“The Hardest Sell P.2”

So, where to start? If you want to create great radio – it helps if you’re enjoying yourself at the same time. Therefore, it was important that the staff felt relaxed and enthusiastic about the task ahead of them. I wanted the team to experience the sheer fun of making radio. It shouldn’t be a chore. After all, we’re talking about entertainment. That’s not to say all commercials/spots should be whacky or humorous, but the process itself should certainly be an enjoyable one. It’s hard to be creative if you’re nervous and stressed out. In order to achieve this, the writers need to have a sense of freedom. Like any discipline you need an appreciation of the basics before your ideas can truly take flight. In other words… you’ve got to walk before you can run. In this posting I’ll discuss the training methods used to introduce the staff at Radio Ethiopia and the BBC WST to the basics of spot production.

Finding or even making your own sound effects can be can be a lot of fun. Tracking down the perfect musical accompaniment to the message is a particularly rewarding past time (if you’re a radio geek, I suppose). I recently put together a hard-drive for the BBC WST in the Sudan. This micro-drive was powered by a standard USB output and contained 40 Gig of BBC WS audio documentaries, Pdf’s of training manals, examples of BBC news programmes, a full music production library of musical backing beds – and most importantly, the complete BBC Sound Effects Library. A classic – used by diserning production houses across the world. Everything from horse trotting left to right – to Iberian tree frog. These had proved to be hugely popular out in Ethiopia and gave an instant boost to the professionalism of their commercial productions. It also provided an added dimension of creativity – which consequently spurred more lateral, unique ideas. 

My initial approach to training spot production used the same techniques that I had employed with training sessions back in New Zealand and the UK. The importance of clearly defining who your audience is… What is the single most importance message you’re trying to get across… The A.I.D.A principle (Attention/Interest/Desire/Action)…etc. 

The writers started by writing spots / commercials for local security companies, fruit juices – and even a local souvenir shop that sold beautiful ceramics (the presentation of this commercial can be found in the video section of this site). 

The commercials being played on the radio stations I listened to in Addis Ababa were rather conventional in style. It was like the presenters were “reading” to listeners rather than actually engaging with them. This is reflective of the heavily regulated radio industry that exists in Ethiopia. Like all BBC WST projects – the programmes and commercials underwent rigorous pre-testing. It was through this research into the effectiveness of radio commercials – that the first issues of Government regulation/influence came to light. Thorough audience research is an integral part of all BBC WST projects. As they put it… this “will enable production teams to define their programming to resonate with audiences. Quantative research was also carried out – for pre-testing and to measure the impact and effectiveness of the project.” 

These commercials were taken out around the country and played to research groups of young people. They were tested first on the target audience to gather their thoughts on the delivery of the message… Was it too shocking… etc etc. 

But first, a little background… this research was carried out in The Amhara National Regional state is highly populated region in Ethiopia.  According to Bureaus of Finance and Economic Development (BOFED), the total population of Amhara region stands at 18.6 million, in 2005.   The figure accounts for almost one- fourth of the total   population of the Ethiopia, and the population growth rate 2.9% per year- (BOFED, 2005). If the population growth is left to continue the same rate, the size of the population will double within less than 30 years. Out of the total population 89.1% resides   in   the rural area.  In terms of area size,   the region has only 15.4 percent portion of   the country’s area size.  The population density is 115 persons   per squire   kilometer with a family size   of   4.5 people    per   household.

The following extracts are taken from the actual BBC WST research documents.

  • 1.4 Study Methodology and Profile of Respondents  
  • Focus Group Discussion (FGD) as main technique of data collection 
  • Information obtained through FGDs were also supplemented by key informant interviews held in the same sites and review of literature and archival documents.  
  •  Totally, 80 discussants grouped in 8   FGDs (4 in each site) have participated.  Among these, female participants aged 15 –18 were 11 and 10 in Fogera and Bahirdar, respectively, while the number of males in the same age category was 22, (11 in each site). Female discussants in the age group 19-24,   were 8 and 10 in respectively and male participants in the same age Fogera and   Bahirdar category were 9 and 10 in Fogera and Bahirdar respectively.  


