence following a crashing sound led listeners to conclude that the Martians had indeed invaded the earth and bombed the radio station plus the presenter. Silence can be used to heighten tension and create effects. Silence may also suggest that the point to be made next in a speech is a very important and even difficult speech.
Silence must be carefully used. If it is too long, listeners may conclude that the radio station is experiencing technical hitches. If it is too short, the impact may be missed.
The last word for now
Successfully preparing programmes for community audiences requires detailed attention because communities are more complex in their structure, aspirations and dynamics than the outsider can readily perceive. Yet it is simple enough for non-professional members of the community to participate in it. If asked to reduce this entire essay into just a line, I would say, “know your medium, know your audience; give the audience a voice”.
Donnelly, M. (2003). Consent: Bridging the Gap between Doctors and Patients. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press
Illich, I. (1976). Medical Nemesis: the Expropriation of Health New York: Pantheon Books
Ojebode, A. (2009) Doing Community Radio: A Toolkit for Nigerian Communities. Lagos: Nigeria Community Radio Coalition. Available at: http://www.radiopeaceafrica.org/assets/texts/pdf/2011-06-nigerian-doing_com_radio.pdf
Safeer, R. S & Keenan, J. (2005). “Health Literacy: The Gap between Physicians and Patients” American Family Physician 72(3):463-468
Vedder, R. (2011) “Too Many PhDs and Professionals?” http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/too-many-ph-d-%E2%80%99s-and-professionals/28236 Accesse