Introduction

When you think about the content of your farmer radio program, you probably think mainly about information and discussion. And your farmer program should provide farmers with the information they need, and also provide farmers with opportunity to speak and be heard.

But music can also be important in your farmer program. Here’s why.

  • Farmers listen both for information and for emotional connection. Music can provide a lot of that emotional connection.
  • Farmers like a regular sound that tells them something important is about to happen. Music can provide that sound.
  • Farmers can get tired of endless talk. Music can break it up.
  • Talk can put an important thought in a farmer’s head. Music can help that thought take root.
  • Farmers like to hear sounds that reflect their lives. Local music plays a big part in the lives of many farmers.
  • Some songs have lyrics with important messages for farmers
  • Sometimes you need to convey complex information, such as ingredients or a sequence of steps. Give that information a tune and it will be more easily remembered.

Music can help make your farmer program more effective. But it must be the right kind of music, and played at the right time. Here are some tips for using music in your farmer program.

Details

Use music to start the connection with your audience

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio documentary maker Dick Miller recently produced a network program series about the brain. He told FRI:

The important thing is that before we think, we feel. That’s important for everything we do in broadcasting. Because we feel before we think, it is important to have emotional content in what we do. That’s why we tell stories about people that make us feel things. It helps us process the information our characters are providing. Same with music. The appropriate emotional tone will help us feel more and understand better.

Play music that appeals to your listeners

You may be a 25-year-old male radio producer who loves African rock music. However, the target audience for your farmer program might be older farmers who don’t relate positively to your kind of music. The farmer program is not the place for you to play your favourites. Find out what kind of music your target audience likes. And play it.

Use music to confirm your program's positive attitude about small-scale farming

Your station provides a farmer program because it believes that small-scale farmers are important. Your choice of music, both whole pieces and short clips, should reflect that positive and hopeful attitude.

Use music to assemble your audience

Many farmer programs start with a “sig tune” which is an identifier (or signature) that tells listeners that their chosen program is about to start. The sig tune can give listeners time to get to their radio, or to their neighbour’s radio, or time to settle the kids so the farmer can listen more intently. Since a farmer program is about opportunity and hope, the sig tune should reflect that mood. It can be instrumental or vocal, traditional or modern, depending on the preferences of your listeners. Some sig tunes are recorded in the village – songs sung by the women, or by the men, about their lives as farmers.

Use music to end your program

You might also want to play the opening sig tune (or a different one) at the end of your farmer program. If it is not too full of words, it can provide an appealing “bed” over which you can voice the episode extro, promoting next week’s episode, thanking farmers who participated in this week’s episode, and thanking your listeners. Again, the right music will reinforce the emotional bond between your program and its listeners, and help remind them why they will want to tune in next time.

Use music to convey a message

Some songs have strong messages about good farming practices, or about HIV and AIDS, or another topic. These songs can work very well on radio. But use them carefully. Don’t wear out their effectiveness by overplaying them.

Use songs with lyrics that listeners can understand

If you are playing a song because its lyrics are important, listen to the song in advance and decide if the lyrics will be understandable by your listeners. If not, don’t play it – or play it and provide some guidance about what is being said.
Give them a break

When you have just run a long interview and the next item is another long interview, give your listeners a break! Play something light to relieve the tension, or just to give listeners some relief from having to pay such close attention to the interviews.
Use music to give your listeners time to feel an emotion

When you have run a sensitive interview with a mother whose kid died from polluted water, play some peaceful instrumental music. Give your listeners time to absorb the pain felt by that mother before you go on to something more lively.

Use music to identify a regular feature

If you provide market prices for farm produce each week, farmers won’t want to miss that. Play a brief clip of lively music for a few seconds just before the market report. That will grab the attention of even those farmers who might have strayed from their radios. Here is a comment about using music for a different regular feature from an experienced Malian broadcaster and manager:

When I was a radio presenter, as soon as we put on a song by Oumou Sangare about death called Samagni, the entire community paid attention because it was the beginning of the death notices. (Mobido Coulibaly, FRI, Mali)

Use music to help farmers remember something important

Sometimes farmers need to remember complex information, such as the ingredients for a home-made insecticide, or the spacing measurements for row-by-row planting. Help them remember by creating a short song or “jingle” which covers all the main points. In future episodes you can drop in that little song over and over again to help your farmers better remember the information. Have a competition and ask listeners to compose the jingle. As a prize, let them make free announcements to their friends.

