Based on recent research from many parts of the world, the content of more than 70% of radio broadcasting caters to adults. In Africa, the percentage is higher. In a recent study in Nigeria, for example, researchers found that content for youth (defined by the United Nations as 15-24 years old) accounted for a mere 1.4% of airtime. As the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization encourages, radio stations need more youth-focused programs.
Young people represent a huge source of potential listeners. In Africa, around 60% of the population is under 25, and 41% are under 15. Experience in radio reporting and broadcasting creates a useable set of skills with a wide range of real-life applications. Learning to research, interview, and broadcast boosts young people’s confidence and builds their communication and critical thinking skills. It also helps address current issues affecting youth, including education, life skills, drug abuse and criminal behaviour, sexual and reproductive health, and gender-based violence.
Many radio stations shun youth programming because youth is not a lucrative market as advertisers or consumers of goods and services. This is despite the fact that radio presents a real opportunity to engage youth in discussion and positive change for themselves and their communities.
There are two main approaches to youth programming. The first consists of adult broadcasters producing and broadcasting programs with content designed for youth. The second and less common but perhaps most effective approach is when radio stations enable youth to produce and broadcast programs themselves. To achieve this, radio stations can work with youth, coach them and build their skills, and gradually progress to youth producing programs almost independently. Here’s an important note that applies to both approaches: youth programming is only successful when youth themselves consider the programming to be good.
This Broadcaster how-to guide discusses the benefits of youth programming, and describes how radio stations can air programming that benefits youth, their radio stations, and their communities, and how youth can contribute to that programming.
How can youth programming benefit youth?
- It helps youth learn and develop radio programming skills and other professional skills, improving their employability in radio and other fields.
- It brings youth issues to the community and national agenda.
- When governments, organizations, and other decision-makers address issues that youth raise on the airwaves, it helps improve youth’s self-esteem.
- It links youth with specific needs and issues to specialists and experts who can assist them, and links youth with particular skills and aptitudes with people who can help them develop those skills and aptitudes.
- It improves youths’ capacity to take control of their lives, including their social life and their financial situation.
How can youth programming benefit radio stations?
- It creates additional programming content.
- It boosts listenership, as youth tend to listen to radio stations that target them.
- It attracts advertisers and other stakeholders who have goods and services for youth.
- It strengthens a radio station’s mandate to serve their community development goals.
How can youth programming benefit communities?
- It helps communities discuss and address youth needs.
- It helps community youth groups build confidence and participate in finding community solutions.
- It helps create future community leaders.
- It airs a diverse range of opinions that can deepen community understanding of social issues, for example, gender issues.
Ethical considerations when working with youth
Young people have the same rights as older people, and need to be treated with the same type of respect. But working with youth requires attention to particular ethical considerations, such as those mentioned below.
- Informed consent : When individual youths are younger than the “age of majority,” (which is often 18 years old, but varies by country), it is essential to obtain permission from the youth's parents or guardians before allowing them to participate in radio programming. Informed consent also requires that you inform youth participants that they may be recorded, that their voices will be broadcast, and that many people in their communities and beyond will hear them.
- Confidentiality : Never disclose the identity of youth participants without their permission. Youth’s personal information, for example, their phone numbers, social media handles, addresses, or email addresses, should never be disclosed.
- Safety and well-being : Ensuring the safety and well-being of youth participants should be a top priority at all times. For example, take steps to ensure that youth are physically and emotionally safe and secure when conducting interviews in the field, or when being interviewed on-air. And remember that obtaining participants’ consent is an ongoing process.
- Professionalism : Broadcasters and other radio staff should maintain a high level of professionalism when working with youth. Use appropriate, gender-sensitive language and avoid profanity. Be respectful in all interactions with youth, for example, by maintaining a respectful physical distance.
- No exploitation : Youth participants should not be exploited for ratings or other purposes. For example, stations should not exploit youth by covering “sensational” topics that demean or degrade the subjects of stories.
- Developmentally-appropriate activities : Ensure that all activities that youth are involved in are developmentally-appropriate for the age range of the youth participants. This is especially necessary in reference to sensitive subjects such as sexual health and reproductive health. Never expose youth to adult materials or situations which they have neither the context or the experience to handle.
- Ethical leadership : Broadcasters working with youth in radio programming must provide ethical leadership and set a good example for them to follow. For example, they should strive to air safe and inclusive programming, develop positive relationships with partners, participants, and others involved in programming, and practice transparency and accountability.
