From February 27 to March 24, Barza Discussions brought together more than 150 broadcasters and other participants from 23 countries to discuss interactive radio. The discussion looked at the tools and techniques of interactive radio, and how they can be used to interact with all listeners, with an emphasis on women listeners.
What is interactive radio?
Many participants defined interactive radio as what happens when listeners contribute to a discussion, and noted that it is a key element in making a radio program interesting. Many tools were mentioned, including phones, social media, vox pops, and interviews.
In Week 2, the e-discussion gave participants an opportunity to ask questions about producing memorable radio programs. Many questions addressed the nuts-and-bolts of producing an interactive radio program. In week 4, participants received responses.
How to host an interactive radio program
Sarah Mawerere, from UBC Radio in Uganda, asked what role the host should play during an interactive program. Laura Angela Bagnetto, from Radio France International’s English Africa Service, responded by saying that the host can give their own opinion, or share the opinion of a listener, as a starting point for the conversation. She added, “What you want to convey to the listener is a dialogue, like a conversation.” Then, the host can ask listeners to call in to contribute their own reflections to the conversation.
Sylvie Harrison is the radio craft development team lead with Farm Radio International (FRI). She added that the host “plays an important role in summarizing the information shared during interviews, panels, etc. Think about the overall objective of your episode.”
How to engage reluctant participants
Participants asked how to engage people who cannot or do not want to call in to the station.
Many experts recommended encouraging listeners to write letters to the station, or suggested that broadcasters visit the field. David Mowbray, a senior consultant with FRI, suggested that, if talking live on air is intimidating, broadcasters can allow callers to record their comments or questions on an answering machine. Calling out to listening groups can also add more voices to your program.
But how can you persuade shy contributors to be interviewed—in the field or on the phone?
Pascal Mweruka is the radio and training officer for FRI in Uganda. He says most guests are microphone-shy their first time on air. He suggested that broadcasters “create a rapport between you and your guest first. Get out the recorder from its case and place it on the table. Tell your guest that you want to use this gadget to record your interview before you start recording. This will help your guest be comfortable.”
He also recommended talking with in-studio guests before they go on air, so they know how the interview will be conducted and what topics will be covered. Also, show them the production studio so they understand what equipment will be used.
How to get started with interactive radio
Participants in the e-discussion also shared advice and tips. Ebenezer Amankwah shared just how his programming will change as a result of the Barza Discussion. Mr. Amankwah is a producer and presenter at OTEC FM in Ghana. While he actively uses many social media platforms during his broadcasts—including Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp—he has some ideas on how to improve his program’s interactivity. He wrote, “One interactive tool I would actively be including is recording people’s responses to a topic I will be treating and playing it on air.” This is called a vox pop. Mr. Amankwah said he has neglected this interactive tool since he’s quite busy, but knows it’s important to emphasize interactivity to make his radio program memorable.
He says: “Following the discussions we have had these few weeks, I have wholly accepted that there can never be programs without audiences, but there can [also] never be effective programs without audience participation.”
You can read all the questions and responses shared in Week 4 of the discussion here: http://discussion.farmradio.fm/t/week-four-looking-at-different-interactive-radio-approaches-and-tools/636/20 
Or look back at the discussions and learning that took place throughout the Barza Discussion on interactive radio: http://discussion.farmradio.fm/c/discussions-eng/radio-interactive