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Zambia’s PAR Thinks Big

Government plans to revise regulations to allow private radio stations to expand their broadcasting range, cover the whole nation

Diana Sumbwe presents the news at Pan African Radio in Lusaka, Zambia. Credit Derrick Sinjela LUSAKA, Zambia — Zambia’s Pan African Radio 105.1 FM might appear small, but it dreams big.

PAR is a commercial public radio station serving primarily the people of the capital Lusaka and the surrounding area. It hit the airwaves in September 2010 and now is now considering the possibility of going national, taking advantage of recent government plans to allow private radio stations to expand their radius.

Since the deregulation of the airwaves in 1994, state-run Zambia National Broadcasting Corp., which broadcasts three radio stations — Radio 1, broadcasting in the country’s seven major local languages; Radio 2, airing in English; and music/entertainment-based Radio 4 — has dominated radio listening in the country.

Derrick Sinjela, PAR’s station manager, believes this is the result of the monopolistic tendency of the then-ruling elite who wanted to stifle dissenting views, which, he says, are sometimes aired through private radio stations. Fortunately, he explains, the current administration has begun to amend this situation.

According to a study carried out by the African Media Barometer, 78 percent of radio listeners in Zambia still listen frequently to the three state-run stations. The reason is clear: Zambia has only a handful of private or nonprofit, community radio stations, and these FM stations have limited geographical reach (usually just within a district or province). Therefore, ZNBC remains the only radio network with a national reach.

But Zambia’s authorities appear to be ready for a change. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga said recently that the government plans to revise regulations to allow private radio stations to expand their broadcasting range and cover the whole nation. He said the plan is in line with the government’s process of implementing the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

Thus Lusaka-based PAR is planning to jump on the opportunity and expand its reach.

“Today we have a broadcast radius of 50 kilometers covering the areas of Kabwe in the North, Mumbwa to the West, Chongwe to the East and Mazabuka to the South, while the Lusaka province is fully covered,” said Sinjela. “We have an estimated audience of more than 2.5 million listeners.”

Sinjela says the media industry in Zambia has a lot of room for expansion, and he is confident the station can do greater things.

“For example, we are also exploring the option of increasing our audience through audio streaming,” he said. “There is a huge demand for full-time program streams. The station is in the process of negotiating a potential barter agreement with Internet service provider Coppernet Solutions.”

In going nationwide, Sinjela says the station, which currently only has one transmitter, will also expand its services to the Copperbelt Province and Northern Province.

“PAR will need to achieve more than $300,000 in capital to purchase another transmitter and related equipment necessary to make this change,” said Sinjela. “We anticipate our digital conversion to be complete by the end of 2015.”

The station has 22 staff members and two studios, one in New Kasama and one in Lusaka. Both studios are equipped with Shure SM85 mics, an Arrakis System ARC-8 console and a Behringer 24-bit multieffects processor. Sinjela explains that they have yet to upgrade its studios entirely, although they have replaced certain items.

With “All people proud and free” as its motto, PAR boasts an eclectic followership of rural and metropolitan listeners who make up the Lusaka province. It has steadily increased its listenership thanks to varied programs, which include the “Coffee Talk” breakfast show, “Mid Morning Vibes,” “Health Panorama,” “Gender Talk” and “Children in Development.”

Other programs, Sinjela says, are tailor-made to clients’ needs. These can be either pre-recorded programs or live shows, which last from 15 to 60 minutes.

PAR also airs news bulletins throughout the day, while it runs news summaries at 6:30 a.m., 12 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. It also broadcasts news headlines every hour from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday. “Our policy is to discover talent and invest in his or her potential,” said Sinjela. “We can safely say that our presenters have also managed to lure in a corporate audience of decision makers.” PAR prides itself on its relationship with its listeners, Sinjela explains. “We are sure our hard work, innovation and integrity will pay off,” he said.

Lameck Masina reports on the industry for Radio World from Blantyre, Malawi.

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