You won’t find many radio stations in the world using the word “smile” in their positioning. I was looking for a good news story about radio for this week’s blog article and could only find three.
- An “aspirant Community Radio Station based in Carrigtwohill, County Cork,” Ireland, that as of this writing was still in search of a suitable premises to operate from and wasn’t on the air.
- Smile FM, a network of non-commercial, contemporary Christian radio stations in Williamston, Michigan and
- Smile 90.4FM, Cape Town’s Good News Network in Cape Town, South Africa.
To American radio listeners, the first thing that may catch your eye is the frequency of the radio station, 90.4 on the FM band. In researching this, I learned that while all countries use FM channel center frequencies ending in 0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9 MHz, some countries, like South Africa, also use center frequencies ending in 0.0, 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, and 0.8 MHz.
Lois O’Brien, the Managing Director of Smile 90.4FM, told me that the radio station signed on eight years ago with the deliberate intention of putting smiles on the faces of people living in the “Mother City” of Cape Town.
Originally, the station tried to highlight news that was overtly positive and deliver it with empathy. The belief being that “there is no evidence to support the rationale that placing the worst of humanity as item number one in a news bulletin, has changed the world for the better.”
Since it’s been hard to find a lot of positives since the advent of a global pandemic, the station has morphed its news positioning to be “News that Cape Town Needs to Know Now.”
The first time I listened to Smile 90.4FM, Sam Roy was on the air and reminded listeners that the daily citywide curfew was going into effect at 9pm, “ten minutes from now,” but that the Friday night Hometown Party Edition was continuing on Smile 90.4FM. Sam Roy was broadcasting LIVE.
Live Air Personalities
Ms. O’Brien told me the station is staffed with live presenters* from 5AM till midnight weekdays, and 6AM to 10PM Saturday and Sunday.
The air shifts during the week are two to three hours long, which are reminiscent of the way Bill Drake scheduled air shifts on his consulted radio stations, to ensure that air personalities were always fresh and energetic. Weekend air shifts on Smile 90.4FM are four hours in length.
More Than Music
JM Henning presents the “Early Bird Info Hour” from 5AM-6AM, and then continues with the “Smile Breakfast with Bobby Brown and Lindy Lehto” from 6AM-9AM.
The station also features various entertaining features, story arcs, stunts, conducts familiar sing-a-longs with the goal of always having fun in everything they do. “We pride ourselves in being authentic and real,” said O’Brien.
No Call Letters
I asked what the station’s call letters were and learned that while the company name is Cape Town Radio (Pty) Ltd, it trades as Smile 90.4FM and that it uses the name Smile 90.4FM everywhere. It has no call letters.
Cape Town has a population of 4,618,000. South Africa has eleven official languages, giving radio stations the opportunity to serve a specific language audience. The most listened to radio station in South Africa caters to the Zulu speaking population. Smile 90.4FM began broadcasting on March 25, 2013 targeting the 25-to-49 year old English and Afrikaan speaking audience. It’s built its weekly audience up to 200,000 of them with its bilingual contemporary music format.
Smile 90.4FM enjoys 65% of its audience being exclusive to the station. On average, their loyal and engaged audience listens an hour and forty-nine minutes a day and 39% engage with the station via Facebook.
Special Weekend Features
Smile 90.4FM features “Better Music & More of It” with Top 200 Weekends like:
- Top 200 High School Hits
- Top 200 Karaoke Hits
- Top 200 Songs from the movies
- Top 200 Duets and Collabs
Smile 90.4FM works hard to create promotions and competitions that are innovative and creative. 2020’s R2 Million Campaign was South Africa’s Radio Award winner for Multi-Channel Promotions. It gave listeners a chance to qualify to win two million Rand or $131,138.66, the dollar equivalent of the South African Rand.
Another promotion the station planned was to be like Survivor meets Big Brother. It was called Live Inside & Win the Ride. The promotion was to have had five finalists living inside a car until the last person sitting won a brand new Volkswagen Polo Vivo. Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused that promotion to be suspended.
Needless to say, it was hard to see people smiling anywhere around the world during COVID-19 with everyone wearing face masks and socially distancing. Smile 90.4FM contributed to the smile cover-up by joining with a corporate sponsor to distribute over 300,000 masks to worthy institutions like schools, senior homes, orphanages, or others who could not afford a mask.
What I most envy about the station is that everyone is focused on one, and only one, radio station; along with its accompanying website, Facebook page and App. Something American radio stations have long given up with massive consolidation, causing employees to be spread too thin amongst multiple properties.
Community & Companionship
Listeners are attracted to Smile 90.4FM because of the way the station makes them feel. Airing stories that inspire and create a feeling of awe, gratitude and optimism. They encourage Smile listeners to be open to sharing with their neighbors, to be caring with one another and to make a connection.
Radio was born with having live air personalities provide the radio listener with companionship and making a connection to their community. It is for this reason, from the very beginning of commercial broadcasting in America one hundred years ago, radio found a home in its listener’s hearts.
Smile 90.4FM understands the power it has to make its listeners feel good. Owners Singh and Messina said their goal was to “start a movement – a new wave on the air. The name says it all. Hear it…feel it…Smile 90.4FM.”