- Collaborating with NGOs on youth programming : Before collaborating with NGOs or other partners, ensure that they adhere to the ethical standards of working with youth detailed here.
How do I get started?
As indicated earlier, it is recommended that effective youth programming start from programming produced and delivered by adults and eventually shift to programming produced and delivered by youth themselves.
Here are the steps broadcasters might follow to reach this second type of youth programming.
- Adult-produced youth programming
- Work with existing youth groups
- Form new youth groups
- Train youth to present and produce youth programming
- Case studies—Youth programming produced and presented by youth
1. Adult-produced youth programming
If your radio station doesn’t already have an allocated time for programming that focuses on youth issues, this is the first thing to do. Before choosing the time slot, consult with young people in your listening area to know more about their listening habits, and then choose the time accordingly.
As an adult producer of youth programming, remember to always keep youth issues and interests at the centre of your programming. Collect content from youth through interviews, vox pops, focus group discussions, and other methods. Prioritize youth voices rather than yours in each episode.
To move towards youth-produced programming, radio stations must ensure that while gathering content, they lay the foundation for youth to produce and present programs. This can only be achieving by training youth. Producing documentaries, features, and news stories on tight deadlines requires skill and concentration. To enable youth to produce their own programming, broadcasters should do the following:
- Collect information on demographics and radio listening habits from youth. For more information on this, go to FRI’s self-guided online learning module, Knowing Your Audience, (To access the module, go to: www.farmradiotraining.org. Username: Your email. Password: Farmradio50!)
- Visit youth groups to gather content for your programming.
- If you are not familiar with youth groups in your area, connect with youth organizations that might sponsor groups or that might help you set up new groups.
- Invite members of those groups to be guests on your programs.
- Invite adults who regularly work with youth to be guests on your programs.
- Explore different formats that are engaging and will attract a youth audience. This might be drama or forum theatre vox pops, panel discussions, or other formats.
- If possible, have a young person co-host the program with you.
- While visiting youth groups and gathering content for your programs, look for youth who can become youth journalists. Begin training them to conduct audio recordings interviews, write scripts, edit, mix, and present on the radio. This early coaching will make the process of handing over the program to them much easier.
2. Work with existing youth groups
Many communities have youth groups that were formed for various reasons. Broadcasters can meet with these groups, find out what topics group members think are important to discuss, and include members in their radio programs. Later, broadcasters can invite confident and articulate leaders of these groups to take on more formal roles. The members you choose should be easy for a youth audience to relate to, committed, and available. Choosing members with these characteristics will increase your ability to attract new young people to listen to programs or directly participate in producing programs.
In working with existing groups, the radio station should have two objectives:
- to involve youth in the program, and
- to identify youth to be trained as youth journalists.
For the first objective, the station should involve group members in deciding what format the radio program should take (drama, talk, panel discussion, interview, etc.) Youth can also help choose the topics of the programs. They can also help to name the program, choose the best time to air it, and choose the music and other entertainment or social media components that will get them most excited about the program. As much as possible, the program should incorporate youth’s suggestions.
To address the second objective, the radio station should identify potential broadcasters in the youth group. They should be young people with ambition, discipline, and enthusiasm. These people should receive basic training on a variety of skills, ranging from how a broadcaster collects and scripts program content to recording a program. Remember that the best way to learn is by doing. Eventually, you want to hand the production process over to these trainees and monitor them as they collect content and prepare the program independently. Make sure you provide feedback at every stage to ensure that youth broadcasters understand what they need to do in order to produce a complete and effective radio program for development.
One radio project that incorporated children and youth into radio programming is the Watoto Radio Campaign in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (highlighted below). While recruiting youth to become broadcasters, the project strengthened youth access to radio through active participation on the air. Youth acted as co-producers and co-presenters of radio programs, were guests on radio programs, and acted in a drama series aired on different radio stations in eastern DRC. Eventually, the project identified more than 30 youth journalists capable of producing and presenting youth radio programs and linked them with radio stations.
The FRI website also has resources such as scripts and Barza Wire stories that broadcasters can use. There are materials on sexual and reproductive health rights for youth, resources on gender issues, stories of youth broadcasters and what motivates them, and many other stories about youth.
