NAIROBI, Kenya — It has been a quantum jump for Kenyans transitioning from monotonous and highly censored radio content two decades ago to diversified content from more than 200 radio stations today.
In its latest statistical release, the Communications Authority of Kenya shows that Kenya has 227 radio stations — 172 commercial stations and 55 community stations. This is an increase of more than 100% compared to a decade ago, and certainly an incommensurable improvement from the early 2000s when the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and a politically correct private station were the only radio broadcasters.
The numbers are such that when tuning your radio in Kenya today, the next frequency finds you on a different station. “Radio’s popularity in Kenya is still unchallenged,” said Angela Ambitho, the director of Infotrak Research & Consulting, which does regular media surveys in Kenya. One of the company’s latest surveys, released in the second week of February, showed that radio usage as a source of news rose to 78% of the respondents, compared to 74% in 2022. Ambitho attributes this to the increased use of smartphones to access radio stations and the general elections held in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Growth and segmentation
Growth in numbers and listeners has led to segmentation. A report by research firm GeoPoll shows audience segmentation is prominent, with stations like NRG Radio, Kiss FM and Hot 96 being most popular among the youngest age group — those aged 15–24. Radio Maisha, Classic 105 and Radio Jambo are popular with listeners between 25 and 34 years old; older audiences of 35+ years prefer Radio Citizen, Radio Jambo and a mix of vernacular stations.
The Media Council of Kenya data released during World Radio Day on Monday, Feb. 13, in the coastal city of Mombasa, revealed that slightly more than 21 million Kenyans listen to the radio out of an estimated 30 million adults.
The State of the Media Report 2022 showed that 42.8% of Kenyans interviewed access radio via FM receivers, 39.8% through set-top boxes and the remainder through digital devices like phones and laptops. Most of those interviewed — 35% — listen to morning shows between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., 24% between 8 p.m. and midnight, 17% between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 13% between noon and 4 p.m.
Advertising and licensing
According to the Africa Entertainment & Media Outlook 2022–2026 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, spending on radio advertising is also increasing as brands seek mass market and segmented audiences. The report shows that in Kenya, advertising on music and radio revenue increased to US$107.4 million in 2021, attributed to the range of radio stations in the country allowing advertisers to target specific demographics.
According to Statistica data, sales of radio receivers are expected to grow in Kenya, generating revenue of $17.97 million in 2023 and growing annually by 2.36% up to 2027.
A senior official of the Communications Authority of Kenya urged radio stations in Kenya to become more innovative in this period of technology disruption to grow listener numbers and increase revenue. “Radio must review its business models and consider the increased competition on advertising spend due to increased number of channels and fragmented audiences, and leverage on opportunities offered by new technologies,” said Leo Boruett, the director responsible for multimedia services. He said the future of Kenya’s media landscape is dynamic because of emerging disruptors like over-the-top services, 5G, big data and AI. “The Kenyan audience should expect new and diverse programming.”
Radio must review its business models and consider the increased competition on advertising spend due to increased number of channels and fragmented audiences, and also leverage on opportunities offered by new technologies.Leo Boruett
However, in its latest quarterly review of the broadcast sector, the authority says there is a growing trend of radio stations slowing to renew their annual licensing fees. “A majority of the licensees in the radio broadcasting category are among the broadcasters that held broadcast frequency assignments, but failed to obtain the requisite broadcasting service licenses,” said Boruett. “The broadcasters have since complied following the Authority’s notices to commence regulatory action.”
Kenya’s radio authority is also dealing with issues relating to content, with claims that stations are increasingly broadcasting sexually explicit material and encouraging gambling.
The matter of content has been a concern among listeners, forcing most stations to moderate it. Last year, a local radio station fired three presenters for disparaging a woman’s character after she refused sex on a first date with a man who then threw her from a building, causing her serious bodily harm.
Radio stations have become a popular advertising medium for betting companies. In a survey on betting by the Media Council of Kenya conducted by Infotrak Research and Consulting, 62% of respondents acknowledged they had seen or heard adverts on gambling within the previous week, mostly through the television (43%), radio (26%) and social media (13%).
The author is a journalist and communications consultant based in Nairobi, Kenya