Airtime is an awesome piece of software, built by Sourcefabric, which lets radio stations take control of programming via the web. It includes a simple scheduling calendar, smart playlists and automated playout. To mark World Radio Day 2013, FrontlineSMS:Radio's Amy O'Donnell wrote a post for Sourcefabric's blog on how this scheduling tool can be complemented by channels including SMS to help to make radio interactive. A snippet of the post is republished below, or you can read the original post in full here.
Amy O’Donnell, Radio Project Manager at FrontlineSMS:Radio recently spoke to Alessandra Bajec from the European Journalism Centre Magazine about the way FrontlineSMS is used to facilitate dynamic conversations between radio stations and their listeners in Africa and beyond. By enabling the powerful combination of radio broadcasting with SMS, FrontlineSMS:Radio is empowering and engaging communities across the globe. Republished here with permission or you can read the original post here. By Alessandra Bajec
Q. How has FrontlineSMS technology influenced African media?
Exponential growth in use of mobile technology has meant that many African media outlets are interested in using this technology effectively. By downloading FrontlineSMS and plugging in a mobile phone or GSM modem to a computer, people can use SMS in more sophisticated and professional ways.
We are moving from having contributions fed via SMS into an individual’s phone to a more open way of integrating SMS into content. We’re also supporting citizen journalists with tools for digital news gathering.
In Zambia, for example, Breeze FM radio uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with journalists. After gathering news tips received from the general public, the radio station organizes the evidence, sends SMS to journalists who may be out in the field, encouraging them to verify the facts and report.
Q. What is innovative about the FrontlineSMS software plugin?
With Version 2 recently released, FrontlineSMS has a user-friendly interface making it easier to manage larger volumes of messages, and to customize the software to better meet user needs. Pending messages can be sorted in a more timely fashion.
Earlier this month, Amy and Peter from the FrontlineSMS:Radio team based in London, UK made the short trip north to Cambridge to meet the University’s researchers at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR). In this post, we share an update on the trial of FrontlineSMS:Radio and research being carried out with Breeze FM, Zambia and Radio Buddu, Uganda.
In 2012, the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), as part of its project on 'New communications technologies and citizen-led governance in Africa’ (2010-12), is piloting Africa’s Voices, a collaborative platform aimed at enhancing debate, discussion and knowledge on contemporary issues of public interest in Africa. Designed as an African-wide research initiative, Africa's Voices is aimed at analysing citizens' opinions on a wide range of issues as radio stations all over the continent ask a monthly question and audiences are invited to reply via SMS. Stations are then provided with comparative analysis and can create innovative broadcasts that put their communities’ views in an pan-African perspective. Researchers have recently visited Uganda and Zambia working with local radio stations who are getting ready to ask audience questions. This research will lead to comparative findings on how SMS is used by listeners to discuss issues which affect their community.
Sharath Srinivasan who has been working with presenters in the studio at Breeze FM, Zambia reported that one 45 minute show - based on the role of the police and community in arresting criminal suspects - attracted 60 incoming SMS's and generated a very lively debate. The DJs have been testing FrontlineSMS:Radio’s "shows" function for the first time. Shows are designed to be a space where different presenters can organize their own area within the FrontlineSMS:Radio system. By clicking an “on-air” button, all SMS received from that moment on are fed into the current show, making it easier for DJs to organize messages relevant to them. DJs can click "off-air" when they finish so messages are filtered to the main inbox or another DJ's show. With the awareness that many stations have volunteer staff coming and going, this FrontlineSMS:Radio function is designed to be simple and not restricted to user names or passwords.
Meanwhile, Florence Brisset-Foucault has been at Radio Buddu in Masaka, Uganda, where they receive around 30 text messages per day and are trying to develop their use of SMS. The most popular topics for interaction from the audience seems to be shows on domestic and personal problems. Presenters are enthusiastic about the future for FrontlineSMS:Radio software especially since they previously relied on a premium rate number. A shift to using FrontlineSMS means they can use a local number, reducing the cost for listeners to text the station by 50% or more. Previously people would pay 220 or 250 sh to text the station but now it will be 110 sh or 50 sh if on same network. (1 £ = 3900 sh).
"FrontlineSMS:Radio makes it much cheaper for audiences to interact with us and we hope it will increase access to our debates," Pascal, Radio Buddu's head of news told Florence. Pascal is confident this will enlarge the number of people able to contact the station and share their views.
Another new FrontlineSMS:Radio function is polls, which allows stations to ask listeners to respond to a question using a keyword followed by a letter denominating their answer. When messages are received, FrontlineSMS generates a visual representation in a graph and introduces a system to cope with misspelt keywords through a manual override function. Umar, the programme manager is very excited about the polling activity which he thinks will have great potential particularly in Radio Buddu’s development and health programmes. With a smile, Umar observed that "the polling function will definitely help those of us who are bad at maths, as it displays the results automatically! It will make things easier to announce the results live on air".
You can also hear Hassan Korona of Radio Gbath, Sierra Leone's promotion audio for Africa's Voices here.
For more photos from Radio Buddu see the online album.
caption id="attachment_7958" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Radio Nam Lolwe in Kenya are trialing the new software Image: Iginio Gagliardone"] We are delighted to announce that the first beta version of FrontlineSMS:Radio has been built, and is currently being introduced and tested in three African radio stations.
FrontlineSMS:Radio is a tailored version of FrontlineSMS customised for radio DJs, particularly for use during live-on-air broadcast. The FrontlineSMS:Radio software is built on an entirely new version of FrontlineSMS, due out next year. We are in the process of building messaging tools designed to make FrontlineSMS more versatile and more intuitive to use.
The unique features of the FrontlineSMS:Radio software will include an on-air button for DJs to click on and off as they start and end their programmes and live graphical visualisation of poll results to make interpretation easier live-on-air.
The FrontlineSMS:Radio team has worked alongside Internews and Developing Radio Partners to identify community-level radio stations as project partners. Pamoja FM - located within the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya - was the first station to test the new software, shortly followed by Radio Nam Lolwe, in Kisumu, northern Kenya. Breeze FM, a community-based commercial radio station located in Chipata, Zambia, is now installing the software.
Our team of developers, based in Nairobi were at Pamoja FM for a training session to witness the first message ever to be received by FrontlineSMS:Radio, which was a song request from a listener for the locally popular Holy Day by Jimmie Gait.
Jael from Radio Nam Lolwe said, “The new features are really helpful for our radio programming. The live polling and the fact that each show can have its own folder means that the received texts don’t get mixed up. It feels more organised and clean. We are especially looking forward to the auto-refresh feature; in the last version we had to manually check for messages. Now the software just does it, we can concentrate on doing the show.”
Read the full post on the FrontlineSMS:Radio website