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Examine the relevance of radio drama in the modern day context of Zimbabwe

Radio has seen its place in the modern media landscape questioned and doubted with many people wondering why is the radio still around when its competitor, the television, has brought much better listening experience coupled with visual motion pictures. The arrival of the TV in the household led to the prediction of doom and gloom for old media format. A few station closed but the creation of stereo signals and new content formats led radio to new heights such as the penetration of radio into that other great human devices like cars, mobile phones and the web. Radio is still finding ways to survive and even flourish.

New content delivery platforms have been added to radio and as such radio has been rejuvenated. The radio used to thrive in the car, office and home but recently it can be found in the cafeteria, on a mobile phone, satellite television and the internet. May radio stations have sprouted both online and offline. For example Zimbabwean radio stations offline have grown from a mere four to over ten stations between 2012 and 2017. The radio stations includes Sport FM, Radio Zimbabwe, Power FM, National FM, ZiFM, Metro FM, SkyzFM, Star FM, Midlands FM, Diamond FM and Nyaminyami FM. Internet radio stations for  Zimbabwean audiences include Nehanda Radio, Breeze FM, Zim Net Radio, YA-FM and Voice of Africa Zimbabwe (VOA).

With the advent of internet and the proliferation of satellite services radio has gone from local to international audiences. With technology come more possibilities such as podcasting which has enabled content to be saved and consumed by audiences’ way beyond the power of the original signal. A key observation to make is that digital platforms do not replace media usage, instead they enhance it. Radio’s accessibility continues to expand. Radio is still known for its broad reach. To this day, approximately 92% of consumers aged 12 years or older listen to radio each week.

Radio broadcasts can provide real-time information, broadcasted 24 hours a day to provide the most recent updates to listeners. Stations have the ability to reach across borders and become a source of information where reliable news is scarce. When access to the internet is blocked and phone lines are cut, people can still search the airwaves for trustworthy sources. Even electricity is not a necessity for battery operated and hand-cranked radios.  As a result drama has a higher chance of being listened to since the radio is the only source of information.

The radio, in Zimbabwe, has continued to grow not for good reasons but for bad ones especially with a view towards traditional radio. In a bid to cling to power the government embarked upon a programme in which every province must have a radio station whose programming is heavily censored. The government thus did not give out internet radio licence due to the fact that internet radio is difficult to censor, coordinate and prosecute since Zimbabwe lacks the technology and expertise to curb against such and also because the internet operates on a different set of rules as well as it is no man’s land.

Radio is affordable and hence many people continue to follow and rely on radio as a cheaper alternative of television. Because radio is cheap most people chose to create radio drama as it is also very cheap cutting out live staging excesses like costumes, props and sets. The beauty of radio is that all recording can be achieved in the studio without expending a dime in changing locations if need be.

Movies and television invite the audience not to use his own imagination, but to take for real the images through the eyes of the camera and see, as in life, the events that unfold. The stage, too, creates an impression of immediacy. But in radio, the craft is of a largely different sort. For what radio exploits, in full, is not the passive power of the eye to behold, but the versatile genius of the mind to create. Radio gives voice to words and energy to sound and then, because no scene is drawn, leaves the mind unfettered to envision not the things it must, but rather those it will.

Radio provides a natural forum for a writer to experiment with forms or themes not certain to be welcomed on the stage explains why playwrights with a record of theatrical successes—those like Aaron Chiundura Moyo — continue to write for the radio. The introduction of community radio means that playwrights are able to write drama for a target audience and this will subsequently creates large communities for feedback and eventually successful plays.

The advantage of a radio drama over TV drama or even watching a film is that you become more engrossed in listening to the drama, and because of that you can understand the plot of the story better. When you are watching television your brain is at a very low level of consciousness and you tend to let the drama just wash over you, and you do not make the necessary effort to really engage with what you are watching. This probably explains why when you watch some TV programmes or films you find it difficult to pick up the thread of the story. However you pay more attention or concentrate more when listening to the radio because your brain seems to be engaged much more. And as such radio drama can leave a lasting impression on you, more than films can.

The voices of the actors can have an impact in radio drama too, and indeed they need to have an impact because the voice is the only impression you have of the character. The problem with TV or film is that there is plenty to see and sometimes the plot of the text gets lost in the jungle of elements wanting your attention. Instead radio provides you with auditory feedback which you must pay attention to as you listen. With TV or film, the audience usually gets half the story as they focus on the visuals and discarding the underlying accompanying audio and very often three people who saw one film will come up with three entirely different interpretation of the text in question.

Despite the fact that radio broadcasting puts both journalists and the stations they work for at risk, they continue to exist because there is a readership that values their news and information. Radio continues to be a widely used medium for reporting both local and international news. Advances in technology may have led to the emergence of a broad range of media outlets and platforms, but it has also made the radio more accessible for populations that lack access to other means of information technology, which is why it is still very much relevant today.

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