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Niche radios feeling the heat?

Sunday April 14 2019

Some radio stations have gone online while others have shut down completely claiming to revitalise and pick up on a later date. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Some radio stations have gone online while others have shut down completely claiming to revitalise and pick up on a later date. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GEORGE D. MWENDWA
By GEORGE D. MWENDWA
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It’s no longer news waking up only to find that your favourite media channel has closed down. But this is exactly what has happened a number of times with some pointing to the rapidly shrinking advertising revenues among the mainstream media.

Some have gone online while others have shut down completely claiming to revitalise and pick up on a later date. It’s, however, not clear whether they have folded up for good or they will be back to enthuse their lucid fans once again.

Most recently Radio Africa Group has announced the folding up of one of its lifestyle English radio stations to launch an outfit targeting Rhythm and Blues (RnB) lovers. XFM, which was broadcasting on 105.5FM in Nairobi and its environs, was launched about 10 years ago with the target market being the upmarket audience, a niche that has been dominated by Capital FM for many years.

XFM used to play rock and alternative music with its target niche being the affluent and aspirational urban audience aged between 18 and 45, who are discerning and well versed with leading trends in technology, current affairs, fashion and travel.

NEW DIRECTION

However, the station failed to break-even, even after poaching big names from Capital FM in its initial years. As such, Radio Africa management could have found it an extra expense that was eating into the company’s revenues leading to its closure and a quick replacement.

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It is not clear at the moment whether its presenters will be fired or they will be absorbed by the other stations owned by the media house that include Classic FM, Kiss FM, East FM, Radio Jambo among others. The frequency will not, however, stay idle as the company will once again relaunch Smooth FM, the once all-music radio station that aired on 103.5FM in Nairobi before Radio Africa is said to have hired it to Homeboyz Radio (HBR).

Among those who have announced their exit is Nick Ndeda, who used to host XFM’s Weekly Top 30 and X Breakfast. He took to his social media platforms to inform his fans he was ending his seven-year stint at XFM.

“So, I’m doing my final show on XFM tomorrow. It’s been an awesome 7 years hosting that zany morning show. I had great shoes to fill following Fareed Khimani. Tomorrow, let’s do it one last time! And if you want to send samosas to the studio then all I can say is amen!” he said.

Diehard fans of the station couldn’t fail to establish their frustrations quite thick and fast. “Kenyans, nothing hurts more than seeing your favourite radio presenter Nick Ndeda and radio station @105.5XFM disappear just like that. X Breakfast was the real deal,” lamented George Waweru on twitter.

Denying the rumours, XFM has assured its fans that it’s not closing down but has gone digital. It will still provide programming focusing on entertainment and music. The station will now be broadcasting on the streaming application, Songa by Safaricom.

“This is a strategic move as XFM is the first mainstream radio station to go 100% digital. Smooth FM however covers a broader audience compared to XFM which was more confined to a certain reach,” disclosed James Njoroge a programme controller at Radio Africa.

Following the same trend, urban Christian station Kubamba Radio has also closed down after suffering financial constraints in running the business for quite a while. “The station has been struggling financially, something that made it unstable with key employees getting laid off as others resigned due to the hard times,” said a former employee on grounds of anonymity.

A WhatsApp status update from Kubamba gave the clarification as it was written; “Kubamba, since its inception, relied heavily on donors and when they pulled out it became hard for the business to run.”

Some of the former staff members said that they went for months without pay. A post they shared on their Instagram account said that they are leaving the 91.6 frequency and transitioning.

AUDIENCE AND FINANCES

Rumour mills however had it that the frequency belongs to a Nairobi business magnate who recovered it as business between him and the investors wasn’t so rosy.

“Kubamba Radio started off by targeting millennials but we ended up reaching out to a much older generation which also found our content worth of approval. We will therefore be back soon but the station still runs online with constant gospel music airplay,” disclosed DJ Hobbz a former employee at the station.

One FM too has been said to be on its knees with unpaid bills and other financial constraints. The rumours were confirmed when it recently went off air without announcing any form of exit from the scene. Details remained scanty about this move as none of the top persons in the management was willing to discuss the issue only saying that they will be back shortly. Two FM, its sister radio station, didn’t survive the closure too shortly after.

“I think when you target a small group of people then you are limited to options when variations occur in the industry. People might want diversification and a radio that covers a broader target audience nationally and that’s why Radio Maisha, Radio Jambo and the like are still surviving most blows,” hinted Jack Mwenda a former radio producer.

Niche radios feeling the scorch is not a new trend in the industry as a few years ago a station like Radio Salaam which was targeting Muslims only shut down indefinitely. Media analysts said it’s purely Islamic niche audience could have worked against its fortunes, locking out a huge chunk of advertising from other faiths.

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