3. Form new youth groups
If there are no youth groups near the radio station, broadcasters can form them as radio listening clubs. Based on Farm Radio International’s experiences in West Africa, it’s recommended that radio stations use the following procedures when forming new youth groups:
- Recruit youth through the radio by providing a phone number they can call to register.
- Recruit through the radio station’s Facebook and other social media sites.
- Be clear about the objectives of the group.
- Ensure that group members participate only when they have made a free choice to do so.
- Make sure that group members understand that they are unpaid volunteers.
- Create a WhatsApp group for all members.
- After creating the group, follow up with a face-to-face meeting to clarify the group’s objectives and respond to questions.
- Create guidelines and principles that ensure shared values among participants.
4. Train youth to present and produce youth programming
When training youth to become producers and presenters of youth programs, stations must train them on both “technical” and “soft” skills. Technical skills include operating the audio recorder, editing audio, scripting, and mixing a finished radio program. Soft skills involve interviewing, conducting focus group discussions, creating vox pops, and other related skills.
The following online resources give suggestions on best practices for training youth broadcasters:
- https://www.comminit.com/content/youth-broadcasting-project: UNICEF trains members of youth groups to use radio to mobilize communities for polio vaccination, raise awareness about female genital mutilation, and conduct other activities.
- https://www.martybeyer.com/content/suggestions-interviewing-teenagers: This document states that successfully interviewing teenagers depends on the interviewer taking responsibility for reducing teen’s anxiety and building trust.
- https://childrensradiofoundation.org/how-to-start-a-youth-radio-project-in-your-community/: This resource covers a variety of skills, as well as raising some ethical issues that trainers of youth broadcasters need to consider.
- FRI’s Broadcaster how-to guide called Interviewing experts: Best practices for broadcasters and experts is useful to help prepare for an interview.
Look for appropriate authorities to engage with youth on the topics they choose to cover. These can include experts from various fields, but should always include duty bearers such as representatives of ministries of education, health, and finance.
Putting young people at ease on the air
- Young people do not respond well to voices that they view as inauthentic and/or condescending. Rather, they value on-air voices that are authentic, straightforward, direct, and respect youth’s knowledge and attitudes. Youth will be more comfortable speaking on air and more likely to listen to radio programs when broadcasters use young people’s language, style, and pacing (which can be very different than programs aimed at an older audience). But broadcasters should avoid “trying” to sound like youth when this is inauthentic, and just be who they are. Adult broadcasters should consider themselves less as “teachers” and more as people who are simply introducing youth to the world of radio in an engaging manner.
- Integrate short, real-life stories that centre youth into programming.
- Integrate entertainment into the topic of the program.
5. Case studies—Youth programming produced and presented by youth
Most radio stations that air programming produced and presented by youth themselves do so as part of development projects operated by a non-governmental organization. Such projects often include programming on a specific theme that affects youth, for example, sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, education, youth empowerment, or youth violence. The examples below from Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo illustrate this point.
Health Policy Plus (HP+) Project, Malawi
Health Policy Plus (HP+) was a seven-year co-operative agreement funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that started in 2016 and ended in 2022.
In Malawi, the HP+ project trained and mentored teams of teenagers in three districts to produce weekly radio programs on topics related to youth-friendly health services. The project also trained them in basic broadcasting and journalism skills, including interviewing, editing, creative storytelling, and fact-checking. It taught them how to use these skills to advocate for more accessible and higher-quality youth-friendly services.
The project worked with one radio station in each of three project districts. It trained staff at the radio stations on supportive supervision and adolescent development so they could be effective mentors to the youth. It provided the radio stations with recorders and a desktop computer for the youth to use and provided them with a small stipend for transportation and other expenses incurred in producing the programs. Weekly bulletins were e-mailed to station staff and the young reporters, providing detailed information on youth-related health topics to help them develop program themes and report stories accurately.
The radio programs were 30-minute magazines that covered issues of concern to youth, including the need for parents to talk to their children about sex, the importance of girls staying in school, the problems of early marriage, and where young people can access counselling on family planning and health issues, as well as treatment of sexually transmitted infections. Youth also produced daily public service announcements with brief, strong messages for girls about their right to say no to sex and to demand that their partners use a condom.
After the initial training provided by HP+ Project, the trained youth continued to produce the programs on their own.
