After yearning for many years for an alternative source of news, residents of North Eastern Kenya have something to smile about. It came in the form of Star FM. The region had previously banked solely on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation radio.
The new station’s launch three years ago was received with much glee by the audience, spread through North Eastern Province and parts of Somalia and Ethiopia. The station broadcasts news and programmes in English, Kiswahili and native Somali.
Star FM’s inception came at a time when millions of listeners in the expansive region thirsted for information packaged in a language they could understand.
And this year, things started on a positive note for Star FM. It not only established a base in Nairobi, bringing more listeners under its ambit but also signed a partnership with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which also offers programmes in Somali language.
This has boosted the young stations image and expanded the range of products offered to listeners. The station’s current address is First Avenue, Eastleigh.
“When the station began to broadcast in 2005, the listeners in North Eastern happily identified with Star FM, calling it their own,” says the station’s chairman, Mohamud Abdullahi Sheikh.
One of the station’s stars is Yusuf Ismail, the youthful morning show presenter. He and thirty other journalists and workers shuttle the Eastleigh newsroom to ensure that the shows run without a hitch.
Mr Sheikh is happy about the progress the station has made since its inception. “We are now able to reach further into the country such as Eldoret, Namanga, Embu and parts of coast province,” reveals a beaming Mr Sheikh.
But it has not been smooth sailing all along, and the youthful team has endured tough times in pursuit of their dream. The station’s marketers had a difficult time convincing businessmen to advertise on Star FM. However, thanks to the sales team’s tireless efforts, things soon changed for the better as advertising revenue started to flow in.
Mr Sheikh recalls how difficult it was to get a frequency in the city, as well as the emotions stirred in the residents of Garissa when the station had to relocate.
The station, which boasts of a listener-ship of at least five million people in northern Kenya as well as southern parts of Ethiopia and western parts Somali now has ambitious plans to extend reception to as far as Mogadishu, Somali.
Mr Sheikh is however quick to point out that this would be a herculian task. “There has been no government in Somali for over 15 years since the days of Siad Barre, so venturing into Somali will require some effort, although it is not impossible.” The station is now planning to put up a television station.
“We have seen remarkable improvement in awareness levels of the people, most of who are illiterate and don’t have access to newspapers or information from the internet.”
The weekly news menu for listeners ranges from health, social discussion, politics and sports, all tackled by the team on daily basis. The station also plays all kinds of music, ranging from popular western music to Somali love songs.
To improve its news gathering network, the station has established an office in the city centre from where reporters file stories. The old station in Garissa sends in news from northern Kenya.
It also has reporters in Wajir, Mandera, and Moyale. Internationally, there are journalists working for the station from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and South Africa.
With almost no competition from one other vernacular stations, Star enjoys religious following from Somali-speakers.
Star FM undoubtedly hit the ground running and its launch is definitely a milestone in the journey to bring the marginalised communities of northern Kenya back into the national fold.