Somalia’s oral culture lends itself to radio, and the importance of radio as the medium of choice for the transmission of information is an extension of the age-old tradition of oration and sharing information through poetry and spoken-word. Radio consumption remains very high and radio-stations are spread across the country at a local level and have a greater reach to the majority of the population. Most radio-services transit on the FM band, because it’s reliable and cheap. Furthermore, radio receivers are cheap and small to handle, so nomadic populations and city dwellers alike can use them with ease.
The first radio broadcast initially started in Somaliland, in the northwest of the country, during the British colonial era. The country became a unified state in 1960 when British Somaliland merged with its much larger neighbor Italian Somaliland to form a new nation known as Somalia. After independence democracy briefly flourished, then former President Mohamed Siyad Barre took over in a military coup in 1969 and ruled Somalia with an iron fist until the state collapsed in 1991. Radio Mogadishu was then the first Somali-run radio-station. It was operated by Barre’s regime and it became the chief radio-station in the country. Radio Mogadishu was a powerful tool, Barre’s regime used to spread its revolutionary socialist ideology and propaganda. Beyond politics Radio Mogadishu broadcast music and entertainment, helping to foster a sense of nationhood and solidarity in post-colonial Somalia.
Even though radio is by far the most important medium in Somalia, news broadcasts are of varying quality. The two most widely respected sources are the BBC Somali Service, which in 2017 celebrated its 60th anniversary, and the Voice of America Somali service, which has grown in popularity in recent years. These sources are generally considered to be reliable, but many local radio stations and programmes may also be reliable, depending on which journalists are involved.
Radio is still the predominant media channel for Somalis, but access to radio in rural remote areas is limited. The emergence of social media and mobile telephony means that many people can now access radio broadcasts on their mobile phones, further spreading the reach of radio. This has influenced the new generations especially in towns, where youths are connected to social media. There are 56 radio stations across Somalia and although the number is quite high, there are a number of areas that are not covered due to Al Shabaab being in control and to the absence of FM transmitters. The majority of radio services in Somalia transmit on the FM band, because it’s effective and cheap. But in many parts of Somalia people listen to radio through short waves, since FM radios are confined to big towns only. Radio Mogadishu is the federal, government-run public broadcaster. After closing down operations because of civil war, the station was officially reopened in the early 2000s by the Transitional National Government. Radio Hargeisa is the state-run broadcaster in Somaliland and is by far the most popular radio station in that region. The types of programmes offered by these stations generally do not differ from each other as they are commonly about political issues and lack topics about social issues and background information. This is true not only for radio but in fact a general issue for all media and across all regions of Somalia. Beyond these two major state-run stations and the international broadcasters, the vast majority of radio stations are private, some being community focused and some commercial. Among them the most popular include, Kulmiye, Star, many others, mostly based in Mogadishu and the southern-central parts of the country. Despite the conflict and violence, the country has seen, radio stations have grown in number since the state collapsed and radio still remains the main way that people get information and news in Somalia.