During the 1930s, radio was considered an intimate and credible medium of mass communication. The public used it as a news source and expected it to provide factual information. Radio was the first truly mass medium of communication, reaching millions of people instantly and altering social attitudes, family relationships, and how people related to their environment.
Radio is an attractive medium among the various mass communication media because of its special characteristics. It continues to be as relevant and potent as it was in the early years despite the emergence of more glamorous media.
It is a truism that in the first phase of broadcasting spanning three decades from the early twenties, radio reigned alone or was the dominant player. However, over a period of time, the media scene has changed drastically.
Radio was introduced into the Gold Coast in 1935 when the colonial governor set up a small wired relay station, ZOY, to transmit BBC programs to some three hundred colonial residents and privileged native elites. Service was subsequently extended to Kumasi, Sekondi, Koforidua, and Cape Coast. British radio not only provided information and entertainment but also a means of countering the anticolonial campaigns of the nationalist press. In 1954, Gold Coast Broadcasting System was established, later becoming Ghana Broadcast Corporation (GBC) after independence in 1957.
GBC began providing two domestic radio services, Radio 1 and Radio 2 which, started broadcasting from Accra. Radio 1 was devoted to local-language programs, broadcasting in Akan, Ga, Ewe, Nzema, Dagbani, Hausa, and English. Radio 2 transmitted in English. Both stations operated for 15 and one-fifth hours on weekdays and 17 and a half hours on weekends. The wireless Radio 3 was discontinued due to scarce resources.
In 1986, GBC began broadcasting in VHF-FM in the Accra-Tema metropolitan area, assisted by the German government. Expanding FM service, GBC opened new FM stations in the regions and districts of Ghana in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Radio GAR operates in Accra, Garden City Radio in Kumasi, Twin City FM in Sekondi-Takoradi, and Volta Star Radio in Ho. There were around 2.5 million wireless sets in Ghana, in addition to over 64,000 wired loudspeaker boxes.
In 1961 Ghana launched the External Service of Radio Ghana to beam information, propaganda, and messages of support to peoples struggling for freedom and self-determination in all parts of Africa. Programs were broadcast in Arabic, English, French, Hausa, Portuguese, and Swahili. The system now relies on four 100-kilowatt transmitters located in Tema as well as two high-powered transmitters, 250 kilowatts each, in Ejura in the Ashanti Region. Beyond Africa, the service reaches North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. After the coup in 1981, the External Service was discontinued due to “technical and financial difficulties” and then reinitiated in 1987.
Though many thought the 1992 Constitution provided for liberalization of the airwaves, the Rawlings government refused to grant licenses or allocate frequencies to private radio stations until the mid-nineties, maintaining a monopoly on radio with the state-owned GBC. In 1994 opposition politician Charles Wereko-Brobby protested this policy with a series of pirate broadcasts, the infamous Radio Eye.
Though the government pressed for criminal prosecution of Wereko-Brobby and confiscated his equipment, his provocative action ultimately pressured the government to allow private FM stations. In 1995, the government began allocating licenses and frequencies through the Frequency Registration and Control Board. The first FM license was granted to Radio Univers, the small college station produced at the University of Ghana at Legon, then other media followed suit.
And then came the first private radio station to fully broadcast in a Ghanaian language, Twi. Radio licenses are awarded for seven years, for an initial fee of $5,500. In addition, an annual broadcast fee is collected and distributed to the Copyright Society of Ghana to remunerate artists and musicians.
Broadcasting In Ghana – Overview
Clause 1 of the Revised Broadcasting Bill (2014) defines broadcasting as the transmission of images or sounds or images and sound, through electromagnetic emissions, light beams, wire, cable or other means for reception over a distance by the general public or sections of the public who have appropriate receiving facilities irrespective of the technology used.
State broadcasting commenced in Ghana in 1935, with the establishment of Radio ZOY by Sir Arnold Hodson, and later Gold Coast Broadcasting Service (GCBS) in 1954, under the political control of the colonial regime and as an instrument of colonial policy.
After independence, in 1957, the service was renamed Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), but remained under government control and its programming policies continued to be closely linked to the priorities of the State. During its long history GBC has been a tool of nation building and education but it has also served as an instrument of propaganda and control.
In common with most African countries, Ghana has a long-established publicly-owned and financed broadcaster, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) which provides national and regional radio services and a national television service. GBC has played a major role in engendering national identity and national development throughout the country’s late colonial and post-colonial history.
The policy context for broadcasting in Ghana, since the dawn of independent broadcasting, has been rather unclear and this has contributed to the weaknesses currently seen in the provision of broadcasting services.
There has been no explicit legislative and regulatory framework for the development of broadcasting and tensions among different public agencies on their perceived role have led to an obvious gap in policy making. There are widespread concerns that the present regulatory arrangements are not a sufficient guarantee of Constitutional commitments to freedom of expression and to the independence of the media, nor do they enable the effective development of broadcasting in the public interest.
Following multi-party elections in 1992, a democratic government was inaugurated in January 1993 under the 1992 Constitution. At the time the Constitution was written, the emergence and growth of independent radio and television, and the need for radio spectrum, a scarce public resource, to be regulated in the public interest, appears not to have been fully considered as an essential aspect for a free and independent media. It was only after a test case by Radio Eye, which took to the airwaves without authorisation in 1994, that the need was accepted for radio frequencies to be assigned for independent use.
In 1995 the Ghana Frequency Registration and Control Board (GFRCB) put out the first call for applicants to operate broadcasting services independent of GBC. The first frequencies were assigned in July 1995 for ten commercial radio services to operate in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi, though no community radio applications were accepted at that time. A further ten frequencies were assigned in May 1996 for rural areas including three community radio services. The GFRCB was relinquished, in 1996, by the National Communications Authority, which has continued to assign frequencies to private commercial broadcasting services.
National Media Policy of 2000, provides for a three-tier system of public, community and commercial radio and television stations:
Public Radio and Television Stations, i.e. those operated by a publicly-owned statutory body, which may be wholly or partially state-funded, and which are in all cases accountable to all strata of the people as represented by an independent board, and that serve the overall public interest, avoiding one-sided reporting and programming in regard to religion, political belief, culture, race and gender.
Community Radio and Television Stations, i.e. those that are about, for, by and of a specific marginalized community, whose ownership and management is representative of the community, which pursues a participatory social development agenda, and which is non-profit, non-sectarian and non-partisan.
Commercial Radio and Television Stations, i.e. those that are privately owned and operated for profit and controlled privately by independent commercial groups or individuals.
Since its invention in 1895, the radio just won’t sit still. From a big box with lights, bulbs and dials, to a portable unit small enough for one’s pocket, to an app, to a unit you can set up at home, the radio has changed its look but continues to have a singular role as a force for human rights around the world and as a powerful enabler of solutions to the challenges all societies face.
“Radio is still the most dynamic, reactive and engaging medium there is, adapting to 21st century changes and offering new ways to interact and participate.