Radio producers’ tips for making radio work for development

April 2015

After months of working on a new programme with our partners in Sierra Leone to bring appropriate support to Ebola-affected children, our pilot educational radio programme Pikin-to-Pikin Tok has been produced and is soon to be launched.  

As we celebrated World Radio Day at a SOAS conference early February, the directors of two organisations with extensive experience of development radio, Internews and FarmRadio International, shared with us a few tips to ensure the radio programme has the expected impact on the lives of the Ebola-affected communities we are working with.

The community is involved in producing the Pikin to Pikin Tork radio project in Sierra Leone.

The community is involved in producing the Pikin to Pikin Tork radio project in Sierra Leone.

#1: Know your audience

Their first advice is to know the audience, which requires conducting as thorough a needs assessment as possible before starting the radio programme.

“You can’t do too much informative research before you design your programme,” Kevin Perkins from FarmRadio International said. “You really have to spend a lot of time figuring out your intended audience; find out what their prevailing knowledge, attitudes, practices are, as well as their beliefs, their hopes, their dreams. But also, what do they like to listen to on the radio, what song do they like, how do they like to listen, etc. The more time there, the better the programme will be, generally speaking.”

The preliminary research phase on the targeted audience also helps understand the gender differences.

“When you do research on what times of the day different people listen,” Daniel Bruce from Internews explained, “you genuinely find that the times of the day when women predominantly listen to radio aren’t the same as men. Men tend to listen earlier in the morning, particularly in rural and farming communities, where men will then get on and work, while women will listen later on in the day. Men will listen very late at night; women will listen early in the evening. These are general patterns; there will be times of the day when there is a dominance. I don’t know about kids but I would argue that they would listen to radio at the times when women are the predominant listeners.”

Perkins also insisted to talk to women and girls during the needs assessment, in order to “find out when they listen, but also what they like to listen to, what songs they like, what time of the day they are available. Women are pretty clear about when they’re available, because they are busy and their days are carefully planned.”

Bruce told us that doing such extensive research is essential because sometimes the radio stations do not have the times right.

“The different demographics, whether it is gender or whatever, want different programmes at different times of the day. That has a huge impact on the effectiveness.”

#2: Make the programme locally-owned

Their second advice is to ensure people relate to the programme; the communities must feel that the development programme is authentic.

Both Bruce and Perkins stressed that vernacular languages are extremely useful to give a local feel to the programme and ensure the rural communities are not left behind.

“The more you use vernacular the more likely you are to reach the right people in the way that they need to be reached,” Bruce said.


The whole community, children and adults, is involved in producing the Pikin to Pikin Tork radio project in Sierra Leone.

He continued, “you can also see with the local people what they are willing to partake in, and ask them to actually do some of the legwork production, so there is a bit of ownership there.”

#3: Focus on the messenger

Lastly, both directors told us that the third aspect that helps make the radio programme successful is to have presenters that the audience trust – which brings us back to the preliminary research: it is important to find out what voices people trust, who people listen to.

Since Internews has worked in Guinea and Liberia last year, in a similar Ebola-affected context as ours, Bruce shared the lessons they had learnt:

“It’s not so much the message as the messenger which is important. We have seen that with Ebola particularly; people don’t trust top-down information. If local stations just relay the official government lies, people don’t trust the government so therefore they think the radios are wrong, and they think there’s a conspiracy. What you have to do is to get hyper local respected voices engaged.

People are not going to listen to foreigner, unknown voices, and they are not going to listen to some government education official, but they will listen to the people in their communities, who they respect and trust and believe bring value to education.”

With these three tips the programme can feel welcoming to the audience, who will then follow it; “they’ll find a way to listen somehow,” Perkins assured us. “It has to have content they care about, the presenters have to be somebody they trust, it has to be at the time when they are available.” He concluded, “these things really make a difference.”



We are delighted that we have been able to take into consideration all of these issues under the expert guidance of our award-winning radio production partners, Pearl Works, which has extensive experience in producing innovative video, print and audio stories across the globe.