More than radio

Johannesburg-based Kaya FM, launched 20 years ago, continues to undergo an evolution that mirrors the growth of segments of South Africa’s population who were not catered to prior to the democratic elections in 1994. Kojo Baffoe unpacks this evolution.


The responsibility that comes with speaking to almost a million people every week is one that Kaya FM managing director Greg Maloka takes very seriously, especially in a society where there’s a vacuum of information. ‘Kaya FM’s business model is based on being a voice for the listener and supplying the intel they need to make the right decisions,’ he says.

And that’s predicated on building a trust relationship with listeners.

‘We as a business can turn the listener into someone who’s loyal based on our recognition of their needs,’ he explains. ‘We have to understand the audience we’re talking to, what their inner conflicts are and their aspirations. We have to be the go-to person to resolve those inner conflicts. We have to position ourselves as a business that’s able to deliver on or at least drive those ambitions.’

Kaya was, when launched 20 years ago, licensed as a black radio station focused on the black middle class, a market not previously cat- ered for. Even by the time Maloka joined, 10 years ago, ‘Kaya was still very black focused,’ he says. ‘There was a tone of militancy and there was a rejection of everything “old school”, which was what white South Africa had created as a class, as a standard and as a space. There was a sense of intelligent rebellion. That’s where we were as a society at that particular time, and therefore it made sense for the time.’

Maloka, who approaches the Kaya business from the perspective of someone who grew up within those restrictive times, says, ‘Through music, through literature, we knew that something was wrong with our condition, we understood the political impact and we knew we had to get something better, but we also had to deal with the fact that we were socialised a certain way.’

Today, while the business’s core market sits at about 35 years old, there’s engagement with the 24-to-49-year-old bracket and an audience that’s older than 50. As a result, the business has to be, and is, consciously developing its model to create other platforms that ensure appeal across a spectrum of people who serve as important voices for the future of South Africa. It’s time for the station’s strong black middle-class audience to be extended into an inclusive culture that’s not driven by politics, especially the politics of race. It’s about a focus on what any ordinary person wants: the opportunity to work, to earn a living, to live life, to take care of family, and to create a legacy for their children.

One of the ways the station achieves this is shortening the distance between the business and the listener. An example is Kaya Travel. Over the last few years, the business has put together listener trips to destinations such as the French Alps, Bali, Zanzibar and the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, meticulously curating each experience.

‘Kaya Travel is our way of getting our people out,’ says Maloka. ‘One of the most important things about travel is how your mind opens when you see the world, when you see other people and when you see how things work in other places. The perspective that it brings to your own life is incredible. We don’t travel not because we don’t want to but because, sometimes, we don’t know how to, we don’t know where to go.’

Kaya Travel has been so success- ful that the station is now expanding into Kaya Business Travel.

Challenges remain, Maloka concedes. ‘Our business model has to be sensitive to the fact that South Africa still struggles with finding its own identity. There’s huge disagreement with regards to what that identity is, and that disconnect causes a lot of problems because, historically, business models are based on western principles and western systems. But, by hook or by crook, this country will find its identity, and this identity does not reside in what we see now. People are challenging convention at every turn.’

It’s this that informs Maloka’s approach to the need to create a product that’s not merely a radio station but rather a central organising principle that seeks to change the way Kaya FM’s listeners – also referred to as ‘Afropolitans’ – are socialised and what they’re exposed to. ‘If we’re to grow industry, music, the level of conversation in this country, and the appreciation of certain things that are packaged, positioned and priced correctly for the market, we can only go up,’ Maloka asserts.

Human-centred design, a key concept in product development, marketing and business in general, is at the heart of what Kaya FM has been doing over the years. It’s about being able to curate a person’s life with them, and then reflecting it back to them and allowing them to live that life. As Maloka puts it, ‘Business is about people, and if you’re not clear about the people you’re talking to, and treat them with love and respect, you shouldn’t be in the business of radio.’