Friday, July 22, 2011

The last step...

16 February 2011 - I was ready. It was time to take on whatever the New Year had to throw at me. But was I ready for this? No. Well at least not for that moment when I realized what I had actually got myself into.

First came a spurt of excitement for the new and challenging community project. But looking back I would not use the word challenging lightly. However, it was a chance to work with people, build partnerships and had the potential to truly help the community from ground level up. I was eager to get started, but even with all of this, the magnitude of what we were trying to accomplish was at the back of my mind and niggled at my doubts.

“Let me get this straight”, I thought to myself, we going to be working with the Umthathi project, whom I had never heard of before, and knew who nothing about radio, and further more seemed to be quite hostile towards Rhodes journalists. And not to say the least we were about to attempt to work with Radio Grahamstown! A chaotically organized community station, with scarcely trained staff, and if there was ever a person who represented the term ‘African time’ more it would be Phumlani Wayi, the station manager himself. Frustrating would not even describe the many hours spent just waiting. And to top it all off, Litha and I were suppose to create a partnership between the two! Oh and one more thing, the mere fact that through all this we needed to create a sustainable weekly radio show on Radio G! I just sat there, mouth slightly open, overwhelment filtering my mind, not saying a word, and trying to appear quite calm, showing some enthusiasm on the surface. This was going to be a piece of cake, right!?

Well I'm going to be honest, it wasn't! But did I learn more than I ever imagined I would. Yes, I did. But not only that, I gained friendships and created something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It might not be that best radio show in the world, it might not run smoothly or even as planned, but it epitomizes a community radio show. Barriers needed to be overcome and challenges so ridiculous they will make you laugh! The mics might stop working, the computer crashes and stings don't play on demand. But ultimately it is a conversation, there are smiles, and a genuine will to educate and better the community. At its essence it is the community itself helping their friends and the people who they live with. The Masakhane show truly tries to teach a healthy and sustainable living for all. This is what touched me the most, Umthathi’s true will to better the lives of others. They don’t just speak, they are living what they believe. One might not realize this at first glance, but having had the privilege opportunity to work with them, to travel, as far as Pedi, to interact with their school programs, to witness there workshops and the community themselves embracing the project. I feel honored to have helped them in my own way, to further the good work they do.

They now have a fully sustainable radio show every Friday at 11am. This is growing in listenership, with regular weekly phone calls from the listeners. We have also given them a great deal of photos and a sound slide which is now being used to further their advertisement and update their website.

Ultimately what made it all work, was the simple fact that Litha and I gained their trust. We delivered what we promised. We were hands on, participating and witnessing firsthand what they are all about. It was not easy! I do not think that anyone would be ready to take on such a project at first glance, but I am so glad that I did. Once I started I didn't look back, despite the many frustrating moments. The smiles and sense of accomplishment made it all worth it! Together, we created more than just a show; we gave hope for a better life, and not only that, the skills and education to achieve it.

My advice for the next generation of fourth year radio students would be to have patience. You need to truly engage with the project and respect the people you work with, because they have so much knowledge just waiting to be fully exposed. Build their trust by understanding what they do at first hand level. The Masakhane show has done the difficult ground work, and has given you a base to start with, but there is still so much potential! I would be really pleased if you carried on building the show and expand it. There is a lot of opportunity to work with their website, creating podcasts and growing their advertisement especially with their sponsors.

Lastly, I would like to thank Litha my partner in the project. Together we made a great team and formed a friendship. We deserve a pat on the back and to feel proud of what we have achieved. I'm very grateful to have been given this opportunity, and have gained much from it. Finally, I wish the Masakhane radio show all the best and hope they continue to grow! Thank you J

Photography by: Dianne Jordon

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

2nd Time Round...

So after the success of the first show the whole team was in high spirits! And with a much needed confidence boost gained from the first round, the second was surely going to be a cinch!

With all the stings, jingles, adverts and posters already prepared and on standby, there was little to be done on the technical side of the show. The preparation lay in organising the guests for that week’s show and the topic that would be discussed. This seemed to all be organised early on in the week. The topic of gardening had been settled on and Thenjiwe had been briefed on the questions that were to be asked. Once again the show kicked off at 11am on Friday, with the radio studio filled with a few nerves and a lot of excitement. And once again the show was a success. 
All in all, the show now runs quite smoothly, There are, however, still a few features  that need to be tweaked, such as the  stings and jingles which often don’t play on time owing to computer delays. One aspect of the show that can be improved is that of sticking to the specific topic of that week, as sometimes the facilitators can get carried away and deviate from the main point of discussion. I think this happens because their wealth of knowledge is so vast that often one question can lead into another topic. But this can definitely be improved on as the weeks go by. I believe that the facilitators will become more aware of the opportunity and space they have to set aside one specific topic for each show, rather than trying to cram all of their knowledge into one show.
I  want to take the time to point out just how much of an asset Thenjiwe has become to the Masakana show. Despite her absence earlier in process of establishing this project,  she has really been able to pull the show together, drawing on  her years of anchoring experience at Radio G and her knowledge of the audience  which the show is aimed at. This has been a great help to the whole team, especially her confidence, which has helped ease  the nerves in the studio.
When the show ended on Friday my day was still not over, as far as  Umthathi was concerned. I ventured off with my recorder and camera in hand, ready to help them celebrate the donation of a brand new water tank sponsored by Galela Amanzi, a Rhodes student organisation. My thinking, here, was to add to the  photos and recordings that I have been gathering  throughout the past few months. I plan to use this material to make a sound slide for Umthathi as a farewell gift, something that they can keep and use whenever they need. This is because the Umthathi project has truly inspired me, as I have witnessed firsthand the amazing work they do for their community. They are truly passionate about what they do, they inspire others and really do empower people to live a better way of life. I feel privileged to have been part of such a project.
So make sure you tune in next week at the same time, same place... and learn something new! J

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I’m so happy to say that our first show was such a success! Nerves were flying all over the place on Friday morning, but as soon as the show kicked off, the nerves took a back seat and everyone had such a great time.
Waiting for the show to begin!
But let me rather take you back to the day before, to when all the planning really took place. Litha and I, along with Tenjiwe, Xoliswa and about five of the Umthathi facilitators met that  afternoon to finalise the show topic and discussions. I must admit, I wasn’t quite sure how all of this was going to go, especially since Mary (the other Radio G member) was nowhere to be seen or heard from.  The team has now decided, in fact, to drop her completely from the Masakhane radio show team. But firstly, my concerns lay mainly with the show itself. I was worried that Tenjiwe might not have enough questions to ask, there might be dead air or that the studio might just get so overcrowded and people would be talking from anywhere and everywhere. Chaos would be the last thing we needed! 
In studio during the live show
However, I was able to  put my worries aside.  And after that meeting on Thursday afternoon, I couldn’t help but put a smile on my face. At the meeting the whole room came alive with chatting and talking about the show the next day. Ideas flowed and spirits were raised. It was really quite exciting! All the workshops, meetings and training had payed off. Everything was falling together like clockwork. I literally just stood there amazed at how the people in front of me were putting together their own show, without much guidance from Litha and myself. It was truly quite inspiring, especially Tenjiwe who had her pen and paper ready and writing down everything she needed to know in order to anchor the show the next day. And before I knew it the meeting was done! With emotions changed from nerves to ones of excitement!
Thenjiwe anchoring while speaking to Xoliswa infront of her.
That day I was really amazed at how close one can get to certain people, who I probably would never have met before. Just by working with them for a few months, they will suddenly just open up to you and simply start speaking like a friend. That afternoon, Tenjiwe and I spoke. She told me all about the toughest times of her life and how they have inspired her to dream the dreams that she has. It was one of those moments when you really stop and realise that everyone has a story to tell, and how those very stories often affect the way they live their lives. We also spoke about how some of her ideas could become a reality through the Masakhane  show, and even beyond. I truly felt humbled and inspired that day!

In studio during the live show
So when 10:50am arrived on Friday morning the nerves had started to creep in once again but the excitement was still fully alive. We somehow managed to fit Xoliswa, Tenjiwe and five other facilitators into the little Radio Grahamstown studio, with only three mics to go around, but we made do, and at 11:00 the show kicked off. Tenjiwe was great, coordinating the show as if it had been going on for years. She asked relevant questions and all the Umthathi members had a chance to express themselves. It really was such a great introduction to the show, and left the listeners with a better understanding of the Umthathi project and all that they do. I am so proud of all the show team members!
So make sure you tune in next week Friday at 11:00am on Radio Grahamstown 102.1FM. We will be talking about the most effective ways to garden J

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And the nerves set in!

The Masakhane Radio show poster
I must admit, with the recent Easter weekend and all the public holidays that have taken place lately, there has been very little activity taking place regarding the Masakana show. Especially as both Umthathi and the Radio Grahamstown team members have been on holiday over the past ten days.
However, the past break has probably been a blessing in disguise, it has given us a chance to breathe deeply and think about the week ahead. My feelings as of now are those of slight nerves and anxiety. The time that is left leading up to our first show seems to be melting through my fingers, and there is still so much to be done!
The week ahead will be, to say the least, jammed packed with organising and putting the show together. I almost can’t believe that we have reached that stage already, especially after the past few months of tedious yet intriguing planning. However it really is starting to get quite exciting! Our advertising is in full swing with the posters and pamphlets being printed as I type. Our mock broadcast takes place on Thursday and then it’s all systems go with our very first show taking place at 11am on Friday. So make sure you tune into Radio G 102.1fm!
Make sure to check out my next blog entry to hear how the show has gone :)

Here's a sneak preview of the show: The advert which has been playing throughout the week leading up to the show...

Monday, April 18, 2011

So close, yet far...

Not much action took place this past week; instead it was all about the preparation for our 1st mock radio show, which will take place next Friday. We have planned to hold a workshop with all the team members on Thursday, in which we will take the preparations a step further. I just hope that all the team members show up.

So far, I have really enjoyed working with the Umthathi project members. They all have such dedication to their jobs; they are extremely knowledgeable and show a genuine interest in the creation and sustainability of the Masakhane show. It is truly inspiring to listen to Xoliswa and her dreams for the Umthathi project and her dedication to the success of the show. She simply wishes to pass on the knowledge and message that Umthathi gives to the community. So as to help create a better community and way of life for all those who live within it. She believes that healthy living and eating, sustainability and business opportunities are key to such a success; especially within her community, where diseases and sickness is rife. It is for these reasons that I also aim for the show to be the success the community needs. I would feel that I had accomplished something other than just a University project assignment.

My will for the project to succeed has allowed me to go the extra mile in my interactions with the show team members. But I do get disappointed when the same enthusiasm is not shared by Radio Grahamstown, the very team members who form the heart of the show, as the anchor and producer. I say this because, for two of the workshops which we have held so far, it was only either Mary or Thenjiwe who showed up, never the two of them together. Furthermore, on the day of the presentations of our Term 2 plan (involving all the show team members), no one from Radio G turned up, not even the Station manager Phumlani Wayi! Even though I have gone out of my way to arranged transport and have continuously sent reminders. It is simply disappointing, that Grahamstown’s own community radio station cannot see the very importance and great benefit that the Masakhane radio show will have for the community to which they broadcast. And not only that, they neglect to recognise the great opportunity the show has for the station as a whole, by bringing quality content, training and a much needed structured show to the stations broadcasting.

Ultimately I seek reassurance in the fact that I am gaining a great learning experience, as I am sure that this will not be the first time in my career that I will face such difficulties. It is now just up to Litha and I to work around the annoying snags we come across.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Masakhane - “Let’s build”

Xoliswa and Mary Preparing for the first show
It is hard for me to believe that the 1st Term of my final year is rapidly coming to an end. It truly feels like the time has simply flown by, but looking back I realise just how far Litha and I have come in the progress we have made with our participatory production project. So far we have successfully achieved what we set out to do in our term one plan, and have now set a firm foundation within our plans for term two. 

Firstly, I’m excited to say that our show now has a name, Masakhane, meaning “let’s build”. And this is exactly what we aim to do -  by building knowledge in terms of gardening and healthy living within the community of Grahamstown; by  building a strong relationship between Radio G and Umthathi and by  strengthening  radio production within the station.

On Thursday we conducted our third workshop with the Umthati facilitators, which was all about getting comfortable within the radio studio environment. Once again Xoliswa showed her fearless spirit, which I know is grounded  in her commitment to the project. She embraced the radio studio,  putting all of herself into practicing the various voice techniques and interviewing skills. To our delight, Xoliswa was able to put her nerves behind her and discover a confident, conversational and listener friendly radio voice. We were, of course, not going live yet, and this helped to create a safe space for her.  With the help of Mary (Radio G anchor for the show) who shared her personal experience in radio, Xoliswa soon found her feet and gained confidence. With the show name being finalised and our third workshop under wraps, Litha and I were able to reflect on the last few weeks while drawing up our term two plan. We have set up the process we plan to take in the weeks leading up to the first live show. The details within these plans are informed by the principles of  service learning that we  have been exposed to in our coursework this term One of the key principles, as I understand it, relates to the importance of building strong relationship with one’s community partners. In this way, one can ensure that one comes to understand the principles in which they ground their work - and with this knowledge, develop resources that they can truly benefit from. Over the past six weeks I have tried to respond to this principle byworking alongside our community partners, learning as much as possible about them, and establishing bonds with them. I have, over the last few weeks, interacted, firstly, with the Umthathi project and  feel that I have established firm roots within my relationship with them.
Xoliswa sitting infront of the radio dest for the first time!
Secondly, I have interactedwith radio G, and in this way  I’ve got to know more about how the station operates. The shows tend to adopt a conversational and interactional approach with their listeners. Ultimately it is about people speaking to each other, so not the ‘top-down’ information dissemination, but rather a sharing of idea, and thus we aim to do the same with the Masakhane Radio show. So now, through the articulation of our Term Two plan, the basic logistics of Masakhane, such as the themes of the show, its editorial aims, the show vision, its personnel, etc. have been identified. But one thing that continues to linger at the back of my mind is that of the continuation and sustainability of the show once Litha and I have left the production partnership. We have touched upon this issue within our term two plans but a lot more consideration needs to be given to this. Especially as I occasionally feel Radio G is not as committed to the show as Litha, Umthathi and I are!

