Accented Radio

Here we summarise some findings of the TRE research that relate to our third research question - what do radio programmes made by and for different ethnic communities sound like (including use of different languages)? In this area the work of Hamid Naficy (Naficy 2001), subsequently developed by Katie Moylan, has proved helpful. Naficy’s research took place in California where he studied the film-making of migrants and exiles. His metaphor of ‘accent’ to capture the perspective of this genre of cinema can be applied more literally to radio programming, as Moylan has done in her study of migrant use of, and representation in, Irish community radio (Moylan 2013).

Moylan gave a summary of her findings at the first of the TRE ‘sharing experience’ workshops in Bristol, March 2014. Pointing to the characteristics of mainstream ‘top-down’ representation of minorities - characteristics which were invariably the motive for a community deciding to speak for itself (research question 1 above) – Moylan listed:

  • emphasis on the role or voice of an ‘expert’ who is often not from the community
  • emphasis on ‘difference’ rather than everyday life
  • relatively devoted to items of community interest
  • little time for speakers to develop an argument, tell a story or reflect on their experience.

In contrast, community radio has an informal presentation style which is not confined within a rigid top-down running order and so allows conversation to flow. Scarcity of funding in this sector favours live programming rather than constructed and edited recordings, and the liveness gives life to the discourse with opportunities for phone-in contribution from listeners. Two examples of this which Moylan illustrated were in African Scene, a programme on Dublin City Anna Livia (DCAL) FM (the station is now named Dublin City FM), and in Kemet FM, in Nottingham. The Dublin presenters (a Nigerian and a South African) discussed racism in mainstream media representation of migrants, while the time available on Kemet FM allowed a guest, a musician of Jamaican origin, to share with the presenter, from the same background, some quite personal reflections about identity: he had never visited the family’s village in Jamaica, being more interested in tracing his African ancestry. It would be rare to find in a mainstream radio studio the time for such friendly intimacy to develop.

While the spaces of community radio encourage a discursive interaction different from the mainstream, the sound of the voices often conveys difference as well. Accent is an indicator: if you hear someone speaking your language with an accent you may recognise it as ‘foreign’ and perhaps may even be able to identify which country the speaker is from. Or the accent may signal a difference within your linguistic community – of class, or regional origin. Even more clearly, dialect will betray a region in the speaker’s homeland. ‘Betray’ – the word is appropriate, suggestive of the power relationship between an educated elite in a capital city and speakers whose language/dialect is deemed less correct and who themselves, in a sort of Freirean collusion with the oppressor, have come to internalise that judgement. So it is that, within a linguistic community, radio performance, at least by non-professionals, will strive to eliminate traces of regional origin in favour of official forms of speech.