Mass media: Six decades of the boom and bust of radio communications


By Damas Kanybwoya

Dar es Salaam. The evolution of mass media throughout history has been directly shaped by advances in media and communication technologies. The invention of mobile printing in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg led to the dominance of the printed word in terms of books, magazines and newspapers. The discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz in the late 1880s caused a stir in early 20th century broadcasting. It was a mass communication revolution that took the media to the next level. Radio reached a larger audience along with newspapers and cost listeners less. Radio became the “perfect” mass medium of its time because its technological mode of dissemination made such things as the need for literacy that newspapers demanded of readers futile.

The end of the great European wars (also known as world wars) in the mid-1940s paved the way for the spread of a new form of mass media, television. The new media have literally captured the imagination of the public. And then digital technologies arrived. The rest is history. For various reasons, Tanganyika’s adoption of new media technologies has not followed the global sequence.

Historical accounts show that in Tanganyika the adoption of new media technologies was slower before and after independence. The exception was the printing press largely because of the efforts of the missionaries. The spread of the gospel by Christian missionaries depended very much on the written word, which eventually paved the way for the launch of magazines, periodicals, and newspapers.

For a time, before and after independence, newspapers were more popular and had more of an impact on the public, especially in Dar es Salaam. A small radio transmitter had been built by the colonial government but had a small range in Dar es Salaam. Dr Joseph Matumaini says in his book History of Radio Broadcasting for Development in Tanzania that “the radio signal could not be reliably received 300 kilometers beyond the east coast”. In addition, a small percentage of the population listened to the radio because most could not afford to buy radio receivers.

“Even at the end of the 1960s, less than 30% of the population listened to national radio daily,” explains Dr Matumaini. Sturmer says the first audience survey in 1960 showed that 10 percent of households in cities had radios, compared to just 2 percent in the countryside.

And so, newspapers continued to be the most influential mass media.


During the struggle for independence, the African National Union of Tanganyika (Tanu) had to rely on newspapers to spread its message. It used its own medium, Sauti Ya Tanu, which was launched in 1957, and newspapers owned by some of its Tanu members. The Nationalist Party was unable to obtain airtime on the radio because it was an “opposition party”. The radio “didn’t mention Tanu or his leader Julius Nyerere unless it was something really exceptional. … An advertiser was even fired after calling Nyerere Mheshimiwa (Honorable), ”says Sturmer. According to the researchers, the only airtime Tanu was able to obtain was that of Radio Cairo’s Swahili service.

At independence on December 9, 1961, Tanganyika had about eight national newspapers and one radio station. Television was not introduced by the colonialists.

As the government and other stakeholders invest more in radio transmission and its reach increases across the country, radio has the power. When private radio stations were licensed in the early 1990s, the influence of radio grew and has remained so to this day.

Dr Paul Dotto Kuhenga, lecturer in media and development at the University of Dar es Salaam, says that over the past 60 years, radio has had a greater impact in Tanzania. “Some people argue that visual appeal makes television more impactful than radio, but that’s not true,” he said in an interview with The Citizen last week. “The research I have done on community radio shows that even digital technologies have not dislodged the power of radio in Tanzania,” he adds.

Despite the challenges in terms of low investment, inadequate radio transmission technologies and the lack of qualified radio personnel dominated the Tanzanian media industry during the era of the one-party system and after the liberalization of the economy.

The reasons are obvious. Radio waves travel magnetically and instantly, allowing live coverage. Newspapers must be transported from the printing press to the public. The underdeveloped infrastructure caused serious distribution problems, which hampered the growth of newspapers, according to Martin Sturmer, author of The Media History of Tanzania. In remote places like Kigoma, delivering a newspaper could take three days or more, Sturmer notes. About 70 percent of the country’s population were illiterate – most inside the country, according to Sturmer. For these two major challenges, the solution was radio.

During a one-party system, the Tanzanian government adopted socialist policies with more emphasis on development. The mass media were supposed to support government policies and therefore development journalism proved to be more suited to the young nation. “The emphasis on development journalism has brought radio to the fore because of its effectiveness in reaching audiences in outlying areas,” noted Dr Dotto.

It is unfortunate that there are few journalists and no competition between the media. The national radio was owned by the government.

The history of radio

In 1951, the first transmitter was established as an experimental station known as Sauti Ya Dar es Salaam. At first, the broadcasts were only one hour per week in Swahili, according to Sturmer. A year later, in 1955, Sauti ya Dar es Salaam was transformed into a government department named Tanganyika Broadcasting Service (TBS). It was around this time that the station’s studios moved to the current location along Nyerere Road. And in 1956, the radio station was renamed Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation.

TBC was renamed Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD) and inaugurated

On July 1, 1965, the Tanu government took full control of TBC, placed it under the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and Tourism, and renamed it Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD) .

Media experts say that after the independence “takeover” of radio, the government was likely motivated by the discovery that radio could be much more effective in helping to propagate its policies and foster the development of radio. new nation. This fact is evidenced by the fact that the radio devoted sufficient time to educational programs.

“In the field of development, RTD has played its role well in various national campaigns and in general education of the masses in collaboration with development agencies,” explains Dr Matumaini.

To use radio effectively, the government has gradually but steadily invested in expanding radio transmission. He also tried to solve the problem of shortage and inaccessibility of receivers by building radio factories in Dar es Salaam and Arusha. According to Dr Matumaini, inexpensive radios have also been imported en masse from Japan, Hong Kong, Germany and the Netherlands.

These factors have enabled radio to consolidate its position as the dominant mass media in Tanzania. He was helped by the government’s decision not to open a television station in Tanzania.

According to Sturmer, the government opposed the introduction of television in Tanzania, saying the medium was too expensive and would only serve the wealthy in society. “When we have a satellite that would cover the whole country, I will go on television … and not before,” Sturmer said, quoting Nyerere.

It was after the liberalization of the media following the enactment of the Broadcasting Services Act of 1993 that the true radio revolution was inaugurated in Tanzania. The introduction of television in Tanzania around the same time failed to shake the new radio craze, experts say. Digital technologies, which have made it possible to integrate radio technological functions into the mobile phone device, have made radio an all-powerful medium of mass communication in Tanzania.

The multitude of radio stations in Tanzania can help explain this fact. In 1990, just before private and commercial radio stations were authorized, Tanzania practically had one radio station, RTD. Last year, 2020, the number of registered radio stations reached 183, according to statistics from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

In addition to making the mobile phone a perfect ‘walkman’, digital media technologies have made online radio and simulcasting easier.

According to TCRA, as of August 2020, Tanzania had 21 registered online radios and 25 simulcast radios. The nature of digital technology means that these radios have global reach and can be viewed even on computers and other digital devices.


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