The late Edric Gorfinkel talks about his experiences with community radio
FOR me community radio is about a community broadcasting to itself and that has got to do with the community gets access to a radio — through the telephone, through direct participation in producing programmes, through listenership and feeding back on the listenership.
At this stage we produce material on audio cassette since we can’t broadcast, and audio cassette is to radio as video is to tv. So its a kind of training ground if you like for producing radio programmes. We are beginning to build an alternative, fresh, new radio culture.
I think that there will be a continuing need to produce stuff on audio cassette irrespective of what happens to the radio. It is a medium that can be used a lot more creatively than it has been until now. The radio initiatives will be something added, something extra. But the way that we would see training happening for instance, on audio cassette — pulling together projects around particular interest groups like ecology, perhaps health issues, women’s issues, trade unions.
People will then begin to get the feel of what it is to be on the radio. of course in the end there is nothing like being live on the radio. Producing material on audio cassette is very different because on the radio you say it and it is gone. You can’t rewind it and do it again if you didn’t hear it. Whereas, audio cassette is a little like publishing a book.
For me when you talk about freedom of speech, you also have to talk about freedom of access. People must be allowed to say what they think and what they believe. If people are free to speak, they can be held accountable for their actions. So if right wing people are refused a right to speak, they are likely to turn to violence as an alternative. I believe that a community radio station should provide access for those people to throw in their ideas and for those ideas to be matched against the ideas of other people.
If you have got hundreds of pirate radio stations operating all over the place listeners get confused. It is very difficult for them to be certain that they are listening to the station they want to listen to. They can’t choose and I think that the ecology of broadcasting as a whole must be friendly to the listener. The listen must be able to find the station that he or she wants and know that they have got that radio station. I think that becomes impossible without regulation.
Radio Freedom had their frequencies jammed. They weren’t even able to operate inside the country on short-wave and the government has made a specific point of making show-wave receivers difficult to get in the country and so Radio Freedom, as well as the BBC, Voice of Moscow and so on have been difficult for people to listen to and that has been the government’s onslaught on that kind of radio. So I still see that the government in SA has controlled broadcasting more powerfully here than anywhere else and part of the reason that I say that is because no pirate radio stations have emerged. There have actually been a few attempts. There was apparently somebody in Yeoville who had a transmitter.
There was also somebody in Observatory when I was at university, who had all his equipment confiscated. UCT Radio did it for a while. They had their transmitter taken away. The reason they haven’t continued is because the security intelligence about that kind of thing has been so tight in SA. that nobody has been able to get away with it. If somebody is transmitting, there are devices where you can locate where the transmitter is and seize it.
I think the whole issue of participation is central — listeners participation in the content and even the form that broadcasting should take. The listener is as much a part of the broadcast as the person who is sitting in the studio twiddling the knobs. I think we need to get that sense of participation and I think that can happen if there is some kind of broadcast that people feel they own. At this point with the state control of the radio nobody is really interested. People listen to it as some kind of communicator that binds people together.
Radio 5 is not a particularly good radio station. For as start they are all white men DJs and if people were to stop to think about it they would recognise they are not represented. Radio 5 is the best of a bad bunch. I think 702 is much more interesting, possibly because it is not as tightly controlled by the SABC as the other are, being based as it is in a homeland.
There is this whole thing of the radio studio being an airtight closed room with one person and three turntables and three tape recorders and lots of knobs and one microphone. Should a radio station not have 5 telephones so that people outside the studio can tap straight into the studio and speak outside the studio without even having to be there.? Should a radio studio have its doors closed and no-one be allowed in and out, or should it be a big room where people can come in and out, or shout for it to be a community centre?
Radio is a facility whereby people can talk to people, and for me in this country it is particularly important in a place where we have been systematically divided largely along lines of race but also along lines of class.
Radio is the cheapest medium to reach the most people. It is cheaper than print, cheaper than TV, cheaper than anything else. It is the cheapest mass medium that there is. Newspapers don’t reach a lot of people who don’t or can’t read. Television is very expensive to set up, studios are expensive, the receivers are expensive. Radio receivers are cheap and the studios can be very cheap – literally a hifi set and a R250 transmitter can transmit for a 2km radius.
What has happened in Eastern Europe with pirate radios should start happening here. The apartheid regime has successfully cowed us into submission to the point where we don’t up pirate radio stations anymore because we know that they are going to get taken down. I think that the spirit of defiance and creativity in Eastern Europe was very important for the changes that eventually happened there. Those things we can look at. I think that what has happened even in Western Europe and to a certain extent in North America (particularly Canada) the way that they have set up access and community control on their radio stations in their broadcasting networks even on a national level being written into their constitution re interesting to look at. I don’t; think that they are necessarily models to adopt. In Holland for instance, they have a fantastic system that they are proud of, but radio is boring, no-one listens to it.
But for me the most interesting of all of them is Latin America where they don’t talk about community radio they talk about participatory radio and it is really happening. There are illiterate Campacino women producing radio programmes. Collectively Latin America is similar to Africa – also a colonised continent. But there is a burgeoning of self-expression, collective expression which we don’t seem to have here. For me the difference almost seems to lie in the fact that in Latin America, governments have changed constantly. In Africa they have not and therefore in Latin America they have not been able to keep any control over the radio stations that have come up.
One government will come in and want to push it down and another one will leave it. Apart from that there is also the sense that radio belongs to the people. Bolivian Miners Radio for instance where people do have real access to it. They are busy working all day until after the sun is set and if they are going to know what is going on in their community they are going to pick it up from the radio, and if somebody tries to shut them down, woe betide because it is their radio station and they will defend it.
For me the shame has been not only the apartheid regime in all its inequities but also our willingness to accept that level of subjugation. When we talk about it — do we think it will happen? That is not the issue. We must make it happen, and now more than any other time in our history, we have a responsibility to make the things happen that we want to happen and to actually come out and say what it is that we want.
In the past we felt that we can’t say what we want because the security police will take me away. It might still happen but we can’t censor ourselves anymore for that reason. We have got to say what we want, we have got to work for what we want and throw our lot into the melting pot. Otherwise we have no place in the future.
On a ghetto blaster you produce radio programmes, you can do an interview. With a double deck you can edit that interview, you can then produce a programme with the edited interviews and you can even make copies of that. So a ghetto blaster even without any accessories apart from the batteries and tapes is actually a production unit. Maybe just test it out, try it out. Send them as letters to friends.
[The following extract was taken from Radical Radio — Free the Airwaves, published in Kagenna, Issue 4, 1990.]