8 Lessons Learned to Improve ICT-enabled FM Radio Station Sustainability

Published on: Aug 27 2012 by Wayan Vota

Recently, the African Farm Radio Research Initiative sought to test the effectiveness of a new radio campaign model developed by Farm Radio International: the participatory radio campaign (PRC). AFRRI’s research indicates there is a strong correlation between farmers listening to episodes of a radio campaign and going forward to adopt a new agricultural practice.

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Low cost, modern information and communication technologies (ICTs), including mobile phones, multifunction MP3 recorders, and interactive voice response (IVR) had a notable impact on the increased listenership of farmers. AFRRI’s research found that those in active listening communities – using varying types of ICT support – listened more frequently to radio programs than those in passive listening communities, had better knowledge of the agricultural improvement promoted in the PRC, and were more likely to adopt the promoted agricultural practice.

Outcome evaluations found that nearly four times as many farmers in active listening communities as those in passive listening communities adopted the agricultural improvements promoted in the participatory radio campaigns, and 10 times as many as those in control communities.

ICT Recommendations

From their research, AFRRI has 8 recommendations to increase the sustainability of ICTs in rural radio stations:

  1. Computers and computer literacy, including the foundations of virus prevention and internet search skills, are essential for the growth of ICTs at radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa. Any ICT-specific activities at a radio station should have a dedicated computer or two. AFRRI recommends supporting radio stations to get reliable internet for all staff, especially broadcasters, who require them for conducting research.
  2. Portable and multifunctional MP3 recorders, combined with audio editing workstations, are the ultimate companion tools in the creation of engaging and entertaining farm radio campaigns. Portable MP3 players should be considered a staple broadcaster supply that each broadcaster owns, rather than sharing MP3 players belonging to the radio station.
  3. On-air call-outs to experts are the most cost-effective way to include a variety of expert voices in a radio campaign. AFRRI recommends using this technique to put diverse voices on air that correspond with the message and timing of the radio campaign, rather than the same voice, week-in and week- out. Scheduling calls in advance and planning the content to be discussed ahead of the broadcast are key to effectively using call-outs.
  4. On-air call-outs to farmers are a highly cost-effective way to include the voices of farmers throughout all stages of a radio campaign. Farmers learn from other farmers and the mobile phone is an excellent way to make sure their voices are included in the campaign. By calling out to farmers, they can be reached at their convenience in their homes or fields and the cost of the call is carried by the radio station. It is advised to set aside mobile phone credit for broadcasters to make regular call- outs to a variety of farmers. For an engaging and entertaining radio campaign, it is best to call three to four farmers per broadcast.
  5. Sending an SMS alert from broadcasters to listeners 30 minutes prior to a broadcast is an excellent way to encourage regular listenership of radio programs. AFRRI recommends stations collect databases of farmers’ mobile phone numbers and send them SMS alerts as a way to increase listenership and foster a stronger relationship between farmer listeners and radio stations.
  6. Radio agents equipped with mobile phones and a solar-powered, MP3enabled radios that can record and replay broadcasts, are an effective way to encourage group listening and provide repeat listening opportunities for communities. AFRRI recommends finding the right technology and working with existing radio listening groups to maximize on the potential of the radio agent model.
  7. The use of an IVR, such as the Freedom Fone, to provide voice-based information on demand can be an excellent way for a radio station to make its on-air information available off air for repeat listening through a phone call. An IVR for farmers should be regionally relevant (market prices and weather), kept up to date (at least twice per week), and key information should be under 120 seconds in length.
  8. Helping a radio station acquire a VSAT and establish itself as a small wireless internet service provider (WISP) in the community, can be a sustainable way to provide internet in remote areas where other internet options don’t exist. Training on the management of the WISP business and technical aspects of networking are crucial to sustaining a profitable VSAT model.

With these recommendations in place, AFRRI’s findings indicate that modern ICTs can enhance the effectiveness of radio as a sustainable, interactive, development tool, ultimately improving the food security of small-scale farmers in Africa.


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Wayan Vota works at FHI 360 and is a regular contributor to ICTworks. He started ICTworks, Technology Salon, Educational Technology Debate, OLPC News, Kurante, and a few other things.
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One Comment to “8 Lessons Learned to Improve ICT-enabled FM Radio Station Sustainability”

  1. Bart Sullivan says:

    Hey Wayan – great to see our work boiled down to eight lessons learned – thanks for that. For those interested in the intersection of IVR and FM radio – it has become an exciting landscape. We used Freedom Fone but there are a number of other platforms popping up around Africa designed to compliment radio. Check out:

    - Radio Marche: http://www.w4ra.org/en/node/24
    - Freedom Fone on the radio: http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2010/08/how-freedom-fone-helped-create-participatory-radio-in-africa215.html
    - Farmer Voice Radio uses this dashboard to generate audio prompts in African languages: http://www.totoagriculture.org/TotoAgriculture.aspx

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