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Zambia: Meet Zambian Citizen Broadcasters

The media in Zambia, a country which for a long time has only known the Zambia Daily Mail, Times of Zambia and the Post for stable, corporate-style newspapers and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and newer private TV and radio stations, is being turned on its head as bloggers as well as citizen broadcasters enter the media space.

Independent news websites and blogs by Zambians are springing up all the time. On the heels of these is the conversations taking place on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and other forums on Google groups. Membership of these groups ranges from as little as four to thousands of members. These non-traditional media platforms carry contents of all manner which would not normally be carried by traditional media in Zambia.

Also coming up are internet-based radio stations called BlogTalkRadio (BTR). There are three stations run by Zambian citizen broadcasters: Brain Drain run by James Mwape, Zambia Blog Talk Radio, and Lespetty Media. All these three blogtalk radio stations are hosted in the United States of America. Brain Drain and ZBTR are talk show stations on which various national matters are broadcast once a week while the latter is primarily a music station. Occasionally, it broadcasts interviews of Zambians discussing various issues about the country.

Brain-drain host, James Mwape, recently wrote in response to a questionnaire to all three stations that setting up a basic blogtalkradio is easy, free and fast and open to anyone anywhere in the world. There are however, costs associated with phone calls. In short, blogtalkradio is a web-based platform that allows callers to host a live call-in broadcast on the Internet using a computer and a phone.

Mwape disclosed that the station’s listeners who have a Skype account can call-in their shows for free, adding that without this feature, a BTR operator is only allowed about 6 lines, a costly budget for listeners calling from outside the US.

BlogTalkRadio, according to Mwape, has a counter that counts the aggregate number of: live listeners, callers, and archived shows at the end of each show. Listenership of more than 27,000 is not uncommon and he estimates that more than 30,000 people listen to their shows assuming that more than one person is listening from a computer.

Mwape, however, disclosed that he has personally financed the operations of his station for the last two years of its existence and has not, thus far not received any financial support from anyone.

Mwape informs subscribers to his radio station through a weekly newsletter about upcoming shows. He also uses Facebook, Zaningi, a Zambian social website, and the radio’s website to publicize shows. He also tweets every live show.

Zambia Blog Talk Radio (ZBTR)’s Nathan Nkhama reiterated that starting or setting up a show on Blog Talk Radio is “free and one needs only to ‘sign up’ like we do for most e-mails or online blog accounts.”

However, he added that budget still determines the operative activities in terms of advertising and phone calls, depending on target audiences and guests respectively.

Writes Nkhama:

For us at ZBTR majority of our guests are connected from Zambia and Europe. We also have a weekly e-mail we sent out using Constant Contact (an email advertising tool) with a mailing list of more than a thousand. This requires a monthly subscription, in spite of the cost it is necessary for us since our show (ZBTR) is done weekly (Saturday- 9am EST New York, 1400hrs GMT or 1500hrs Zambia ). We also have a website which also requires an annual subscription.

Nkhama states that at the end of each show, a statistical report indicates participation by live calls and actual computers logged into a show.

He also disclosed that their operation costs are supported by themselves and from donations of friends who believed in their cause/work. ZBTR has accounts both on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Nkhama says:

Facebook … helps to announce/inform friends of the show about guests coming to the show, whilst listeners can follow on Twitter by contributing to the discussions and even ask questions. As for traditional media, The Post has once reported on one of our shows, Daily Mail and Times follow our shows and have promised to report some topics of interest. We’ve been in discussion with Radio Phoenix, Radio Icengelo, etc for them to start airing some of our shows either live or recorded.

Lespetty’s Kalinda Shachinda effectively summarized the essence of Blog Talk radio as a unique technology and seamless integration with leading social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Ning empowering citizen broadcasters to create and share their original content, their voices and their opinions in a public worldwide forum:

Today, BlogTalkRadio is the largest and fastest-growing social radio network on the Internet. A truly democratized medium, BlogTalkRadio has tens of thousands of hosts and millions of listeners tuning in and joining the conversation each month. Many businesses also utilize the platform as a tool to extend their brands and join the conversation on the social web.

Shachinda said Lespetty Media initially embraced the technology and ran with it but once traffic to the site increased, they moved to more advanced software for which she and co-founder Peter M’tanda are paying for an initial investment of about $30,000 which will allow them to broadcast 24/7.

She stated that Lespetty Media radio is an online Zambian-American radio whose main objective is to promote Zambian music, artists, actors to Zambian citizens mostly.

Kalinda stated that audience numbers are determined by the feedback they get on their contact page and traffic which is in the thousands monitored by their web page. She also stated that their operations are borne solely by the founders and but that they have recently been receiving advertising revenue including voluntary donations from their listeners.

Like the two other blogtalk radio stations, Lespetty relies on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to draw people to their shows. Lespetty has also of late received free air time on radio stations in Zambia like Radio Phoenix, Qfm and others through media interviews.

On whether Lespetty Media pays royalties for the music it plays, Shachinda indicated that for now most of the music is provided by the musicians themselves who have allowed them to use it for promotional purposes after featuring them on their shows.

With these developments in citizen broadcasting, it is the Zambian government which has a bigger fight on its hands in its attempts to control journalists through statutory regulation. With fast moving development in new media technologies, citizen publishers or broadcasters need not need be Zambian-based, they can easily do it from anywhere on earth.

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