Be sensitive to what has just happened on air

You have chosen music for your next episode, and it includes a funny song that is going to be played at a specific time. However, at the last minute, you get an interview with the mother who lost her child to polluted water, Make sure you replace that funny tune with something more appropriate.

Enhance traditional music to strengthen its appeal

Traditional, unaccompanied singing sounds great, but there is nothing wrong with making it sound even better for a wider audience. Here is some advice from an old pro:

One thing we have tried to do successfully at ACS is take the recordings of singing women from the village and add guitars, keyboard and drums in the studio, with the end product sounding as if the women came to the studio to sing over the instruments. The fusion is magically ethnic but the flavour is Afro-contemporary. (Marvin Hanke, Audio Clinic Studio, Blantyre, Malawi)

Mix it up

Not everyone likes the same kind of music, and farmers are no different than other people. Here is advice from a long-time Canadian farm broadcaster:

Vary the type of music selected: vocals, instrumentals, village choirs, etc. because you will never find a piece of music, or a style of music, that is everyone’s favourite. Even some Scots do not enjoy the bagpipe! (Glenn Powell, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, retired)

Build the sense of village and farming life through music as well as talk

Here is another experience from Mali:

During reports from communities, the women greeted us with “welcome songs” accompanied by hand claps. It was the welcome music for the visit to this village. (Modibo Coulibaly, FRI, Mali)

Have a reason for linking a song to a talk piece

Just because you know a musical selection that contains an important word in a talk piece, that is not sufficient reason to play it. Here is advice from a well-respected CBC Radio Network Host, which uses a popular Australian song to illustrate this point.

Don’t commit “kangaroo music.” If an item is about poaching kangaroos, don’t automatically play “Tie me kangaroo down, sport” just because you know it. That song might not work with the tone and spirit and meaning of the piece and of the program. (Shelagh Rogers, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

On the other hand, you might well choose to play “Tie me kangaroo down, sport” just for fun! But make a thoughtful decision about using it.

Use music to build audience loyalty

If your regular show is long enough, invite listeners who have just had an important event in their lives (marriage, birth of a child, farming success) to select a piece of music to be played on the program.

Use music to build a sense of shared experience among your listeners

When you broadcast music that most listeners like, their shared enjoyment of the music will spill over and create a shared enjoyment of listening to your program.

Music plus

While this item is mainly about music, don’t forget that other kinds of sound work just as well as music in some parts of a farmer program. For example, the clip that announces the weekly market report could be a few seconds of sound gathered at the local market. Or it could be the sound of market traders calling out the prices of their products. It could also be the sound of penned goats braying, or the sound of a mother bargaining at the market. Get out there and capture great sounds from villages and gardens, meetings, rainstorms, rivers and creeks, wind whistling through crops, farmers hoeing and laughing and talking to each other. Then listen carefully and select clips that might be appealing to listeners. You might only use most of the clips once or twice, but some might be “classics” that you can use on a regular basis.

Acknowledgements

Contributed by: Doug Ward. Doug Ward is chair of the Board of Farm Radio International (FRI). He was a radio producer, station manager, regional director and Vice President at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

 

The draft was improved by contributions from:

Modibo Coulibaly is the West Africa Regional Director of FRI/RRI (Radios Rurales Internationales). He founded Radio Fanaka in Fana, Mali, and was a founding member of the Malian Community Radio Alliance.
Havoc Franklin is Director of Local Program Development at the CBC.
Marvin Hanke is Director, Audio Clinic Productions, Blantyre, Malawi. He was a Producer at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, and Executive Director of Story Workshop.
Dick Miller is a freelance radio producer and trainer. He was a CBC Radio documentary producer.
David Okidi is Manager, Business for Peace Project, at International Alert, Kampala, Uganda. He is the Director of ABS FM and was the Station Manager of Mega FM. David is a member of the FRI Board.
Glenn Powell is a freelance writer and communications consultant. He was a Farm Broadcaster and National Radio News Reporter at the CBC. He is a member of the Board of FRI.
Wendy Robbins is a freelance radio producer and a retired CBC Radio Producer.
Shelagh Rogers is a network Host/Producer at CBC Radio.
Jacqueline Toupin is a Media and Communications Consultant based in Ottawa. She has worked in development and communications, radio and television in Canada, Mozambique, East Timor and Switzerland. She is a member of the FRI Board.

Project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD)