Listener-driven radio station looks to take Afrikaans music global

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Given that Afrikaans is only recognised as an official language in South Africa and as a minority language in Namibia, it might seem a little surprising that an online Afrikaans-language station is trying to go global.

When you bear in mind that there are at least 1.2-million South Africans living abroad though, you can see that Ja.fm might just have a chance. The fact that the top five selling albums in South Africa are all by Afrikaans artists doesn’t hurt either.

Ja.fm is an online radio station provided by terrestrial station Jacaranda FM, that makes heavy use of the listener-driven radio (LDR) model. What that means is the channel — which plays a wide range of Afrikaans music — gets the audience to steer the playlist through their online votes.

The LDR technology allows listeners to vote for which song they would like to hear next on the main selection screen on the Home Page, or the mini one on the rest of the site. “Listeners become highly engaged with the platform because they feel like they are shaping the music that it plays,” says Attila Bernariusz, divisional head of the channel’s holding company Kagiso Digital. “Our charts are an interesting reflection of the music that listeners want to hear.”

The station reportedly has the support of a number of high-profile Afrikaans musicians. Popular musician Snotkop reckons the LDR model employed by Ja.fm is a particularly effective way for artists to get their name out there: “LDR Radio is absolutely incredible for artists as it is a true reflection of what is popular at any current time. It’s an accurate snapshot of what people want to hear,” he says. “It also affords an opportunity for artists who might not enjoy a lot of exposure on radio to be heard and exposed.”

Bernariusz says the channel is already experiencing some success. It claims to have served more than 20 000 LDR sessions over a 30 day period, and that its audience interaction rates have grown 13% in the last month.

If anything, it seems that Ja.fm has learned from the great South African online radio stats scandal. It’s very carefully chosen to talk about sessions and engagement rather than listener numbers.

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