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How radio drama is gradually fading away

By Margaret Mwantok
27 February 2018   |   4:22 am
For decades, radio stations adopted radio drama across the globe to promote socially-conscious messages among the people such as health issues...

Radio drama studio

For decades, radio stations adopted radio drama across the globe to promote socially-conscious messages among the people such as health issues, anti-corruption, child labour and other campaigns to educate and engage the public. This is because of radio’s capacity to reach a wider audience irrespective of the intellectual background.

The importance of radio drama in the 21st Century cannot be overemphasised, especially in countries where freedom of expression is suppressed, access to technology is expensive or illiteracy rate is high. Radio continues to play an important role in information sharing.

In radio drama, voice is the only impression listeners have of the characters, and it gives the listeners room to imagine and create mental picture of the scenes. Radio programmes often leave lasting impressions more than TV programmes or films can.

According to a baseline survey conducted in 2010 and 2011 in such cities as Abuja, Benin, Ibadan, Ilorin, Kaduna and Zaria by Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI) and Measurement, Learning & Evaluation (MLE) Project, among women, radio is an important source of family planning information. More than 57 per cent of women with knowledge of family planning at baseline received family planning messages through radio campaigns.

However, in Nigeria it appears that radio drama is gradually fading out of the airwaves, with live programming dominating most of the broadcast fare, as noted by veteran radio dramatist and broadcaster, Mr. Lindsay Barrett.

According to him, “In the early years of post-independence broadcasting, Nigeria’s radio drama repertoire was widely regarded all over the English-speaking world as a truly innovative and exciting medium of creative expression.”

General Manager of Radio Nigeria, Purity FM102.5 Awka, Mr. Gregory Odiakosa, said it was a very sad situation and would not ascribe it to lack of writers of radio drama or actors, saying drama itself is a capital intensive venture.

Odiakosa, however, stated, “Those in power are not interested; they do not appreciate the fact that drama should be a constant menu on their programme schedule. I remember at the early time, we were doing drama every week, and the station was paying, but at a point they stopped.

“Today, radio stations are struggling to survive, with the high cost of power generation and maintenance of equipment. Some stations even find it difficult to provide paper for news departments to print news. In such circumstances, paying for a drama crew would no doubt prove problematic, as it would mean additional cost. I like what The Guardian is doing. Maybe this can get to the right quarters and policymakers at the top level.”

Odiakosa stressed that there was no conscious effort to employ drama professionals to make sure that drama forms a regular menu on radio programmes schedules, as drama scripting is a talent-driven affair.

“Its difficult to sustain scripting by one person on a weekly basis where there is no team,” he said. “Some stations refuse to pay for scripts so writers become reluctant. Though in the alternative, improvisation may take the place of scripting. But this mostly works with people who are old in the craft and understand themselves.

“Even in places where stations agree to pay artiste fee to cast. It may take ages before it comes, and the pay is ridiculous. They have killed many programmes or at the inception of new ones with one sentence, ‘Go and get a sponsor!’”

For Makinde Adeniran is a BBC-trained writer for radio, and he had worked with BBC on its African flagship radio programme, Story Story drama series for more than six years. Adeniran is also the Lagos chapter chairman of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP). He said it has become a disservice to the country not to have radio drama on air.

According top him, “The way radio stations are set up in Nigeria is another problem. You have individuals, who are not particularly experienced setting up radio stations. They are not setting them up to better the nation but purely as a reckless business venture. This is because they are not serving the people in a realistic way; they only see physical cash and never see anything in social cash and this is a big problem. Government must also take note of those it gives licenses to because, in the long run, it boils down to the security of the nation.

“As writers, I can say we are failing to impact the quality of training we got to the younger ones. As the chairman of NANTAP, Lagos, it is a serious problem because capacity building is what makes quality production. This is across board in Nigeria; we don’t have the culture of building capacity.”

Adeniran said Story Story gave room for many others to come onboard, ADDING, “I think at that point, something happened to radio drama production in Nigeria and for listeners, the airing could not take the kind of amateurish production in the market. If we were able to continue with radio drama, it would have been great. Radio drama is not something that just anybody can pick up and do.”

General Manager of Nigeria’s first private radio station, Raypower, Mr. Ambrose Somide, on the other hand, stated that radio drama still exists in some markets, especially in the north. He added that the high competition in cities like Lagos as well as the average age of listeners that are relatively young might have reduced the influence of radio drama, as they may not be the target market.

“The nature of radio programming in Lagos is so dynamic that if you put up a dull programme, nobody will listen to you,” he stated. “I’m not saying radio dramas are not good, but if they are not tailored to the right market and listener, then they won’t fly. You cannot tie the younger people down for too long with drama. They want entertainment and information on the go, and they want interaction with the studio for his views and opinions to be heard.”