The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Imbaraga Tells Rwanda's Story By Internet Radio

"With a computer, internet connection and a microphone of about USD 20, you can get started with your own radio station and broadcast to people all over the globe." Dennis Wasswa is trying to explain the ease with which one can set up their own radio station "an internet based station like the one he owns and operates.

He is the founder and chief executive officer of Imbaraga Radio, a local audio service transmitted via internet on www.imbaraga.com.

With its maiden broadcast in 2011, the station features a variety of entertainment-based programmes and musical genres, the bulk of it from East Africa, and beyond.

'Our goal,' says Wasswa, "is to build an audience that enjoys listening to the latest East African music of all genres, and promote East African music and artistes within and beyond the East African boundaries."

The radio currently has a daily online listenership of over 5 million people, spread across the different continents of the world.

It however derives most of its listenership from East Africans living within the region (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, as well East Africans living in Diaspora.

According to Wasswa, "80% of music played on Imbaraga internet radio is from East African musicians."

"We are the only local website/internet based radio that plays and also promotes East African music and artistes and we do this by treating all music/ artistes equally as long as the music is not interfering with the cultures and ethics of any East African," he adds.

Wasswa explains that he settled for the name Imbaraga, a Kinyarwanda word that means "power", because his main focus at the start was the Rwandan and Burundian markets.

"I got it (Imbaraga) registered as a media house under Online Media, and had it certified by both Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Media High Council, and East African Community Organization as an East African online digital radio-style entertainment source with the aim of promoting East African music, artistes, and culture."

On why he chose East Africa as the catchment area for their operations, Wasswa quips: "There is no doubt that the internet is already populated with thousands of internet radio stations, but our station prides itself in its unique perspective in dealing with a complex audience. Broadcasting in English, the station aims to captivate every single person especially the youth, students, and business people who tune-in. The idea is to treat you as an individual listener because we aim at uniting all East Africans and that is the reason why we are becoming the fastest growing East African entertainment and social network."

The station also offers online streaming services for both audio and video within East Africa and beyond (Zambia, South Sudan, and Malawi, among others.) This means that, with his small team of staff, Wasswa is always on the move. "Some of our clients in East Africa are Radio Flash FM (Rwanda), Galaxy FM (Uganda), Voice of Teso (Uganda), Radio One (Rwanda), Authentic Radio (Rwanda), and Uburere Radio (Rwanda), among others.

He adds that; "We also have a mobile application which supports iPhone 3Gs, iPhone 4, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPad and Android phones with Android 2.2 or later versions, BlackBerry, and Samsung Smart TVs."

Wasswa is an Information Technology (IT) graduate from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

With a demonstrated interest in Information Technology and Mass Media, and a life-long desire to create employment for himself, internet broadcasting seemed like the natural choice for him after University. The reason was simple: The ease with which one can set up an online radio:

"Online broadcasts are affordable and easy to start compared to the traditional FM radio broadcasters,” he contends. “Internet radio has broadened the listening base for broadcasters. No longer are you limited to expensive time slots on the local radio dial. No longer is it even necessary to have pricey equipment."

His first step in that regard was to identify his target audience, "to have a better chance of getting the type of listener that really matters. You may be thinking hey ... listeners are listeners, but if you shape your strategy to attract a particular niche, then listeners who are looking for a radio station like yours will find you faster."

"The same way you have to identify who is going to be your audience and focus on that group, you must come up with a list of what defines your station, for example; Type of music, age group of your potential listeners, geographic location (if you have a specific area), likes and interests of your potential listeners, and the message or vision of your station. With just these 5 things you will start to shape your station, website and start attracting the listeners you want."

How online Radios work

Online radio is either pre-recorded MP3 files, or live, via-a-microphone broadcasts that are streamed over the Internet. With online radio, you are not limited to one geographical area or dependent upon syndication partners picking up your show in order for it to be heard. It can be heard all over the world via the streaming website or from the mobile phone apps.

Basically, a viable online radio has three facets: Source, server, and audience. The source is the owner/administrator of the radio, who uploads audio sounds such as clips, inputs from CDs, live voice, etc.

The server is where it is all mixed together, put into a format that can be streamed, and sent out through internet sound waves at the click of a link.

The listener is the third aspect, and equally important, because without listeners there really isn't any point in broadcasting. The listener connects to the server and can hear anything being streamed.

Challenges

Here, Wasswa cites the battle for listenership as the biggest hurdle to jump:

"Even though many of these (internet) radio stations have websites and place their streams for every website visitor to listen to, it is still not enough to fill their station's listener slots."

He adds that; "Also, most clients (advertisers) don't know how online radios work, so in the end it is hard work getting advertisements on an internet-based radio. Another problem is that web-based radio has got a limited listener base, because for someone to tune in, they have to be connected to the internet, which is still a big challenge in our local context. Besides, even with available internet, it still requires basic knowledge of the internet and computer."

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