Praise the Radio

In case you didn’t know, tomorrow is World Radio Day (seriously!) Proclaimed in 2011 by UNESCO and officially endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, World Radio Day is a celebration of the radio, the unique power it has to connect people and impact lives. The day is also meant to improve international cooperation between broadcasters, and to encourage major networks and community radio alike to promote access to information, freedom of expression and gender equality over the airwaves. But in a quickly digitizing world, do we even need radio anymore? You bet your transistors we do!

The history of radio in Canada is actually pretty interesting – you can read more about it on The Canadian Encyclopedia  – but the short story is that for a long time in Canada’s early history, the radio was the one thing that connected Canadians to each other, and to the rest of the world. With such a large land-mass to cover, and a number of isolated communities to reach, radio became an invaluable tool for entertainment, as well as information.

These days, when many of us think about the radio (if we do at all), we tend to think about obnoxious advertisements, wacky DJs or news and traffic reports. And most likely, these are all confined with our vehicles. It can be easy to forget that the term “radio” also refers to HAM radios, walkie-talkies and other transmitters that use radio frequencies.

World Radio Day is designed to be a reminder about how important the radio can be; as an information tool, as an entertainment tool, and as a tool that can save lives. Last year, more than 320 events were held in more than 80 countries to celebrate the Day.

From UNESCO’s official World Radio Day site:

Radio is the mass media reaching the widest audience in the world. It is also recognized as a powerful communication tool and a low cost medium. Radio is specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level. Furthermore, radio has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief.

There is also a changing face to radio services which, in the present times of media convergence, are taking up new technological forms, such as broadband, mobiles and tablets. However, it is said that up to a billion people still do not have access to radio today.

In Canada, we may take the radio for granted, but in other parts of the world, the radio might be the only link to the outside world a community has. Not only that, but radio can be at the centre of cultural transformations. For example, past celebrations of World Radio Day have focused on how radio (specifically broadcasting) can contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and youth and radio.

This year the focus on World Radio Day is on how radios are an invaluable tool during an emergency or disaster. As part of that, UNESCO is pushing five key points:

  1. Freedom of expression and journalists’ safety should be disaster-proof.
  2. Radio empowers survivors and vulnerable people, whose right to privacy is to be respected.
  3. Radio has social impact and provides access to information. People’s right to information should be protected even in times of emergency and disaster.
  4. Radio saves lives.
  5. The immediate accessibility of radio frequencies is essential to saving lives. These frequencies should be protected so they are available in times of emergency.

Before an emergency, radio can be used to help prepare the people who will be impacted. During an emergency or disaster, the radio can be an effective tool for getting information out to survivors, and help emergency crews operate efficiently and effectively. And after a disaster, the radio can help in the rebuilding of impacted communities. As Tadateru Konoé, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, puts it:

“Radio is [a] crucial communication and engagement tool for recovery, healing and rebuilding. 

One of the biggest challenges that aid organizations face is making sure that affected communities have a say in the support they are receiving. From our Haiti experience, through to Bangladesh, and to the most recent Ebola outbreak crisis, the IFRC has recognized the importance of this two-way dialogue. We believe that listening to the people we are partnering with is just as important, if not more so, than providing information, food and water.

Giving people a voice minimizes the gap between ‘beneficiaries’… and aid providers. It promotes longer-lasting change and fosters trust. This is critical to building resilient and sustainable communities.”

As society becomes increasingly digital in developed nations, it can be easy to forget that, during emergencies, cell service and Wi-Fi aren’t everywhere, and if the power cuts out, so does your internet access. For nearly a century, the radio has been connecting people in Canada, providing free access to information, entertainment and culture. And the radio continues to be one of the most powerful tools in saving lives, before, during and after a disaster. On World Radio Day, we’re reminded that the radio remains an extremely powerful tool for changing the world.

So what do you think? Do we still need radio? Tune in to the broadcasts tomorrow and then let us know what you think in the comments.

WRD infographic 2016L

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