Future Radioheads

The Children’s Radio Foundation, which trains young radio reporters, invited pop musician Colin Greenwood to South Africa. Would the trip break with celebrity conventions?

Radiohead's Colin Greenwood and youth reporters at a community radio station in Taung, South Africa (CRF).

Few subjects manage to pull our critique trigger as handsomely as Western celebrities on an Africa related mission. But when a rock star gets it right and decides to do some awesome stuff during his first-ever visit to the continent and proves deserving of  praise, we’re the first one to crack the nod. So when Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood went on a 10-day radio tour in South Africa in January and recorded some audio in studios across the country, we were all ears.

As it turns out, he spent the lion’s share of his tour in the studio. But instead of his usual  companions Thom Yorke, Philip Selway, Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood, he shared the space with children. He wasn’t there to record tracks with them, nor did he flood them with ideas or insights about rockstardom, music or politics. Instead, he was there to listen and learn from his young hosts, who, as trained reporters, showed him how they produce their weekly talk radio shows for their community radio stations.

Had he not become a rockstar, Colin confessed, he would have tried his hand at radio reporting. “I’m just fascinated by radio in the modern world,” he says. “My mom brought us up with radio, she called it a window into the universe. Talk radio tells stories, brings stories from one side of the world to the other and can now be shared by digital stuff.” And it was the digital stuff that (back in England) familiarized him with the South African youth radio shows. “I had listened to some of Children’s Radio Foundation’s shows on Soundcloud and I just loved the stories of these kids. I was intrigued and moved by these stories. So when I was invited I was absolutely thrilled.”

It was Children’s Radio Foundation that invited him to meet some of the young creative minds that impressed him so much.

In charge of setting up the visits and cruising him around from station to station was one of CRF’s trainers Lesedi Mogoatlhe. She took him to Kuruman, where Colin took part in an after school radio production session at Kurara FM. “It was just fantastic to see them organizing their time to make these really cool programs,” Colin tells us. “The kids and the energy in the studio reminded me of when we started our band; we were like fourteen years old, organizing our time in our own space, apart from adults and teachers and stuff like that.” During their weekly shows, the youth discuss all kinds of topics, from family life and sex education to violence, bullying and teenage pregnancies. Colin says, “One girl at Kurara FM told me that the cool thing about radio for her was that the elders in her community now actually listen to what she has to say. She is more confident to say what she wants to say and to share what goes on in her life.”

For Colin, CRF’s approach towards youth development and participation works so well because “they don’t tell the kids what to do; they just show what can be done and how to do it.” So when Lesedi took him to Moutse Community Radio Station in Limpopo, it was the kids who decided to take him to the streets to interview wheelchair-bound Sylvia, asking her about her experiences as a disabled woman in their community.

The conversation with Sylvia motivated the kids to take the topic of disability in their community further in a next show. They started to organize and plan it straight away. But first, Colin tells us, they wanted to produce an item which was invented on the spot; “Which township is the most rocking?” By visiting four different communities, interviewing knowledgeable people and conducting vox pops, the children said they wanted to promote the positive stuff that goes on their area.

At Manenberg  in Cape Town, Colin was subjected to “the most fun interview I’ve ever done” (and the best-spent 2:45 minutes of your day):

The kids, as young as seven years old, asked him questions about his family, tour bus, performance nerves, the names of his children’s teachers and his favorite games. They also listened to some Radiohead tracks together (which, according to Colin amounted to some “astute A&R work”). “They liked the groove on Reckoner, but preferred the song High and Dry.”

According to Lesedi, it was his openness, curiosity, humility and his specific and grounded interest in radio and youth that made his engagements so great. This clearly comes through in his blog. “He often mentioned that, had he not become a rockstar, he would have wanted to become a reporter,” Lesedi says. “He told us that he believed curiosity is the highest form of intelligence”. And he showed a great deal of curiosity himself. “The man was on a mission to learn and really immersed himself in the world he entered.”

So what exactly did he learn about youth radio? “It’s about the confidence boost,” Colin says, “if you put a mic under kids’ noses, you give them a platform to express themselves. These kids can actually make a leap with just a microphone and a platform.”

So Colin had an awesome time. And that is great. But what does his visit mean for the reporters and CRF’s youth projects? According to CRF’s assistant director Nina Callaghan, “It is a great incentive and boost for young reporters to know that there is someone with some clout in the world who believes in what they do, who believes in them and is supporting their efforts. For CRF it means that we have an ambassador with a very wide reach across the world who can raise awareness about our work, specifically the importance of youth development, and to do so in such a wonderfully sincere and authentic way.”

  • The Children Radio Foundation currently works with 50 different project sites in Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania, Liberia, South Africa and the DRC. With their local radio station partners, they train local youth to make their voices heard as reporters in their communities. For more photos, updates and info as well as to ‘Like” their Facebook, click here.

Further Reading

Back to class

The emphasis on identity and difference act to temper the radical potential of South Africa’s youth. They need an education on class politics.

Steve Biko’s Son

Nkosinati Biko on a close and present relationship with his father that is unusual for children in general and for the children of activists in particular.