Lydia Wang’oma’s first love was television. But after working with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation as a television producer and presenter for 22 years, Mrs. Wang’oma joined RANET Bulala FM, a community radio station in Abanyala, a village in Busia county, Western Kenya.
RANET Bulala FM is one of six radio stations set up by the Kenya meteorological department as an early warning system for areas that experience natural disasters. RANET Bulala FM had been operating in Abanyala since 2008, but for a brief period, Mrs. Wang’oma says the station was shut down due to rival politicians who used the station to broadcast derogatory messages about each other. Mrs. Wang’oma says this was contrary to journalistic ethics, and the government shut the station down.
Mrs. Wang’oma was recruited via word of mouth as RANET Bulala FM’s Program Controller, and was asked to get the station back on its feet.
As Head of Programming, Mrs. Wang’oma oversaw all presenters. She checked the quality of the station’s content and encouraged broadcasters to strive for the long-term financial sustainability of their programming. She says the main reason for the station shutdown was that members of the community were taking advantage of the station.
She explains, “When the radio station is called a community radio station, everyone thinks they can bring anything in here.”
Referring to government officials, she says that in the past, “They [took] the community radio station as their own, their tool, so they can just come and dump anything there. I told them no, no, no. This radio station has workers that need to be sustained.”
Mrs. Wang’oma says that, compared to larger media channels, RANET Bulala FM offers a generous discount on fees, but that the station does not broadcast messages for free. Over time, the government came to accept the station’s terms, and they continue their partnership to this day.
To help other stations improve their operations, Mrs. Wang’oma recommends professionalism above all else. Many broadcasters are volunteers and are unable to afford training, and Mrs. Wang’oma says that media associations and NGOs must work to train journalists of all backgrounds.
She says, “I would really advocate for organizations … to give our young budding journalists capacity building. Train them in presentation, in programs, scripting, and program packaging.”
Mrs. Wang’oma also advises journalists to diversify their areas of expertise. She explains, “Multi-specialization is very, very important for our community media personnel so that they don’t just concentrate on one thing.” This is especially true for radio stations with a limited number of staff.
Mrs. Wang’oma gives the example of RANET Bulala FM, which makes an effort to offer programming as diverse as the concerns and interests of its listeners.
She explains: “When you work at a community radio station, you need to understand the community around you…. It is a community radio station, it should be owned by the community itself. You as the worker are supposed to gather info to help them better their lives and their livelihoods.”
RANET Bulala FM acts as an early warning system for the community by broadcasting about regular flooding in Abanyala, which can often displace people and animals for up to three months. She says broadcasters everywhere must contribute to the reconstruction of their community.
She recommends that broadcasters should consider, “After the flooding … what message of hope do you have for them?”
At RANET Bulala FM, Mrs. Wang’oma says the broadcasters’ mission is to help people cope with and overcome the challenges of the floods, look for solutions to minimize the impacts on their farms, and avoid similar disasters in the future.
She adds: “It is upon the radio station to call in for humanitarian support, like from the Red Cross. You see, the people themselves … cannot go on to social media or even make a call to the government. It’s upon the radio station, this is their mouthpiece.”
She says it’s up to the radio station to amplify the voices of listeners and local leaders—to tell their stories and call for action.
Now a freelance journalist, Mrs. Wang’oma helps pass on her knowledge to the next generation of broadcasters, especially in an age where social media is more prominent than ever.
She says: “Social media has created marvelous platforms for content dissemination. Mentoring our young upcoming journalists is key because there is a lot of disinformation and misinformation.”
She says that while broadcasting transitions “from analog to digital,” journalists need to be armed with knowledge and caution.
“It is through … training and more training of journalists that we’ll bring sanity to all this mediocrity that is called media.”