Audience Dialogue

Radio listening workshop

Case study 24

In September 2001 I found myself in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, running a course at the Tanzania School of Journalism. I was training some students in research methods, and we decided to hold a radio listening workshop, both to show them how audience research could be done, and also to provide some useful information to broadcasters in Dar Es Salaam.

The first step was to make a tape of extracts. We made a list of about 20 different types of program material from the various radio stations in Dar ( as they call it, for short). A few different types of news items, a few snippets of songs of various types, a weather report, the beginnin of a religious program, and so on. It sounds simple enough, but to make a tape like this, somebody usually has to spend a whole day listening to radio. I explained what was needed, in detail, to a technician at the TSJ, and he did an excellent job of producing a tape. It ran for about 20 minutes in total.

Then we had to find some participants. The easiest way to find radio listeners was to advertise on radio, so we made an announcement, about 6 times in all. It explained that we were doing some audience research, and invited radio listeners to telephone the TSJ. We also mentioned that we'd be paying them for their trouble - equivalent to an hour or two's average wages.

The plan was to get about 40 members of the public along. At first we didn't get much response to the broadcasts, but when we turned up at the venue, we found 58 people there. The lure of payment seemed to have helped - and this sort of research is a novelty in developing countries.

Stage 1 was to play the tape, pausing after each track, and asking each person to fill in a few boxes on their questionnaire. Questions like:
- Have you heard this program before?
- How often?
- How much do you like it?
- and (as always) a space to write in comments.

With everybody's pen poised, ready to go, the technician put the tape in the cassette recorder and switched it to Play. Nothing happened. Some problem with the tape recorder. Luckily, he'd brought another recorder. After a short delay, he put the cassette into the second recorder, and pressed Play. I have no idea how this was possible, but it played the tape at double speed. Reel-to-reel recorders used to have variable speeds, but cassette recorders ALWAYS run at one and seven eights inches per second - except this one!

A few ingenious people rushed out to the nearest electrical shop, to buy a new cassette recorder. The shop was closing when they arrived, but they came back with two brand new tape recorders, labelled Awia and Panasoanic. (Note the misspellings: these machines were obvious fakes!)

All was well again. The technician put the cassette in the shiny new Awia and pressed Play. Off we went, though the sound quality was terrible. I think we reached about the third extract - when the tape broke. Everybody groaned. A few of the women journalists unscrewed the cassette case and tried to rejoin the two ends with sticky tape. Of course, as soon as the tape was put back in the machine, it broke again.

So we stopped for dinner. Meals were found for all - fried chicken and soft drink. This kept us going for 45 minutes or so.

The ever-resourceful technician then took another tape from his pocket. He had made a spare copy! With the spare cassette and the fourth tape recorder of the night, we managed to finish the 20 extracts and get the questionnaires filled in - almost an hour later than planned.

To finish the workshop, we divided the participants into three consensus groups. As we had a lot more men than women, we decided on one group for women, one for older men, and one for younger men. Each consensus group was led by one of the students on the course - I'd just spent several days training them for this, so they knew exactly what to do.

The combination of the listening questionnaires and the consensus group findings gave us an excellent overview of Dar Es Salaam people's views of radio and how the programs could be improved. This type of workshop is usually very effective at getting a lot of information in a short time. A few suggestions, though:

- Dennis List