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Uganda Private Radio Stations 2

Sanyu FM was the pioneer private FM station in Uganda in 1993. Before that, there was only one, government-owned radio called Radio Uganda. It was transmitted on short wave and medium wave.

More than 50 languages are spoken throughout Uganda so it was not possible to cater to all the communities in their own languages on one radio station. So Radio Uganda alotted short segments to each of the various communities, says Patrick Katto, one of the first directors of Sanyu FM.

The most popular program on Radio Uganda seemed to be the death announcements, which went on for hours, Katto says. The readers of these notices were the popular announcers of that day.

In 1986, current President Yoweri Museveni came to power after years of military dictatorship and widespread allegations of human rights violations by other ruling parties. The government instituted new policies that included the privatization of the Ugandan economy. Television and radio airwaves, once state-controlled, were opened up to private investment in 1992.

Katto’s family then started Sanyu FM, which means “joy” in Luganda, the language spoken by the majority here. His family has since sold its broadcasting business, and the station is now known as Sanyu 2000 FM.

As the trendsetter in private broadcasting, Sanyu FM had to tailor the programs to the needs of the society, Katto says. Uganda was emerging from a turbulent period of political and economic instability and violence, and the people were thirsty for new ideas.

“Its arrival was quickly embraced by the private sector, as well as government,” Katto says of Sanyu FM. “Big corporations were at our door with advertising requests.”

Programs covered most of the sectors of the community, ranging from religious to commercial, as well as others of national concern, such as health and agriculture. Even the police noted the new trend of FM stations, using Sanyu FM to sensitize the public about security matters and even to provide updates on traffic, which had previously not been available.

Noticing the impact that FM broadcasting was quickly making, other private investors followed. In 1994, Capital FM hit the airwaves, starting a race to open new radio stations that is still hot today.

Kalembe says that investors are now discouraged from opening new FM stations in the city because there are so many. But there is still room for more stations in rural areas.

Radio Uganda is still on the air today and carries an advantage over other radio stations because it reaches the whole country. It has also opened various FM stations, adding to its competitive edge. Apart from these, the rest of the FM stations are private.

Kalembe says that FM radio stations are expected to fulfill the three major functions of media: information, education and entertainment.

“FM radios bring news and information closer to the people, and that is good,” Kalembe says.

Although it is not a law, FM radios should include programs aimed at raising the standards of living of the communities they serve as part of their corporate social responsibility, he says.

“On the whole, private FM radios have had a positive impact on the development of the society and helped to uplift people’s standards of living,” Kalembe says.

Liberalizing the airwaves was a wise move by the government, Katto agrees. During the period when there was only Radio Uganda, whenever there was a coup, the radio was always the next thing to be seized in order to make an announcement.

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