Watoto Radio Campaign—Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Watoto Radio Campaign (meaning Children’s Radio) is an initiative of a Congolese journalist, Daniel Makasi, that aims to protect children’s rights and make children’s voices heard. The project started in 2020 and targets youth and children under 18. Goma, where this project is being implemented, has experienced wars and natural disasters. The wars are between groups that sometimes recruit “child soldiers” into their ranks. The constant natural disaster looming over Goma is Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano that sometimes sends hot larva into the city, sending city residents fleeing for their lives. In the process, children are separated from their families.
Objectives of the Watoto Radio Campaign:
- To strengthen children's/youth’s access to radio through active participation on air.
- To sensitize broadcasters on how to create programs for children/youth.
- To form children’s/youth radio listening clubs.
- To introduce children/youth to radio production.
The project trained more than 30 child/youth journalists, who host radio programs at radio stations in the region. The programs touch on most issues that affect children/youth in the city of Goma, including political instability, wars involving recruitment of “child soldiers,” natural disasters such as eruptions from Mount Nyiragongo, health issues, rape, and many others.
The role of youth in the project
The Watoto Radio Campaign introduces children/youth to radio production techniques and involves them on air as co-presenters, guests, and sometimes actors in dramas. Including youth voices on air helps to make public youth’s feelings, desires, and solutions, promotes freedom of expression, and contributes to their intellectual development.
Each radio station that collaborates with the Watoto Radio Campaign started a weekly radio program dedicated to children and youth. In addition to providing airtime for weekly broadcasts, the radio stations also help set up youth clubs in communities where the broadcasts are produced. They also meet with the children’s/youth’s parents to discuss their children’s progress and how the parents can support them at home.
Similarities and differences between HP+ and Watoto Radio Campaign
The major similarity is that both are children/youth projects that work with radio stations. But while HP+ focuses on working with youth to promote radio programming that raises awareness of youth-friendly health services, the importance of quality education, and protection from exploitation and abuse, the Watoto Campaign Project is less limited in terms of the types of topics that participating children/youth are involved in.
The projects illustrate two different approaches to youth programming. In one approach, a funder sponsors a program that focuses on specific issues. The other approach, and the one taken by the Watoto Campaign Project, is less limited in scope, and is thus able to focus on whatever topics are most important to youth in a station’s listening area.
In some ways, sponsored programs are easier for radio stations to manage because the sponsor typically pays for everything and the station simply broadcasts programs. Also, in this type of project, the station may receive valuable equipment from the donor and may train youth/children in broadcasting.
Watoto Radio Campaign is a locally-funded project that is driven by local journalists. The youth involved in the project can discuss any topic that affects them. The project relies heavily on radio stations to work with youth to produce their programs. Thus, much of the project’s youth programming is linked to the radio station’s activities, and the station decides when youth programming can be aired. However, as indicated above, programming is flexible enough to meet the local needs of the moment.
Where else can I learn about youth programming?
- Children’s Radio Foundation website: www.childrensradiofoundation.org
- Harrisberg, K., 2022. Young reporters bring the voices of COP27 to Africa's radios. https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/young-reporters-bring-voices-cop27-africas-radios-2022-11-10/
- Health Policy Plus, undated. Viewpoints: Reaching Youth through Radio Programs in Malawi. http://www.healthpolicyplus.com/MalawiYouthRadio.cfm
- Hicham El Habti, 2022. Why Africa’s youth hold the key to its development potential. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/why-africa-youth-key-development-potential/
- Linfoot, M., 2018. Sounding Out: A Rapid Analysis of Young People & Radio in the UK. British Council. https://music.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/UoW-MusicTank-Sounding-Out-Radio-Research-British-Council.pdf
- Martin, Y., and Middleton, L., 2011. How to Start a Youth Radio Project in Your Community: Facilitator’s Handbook. UNICEF and Children’s Media Foundation.
Contributed by: Patrick Mphaka, former networking officer, FRI. With additional material from Sylvie Harrison, Manager, Radio Craft, FRI; Gina Vukojevic, Team Lead, Gender Equality and Inclusion, FRI; Tinatswe Mhaka, Gender Equality and Inclusion Officer, FRI; and Vijay Cuddeford, Managing editor, FRI.
This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada as part of the The Innovations in Health, Rights and Development, or iHEARD, project. The project is led by a consortium of: CODE, Farm Radio International, and MSI Reproductive Choices and implemented in Malawi by FAWEMA, Farm Radio Trust, Women and Children First UK and Maikhanda Trust, Girl Effect/ZATHU, Viamo and Banja La Mtsogolo.