As for the next big step; it is all about marketing. We aim to do this through audio adverts, stings, jingles, posters and pamphlets. This is especially important, as no show, no matter what it is, is a success without its listenership!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Umthathi meets Radio G...

The past week has involved a lot of patience on Litha’s and my behalf. A key goal for the week was to finalise agreements with Radio Grahamstown, with regards to their commitment to broadcasting a show in partnership with Umthathi. It was, in our view, important to establish whether the station saw value in continuing with the show after we complete this project in the middle of the year.  If they did, our proposal was that the station should identify two people in their volunteer team who could commit themselves to anchoring and producing the show in the long term.  The idea was then for them to take part in our training programme, in order to strengthen their production and anchoring skills, and also to build a strong relationship between them and the people from Umthathi. We wanted these details in place before Thursday afternoon, when we planned to facilitate a strategic planning workshop involving both the Radio Grahamstown show team and Umthathi. But despite Litha’s and my careful planning and time management, it felt as if we were getting nowhere slowly. As soon as we started to interact with people at the station, we found ourselves running up against the true essence of ‘African time’. But my experience is that this timing always has a way of working itself out, and once again, to my surprise, by Thursday 14h15, in time for our workshop, we had achieved what we had set out to do.  .
It all started on Tuesday, when we spent a number of hours hanging around Radio Grahamstown while waiting to speak to the station manager, Phumlani Wayi. However, once again patience proves itself to be a virtue. While waiting at Radio G we become more familiar with the people who work there, meeting old and new faces alike.  And then, when we finally got to sit down with Phumlani we were able to have a very fruitful discussion.  Phumlani had read through our proposal plan for the show and told us that he is pleased with what he has read and seen. He indicated that the station would be happy to commit itself to having a weekly 30 minute broadcast of the show, starting in the 4th week of April. We are currently hoping for the show to be broadcast on a Friday as this day suits the Umthathi facilitators who are stationed at the Umthathi offices every Friday.
Thus, on Thursday, having established these details Litha and I were eager to get cracking with the second of the four workshops we had planned for the Umthathi facilitators and Radio G.  The workshop was all about introducing the Radio G and Umthathi participants to each other. The aim was also to do some strategic planning in order to build a shared editorial vision for the show, so as to insure that we all set off on the same footing. Once again Litha and I were holding thumbs that all would go well and at 14h45 we kicked off the workshop in one of the seminar room at the Rhodes Journalism department. Xoliswa and SD, who came from Umthathi, were quite late in arriving, but this did not set us back as we soon started chatting about the show. It wasn’t plain sailing, though! We had a lot of filling in to do as we quickly realised that the members from Radio G had no idea of what they were there to do. Apparently Phumlani had simply asked them to come to the workshop, without explaining what he was committing them to.  But eventually we got the ball rolling and all seemed to be on the same page by the end of the workshop.

As a key strategy for achieving this goal, we had included an exercise in the workshop in which we created a poster, working with the outline of a tree - including roots, a trunk, and branches. All of us then sat together and filled in words, labelling the different aspects of the tree. The tree roots represented the values and beliefs that will inform the show, while the tree trunk identified   those values and beliefs that the team feels is of the most fundamental importance and will make sure the project will hold together and survive. The branches stood for the themes that will be incorporated into the show while the   leaves indicated the people, voices and sources that should be represented in the show. And finally the fruit indicated what the achievements of the show should be and the impact it should have on the community. The ideas was to keep this poster as an editorial resource, and to make copies to  give to both Radio G and Umthathi to serve as a reminder and motivation of what the show stands for. I believe this exercise worked well as it helped to clarify, for the whole team, what the show is really about.

The second part of the workshop zoomed in on one of the skills areas that we want to focus on in our training of the team - i.e. that of writing for radio.  We started this section by presenting a short slide show discussing techniques and tips on writing for radio, as well as what makes for good radio and ideas on how to hook an audience. This slide show was accompanied with the handing out of a file that Litha and I created for each Umthathi and Radio G. This file included the show’s proposal plan along with slightly more detailed notes which elaborated on the slide show. Both the slide show and notes were created with the knowledge in basic radio training that we have gained as a JMS 2 radio tutor this year. The object of these files is so that Radio G and Umthathi can keep them for further reading and share what they have learnt with those unable to come to the workshops. These files will have notes added to them at each workshop.
All in all it has been a long but successful week, and I feel that we have achieved what we set out to do. Our workshops are now in full swing with the next one taking place at 14h30 this Thursday. It will take place at the Rhodes Journalism department’s radio studio, focusing on the art of radio presentation and interviewing, and hopefully we will even come up with a show name by the end of the week.