Transmitter! From Radiohead to South Africa Youth Radio Project

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February 2, 2013; Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Colin Greenwood is the bassist for the British alternative rock band Radiohead, which was formed in 1985 and is still active, perhaps best known for the hit song “Creep.” Greenwood recently concluded an 11-day trip to South Africa to work with a charity called the Children’s Radio Foundation, which trains young people as radio journalists in Liberia, Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa. According to the organization’s website, through nationwide Youth Radio Networks in each country, “The CRF-trained youth radio producers broadcast on local stations and share their radio programs digitally with other project sites via SoundCloud…With the mentorship of…local project facilitators, the youth take to their communities and report on issues of concern, create advocacy oriented media packages, and host weekly shows for their peers on their local radio stations.”

Why radio? In Africa, much less than one-fifth of the population has access to the Internet but 80 percent of Africans have access to radio. Radio is portable and available even in some remote areas of the continent where electricity may not be available. CRF runs its programs, such as the Youth Radio Networks and specific news ventures in partnership with UNICEF and Médecins Sans Frontières, on a budget (in 2011) of $620,000.

But how did the bassist for a rock band that specializes in electronic music and themes of modern alienation end up promoting the empowerment of African youth as radio journalists? Greenwood expressed his admiration for the kids generating their own radio content, “giv[ing] them confidence that their opinions can matter.” During a tour, Greenwood was interviewed by the young radio reporters. The young journalists asked questions not about Radiohead’s upcoming tour schedule, but about who Greenwood was, what his life was like, and what life was like in Great Britain.

Radiohead’s Dead Air Space website, the locus for a lot of the band’s musical content recently, provides links to some Children’s Radio Foundation programs, including one piece done by young radio reporters in Cape Town who discuss their personal experiences with crime in their communities while interviewing local police to learn about crime-fighting strategies.

The band Radiohead was named after the Talking Heads song of the same name. The lyrics to “Radiohead” are, in part:

Picking up something good. 
Hey, radio head! 
The sound…of a brand-new world”

Empowering young people in Africa to be radio journalists investigating social conditions in their communities and communicating their observations, feelings, and priorities may be a very important brand new world for Africa’s youth.—Rick Cohen