Kim Schulze

The Missing Beat

2011-07-25 08:30
South Africa is a patriotic nation. Not in an American hyper-excited, blinded by star-spangled banners way, but we’re proud of our heritage; how far we’ve come. There’s lots to love here.

One of SA’s biggest brands is accused of being actively unpatriotic. 5FM has responded well to the accusation, explaining radio format and the music selection process: this isn’t about defending my workplace. I inadvertently will, because frankly, you couldn’t be more wrong than to accuse any South African broadcaster of being anti-local. It’s not that simple.

Locnville has been one of the country’s most successful pop groups in terms of album sales. Sun in my Pocket was great stuff, and was given plenty airtime by several commercial stations. But it wasn’t played purely because it was local. Isn’t that a bit counter-productive? Isn’t that rewarding mediocrity, if according to your organisation’s standards, it’s not up to par?

"Raw talent"

If you had to listen to the avalanche of shit radio stations are sent on a weekly basis, perhaps you’d understand the playlisting process and need for discretion. Many unsigned local “MCs” and “artists” believe they are raw talent, being neglected by record companies and big radio stations. But most of them haven’t bothered to nurture their so-called talent, or even ask their mother’s if they’re any good. So stations get demos, often from some delusional, egotistical wannabe, who splurged out some rubbish rap, thinking that’s all there is to it. It’s an insult to people who work hard at their craft, who’ve fought to be worthy of being playlisted next to huge international names.

And should SA not import international films and music because they take away airtime from local productions? Rumour has it, MNET can’t afford to produce more content this year because they’ve blown their budget on The Wild. Allegedly. Apparently. (I like to substantiate my vomited opinion, you see, so I won't lie and say this is fact.) Without international shows, we’d be watching the same soap operas and dated talk shows all day. And I don’t need to tell you about the current financial state of the SABC.

SA is an open-minded nation. Our country BANNED external entertainment for years, albeit for more sinister reasons. We’re pretty happy that we have the choice to see and hear content from all around the world. And quite simply, the US and UK have a lot more money invested in entertainment. It’s very difficult to compete against studios that seemingly have money flowing from every orifice. There are experienced players who’ve learnt for generations how to hustle that business. Which isn’t to say SA doesn’t have the talent - quite the opposite - WE DO. But we’re not a nation with the financial backing or resources to produce show-stoppingly good music or films at every turn. At the risk of being obtuse, SA has bigger problems, and corporate sponsorship goes to other, arguably, more desperate places.

Compromise on quality

But our 'developing' status doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in entertainment, of course not. The point is that we’re still getting there. So, when a band like Locnville, who’s come as far as getting an international record deal, we expect it to be awesome. We expect it to be BETTER or at least as good as the first album. Maybe the second single will be good enough to get airplay.

We shouldn’t have to compromise on quality and a standard created by being exposed to content that’s produced well, i.e. international content. There are people in SA who do it just as well, with a much smaller budget. And if the creativity and quality of the content PRE-production isn’t good enough, whether it’s Britney or local, that’s no reason to support it. Ras Dumisani is also an SA export, we don’t exactly support him, do we?

Local broadcasters, state and private, support local production as much as they can. But the viewer/listener demands more. Advertisers don’t pay for slots not watched or listened to. And the harsh reality is that broadcasting is a business. It’s what funds the international shows and the production of local shows. If radio stations don’t play quality tracks that they know their listeners want*, those listeners are going to go straight to their iPods. Digital kills the radio star.

I think demanding quality that equals that of the international standard is a proactive way of supporting local. It’s not about being anti-local; the international pool is simply bigger, with a lot of big fish to choose from. We’re choosing the biggest fish in our small pool. And to SA’s credit, 30-odd percent of ALL radio content coming from that teeny pool means not only is 5FM supporting local music, but that local music has reached a quality high enough to be played alongside huge stars, without sounding second-rate. I’d say that’s something to celebrate.

* You can hear Kim every weekday from 9am - 12pm on 5FM for more candid opinions and hilarity. For extra sass and some profanity, follow her on Twitter: @KimSchulze

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