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Kiswahili radio stations top charts in audience survey

"Kiswahili is doing well is because the stations have repackaged their content to suit the modern listener" 

Kiswahili radio stations have beaten their vernacular and English language counterparts in popularity, a new study shows.

The July 2009 Kenya Audience Research Foundation (KARF) research carried out by Synovate, a market research company, shows that Kiswahili leads the pack with 48 per cent of listeners.

English and vernacular radio stations follow with 38 per cent and 14 per cent of the audience respectively.

“Kiswahili has grown rapidly after the storm over vernacular stations. However, the major reason why Kiswahili is doing well is because the stations have repackaged their content to suit the modern listener,” said Mr Joe Otin, the director of media monitoring division at Steadman Synovate.

Modern listener
Compared with the old guards such as KBC’s Kiswahili Service, recently launched stations are more contemporary and have a good mix of music that is enticing to the modern listener.

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Mr Otin told the Business Daily that Kiswahili radio stations have been forced to develop interesting programming in order to ward off competition from vernacular stations.

The presentation has therefore become more chic in order to attract a young audience.

New entrants that hit the airwaves in the last one year use Kiswahili and other languages such as English and some vernacular to form a “sheng” blend. This colloquial Kiswahili is more popular with young listeners.

However, Vincent Kawoya of Kenyatta University, in his paper The Case for Kiswahili as a Regional Broadcasting Language in East Africa, says the use of hybrid Kiswahili may pose a threat to standardised Kiswahili.

He said that rather than dismiss the emergent forms of hybrid Kiswahili, we should accept them as a form of linguistic freedom that mirror the push for expressive freedom that led to the rise of FM stations.

“Kiswahili can be tapped as a resource for mobilising support for the East African regional integration process. Kiswahili should be elevated to the position of a regional broadcasting language for a proposed regional broadcasting network operating under the aegis of the East African Community,” said Mr Kawoya, in the paper released in March this year.

The most recent entrants are Nation Media Group’s QFM and Radio Africa’s Jambo Radio, bringing Swahili stations to 15.

English stations dominate the scene, standing at 40, while vernacular stations are 25.

The survey notes that new stations, those opened after 2002, command 46 per cent of the listenership compared to the older stations.

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