  • To identify the appeal of radio spots addressing SRH and HIV/AIDS
  • To make sure that the message is clearly communicated
  •  To make sure that the spots are sound in terms of values, beliefs and culture of the society in general and the target group in particular.
  • To learn about how young people perceive and understand health related spots

 INTRODUCTION (10 MINUTES) Moderator explains purpose of the discussion, to talk about their reactions to/impressions of a range of ideas and radio program materials. There are no right or wrong answers.           It is important to hear everybody’s opinions.          Please do not all speak at the same time.          Every thing you say is confidential and your name will not be associated with anything you say.          We record the conversation to help us write the report afterwards and to enable the moderator to focus on the conversation and not be distracted by taking notes.Can you please introduce yourself and tell us your name, where you live, if and what you work at and what you like to do when you are not working. 1.       What is your name? 2.       Where do you live? 3.       Do you work? If so, what do you do? 4.       What do you like to do when you are not working? 


To my knowledge the research was impeccably carried out. The research team at the World Service Trust were true professionals. Almost all the respondents were found to have access to radio. Their preferred channels, in order from most favored, went like this: 

  • Voice of America (VOA)
  • German voiceRadio Amhara
  • Bahirdar Fm
  • Radio Ethiopia 

Radio Ethiopia was at the bottom of the list… A big problem as the WST was obliged to solely use Radio Ethiopia to transmit its messages – but in some regions it was the least favored. I was curious to say the least about why this should be the case. The first thing that really alerted me to the problems ahead was this politicised observation that I read in the research;

“This group of discussants, on the one hand seemed to be highly politicized probably due to the fact that in the recent political turmoil of the country, youth in general and out of school (unemployed) youth in particular have been targeted as potentially dangerous and trouble makers by the law enforcement bodies, and that they are  victims  of  a multitude of socio- economic problems.” 

The findings made for fascinating reading… But one thing that really struck me was the section related to the opinions of young people towards their state run radio station – Radio Ethiopia. Their negative views became increasingly clearer as the research revealed new information. For example this comment from a young man; 

“We are tired of lies and malice of Radio Ethiopia. Although German voice is not as aggressive in finding current realities, at least it never lied to us. VOA is always telling us the truth. We want to be continuously informed of what is happening in our country, but could not get it from the Ethiopian sources. That is why we were compelled to look for reliable sources and shifted to listening to VOA”

 Another respondent was asked what his views were regarding BBC WST intending to broadcast youth-focused programs through Radio Ethiopia; 

“How could an innocent and trustworthy businessman think to have clients and make profits while people knew that he has associated with robbers and socially unaccepted group of people? The success of such a businessman is very unlikely”  

Another participant from age group 15-18 said… 

“If I hear Radio Ethiopia saying that Yordanos Abay (a striker in the Ethiopian soccer team) strikes directly into the goal my interpretation would be that Yordanos has collapsed in the field.” “Once, soon after the 2005 election, students in Woreta Agricultural College were locked in their campus and being tortured by the Federal Police protesting against the alleged election fraud. That very day I listened to Radio Ethiopia announcing that youths and college students in Woreta Agricultural College supported the process and outcome of the 2005 election. It was a lie and this only one example”.   

Here are some other general comments when they were asked what first came to mind when they thought about Radio Ethiopia; 

“What comes to my mind is dirty politics” /     “What comes to mind is Election 2005” /   “The massacre in Addis Ababa and other major towns of Ethiopia” /  “I simply feel frustrated and hopeless” / “I to think how to get rid of this channel” /   “I feel petty to the journalists who work for   Radio Ethiopia how could they dare live among us?” / “Propaganda and only foolish, dirty propaganda”.  

Now, before I go any further, I just want to make absolute clear that this is not intended as a smear campaign – I certainly don’t want to besmirch the hard work that many of Radio Ethiopia’s staff perform everyday. However, there was clear evidence that most of the Ethiopians surveyed had absolutely no trust in their national broadcaster. To say the least. This got me interested into why and how this deep distrust had developed.

Radio is recognised as one of the most trusted of mediums… something to do with its intimacy… The fact that it’s like a friend talking to you… In fact, radio surveys in the west have shown that radio is a far more trusted medium than television or newspapers. But in this instance, the opposite seemed to be the case. 

In the next entry I will examine the some of the comments that came back from the research and provide a basic overview of Ethiopian radio. I will also examine some of the issues concerning the freedom of the media under its current Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi.

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