FrontlineSMS: Radio

The Radio Star Strikes Back

The Radio Star Strikes Back

More than 95% of the world’s population uses radio, making it the most popular communication technology in the world. Radio stations and DJs have also been some of Frontline’s earliest and most inspirational users, taking on climate change advocacy, coordinating responses during emergencies, amplifying voices for peace during conflict, and bringing communities together.

FrontlineSMS @ Africa Gathering 2011

By Nsonje Siame and Hussain Abdullah

Africa Gathering is a unique platform which allows NGOs, donors, journalists and academics to come together to connect and explore ideas on "positive change in sustainable development, technology, social networking, health, education, environment and good governance in Africa." The most recent Africa Gathering was hosted at the London-based Guardian building on Monday 20th June 2011. The chosen theme for this event was "New Media Revolutionizing Africa", and it inspired interesting ideas, insightful discussions and some energetic debates between the presenters and delegates.

Sharath Srinivasan, co-founder of FrontlineSMS:Radio presented at the event  about how simple and adaptable solutions can be the most effective in promoting dialogue and interactive communications in Africa. Sharath argued that new social media's relevance in Africa hinges on an understanding of context. What is necessary is what Sharath referred to as a 'pull method,' understood as the ways in which technology is shaped by those using it.

Tami Hultman, co-founder of, emphasized the desire from African's to have the tools necessary to tell their story, and it is this same desire that underpins the ethos of FrontlineSMS:Radio – the objective of empowering people. The social issues in any given country are best understood by its citizens and so too are the solutions.

Many of the participants at the conference agreed that IT literacy, and indeed infrastructure, are not yet at a level for new forms of social media to overtake other existing communications tools. The consensus was that there continues to be an important place for traditional media. Some discussion was dedicated to the continuing conflicts in North Africa, for instance, as it was recognised that while the rise in use of new, internet based tools such as Facebook and Twitter have facilitated communications channels for social mobilisation to increasing numbers of people; there is a danger of creating new forms of inequality. In many contexts, new media does not have the same pervasiveness or reach as mediums such as newspapers, radios and mobile phones. At the local level, the tools required for change are often already in people’s hands; the challenge is making them work effectively to meet the needs of the context.

It was argued that change must be bottom-up, and begin by supporting grass roots initiatives to acquire the tools which suit their needs. If kept simple, social media devices such as the traditional radio combined with simple, cheap low-spec devices, like a mobile phone, can enhance the interactivity of radio to produce better intra-community experiences. By removing barriers of communication between community members and leaders, it becomes easier to foster a strong and engaged civil society.

For more information on Africa Gathering visit:

Pamoja FM: Strengthening Social Networks in Kibera

y Emil Græsholm. Reposted from the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog

Pamoja FM is a community radio station located within the Kibera slum in Nairobi. The slum is a lively, vibrant place and is characterised by a continuous buzz of activity. Operating from a small office at the top of a tall building overlooking Kibera, the station has close ties with the slum as the community are actively involved in contributing to the broadcast content. Pamoja FM has received its primary funding from USAid and it focuses on community issues through debates and feature broadcasts, as well as airing a range of music shows and news. Emil Græsholm, who is currently studying at Cambridge University, visited Kibera in December 2010 and here he shares his experiences working alongside staff at Pamoja FM.

Community Radio When I visited Pamoja in December 2010 the staff, and especially the director Adam Hussein, were very open and friendly, inviting me to understand the inside of Kibera and the workings of the station. At Pamoja FM, everyone is a volunteer and many of the reporters are interns.

The station has a director, Adam Hussein who is supported by several editors including programme editor, Philip Muhatia and news editor, Thomas Bwire. In practice, however, the organisation structure is very flexible and flat, and requires reporter and technical staff to undertake a variety of tasks, including story collection, sound editing, broadcasting on air and researching. Local content from the slum is collected by the reporters and sometimes delivered on-air by the community. National and international content is mainly adapted from other media sources such as newspapers and television as it is filtered or moderated to fit the needs of the community…… (read more on the FrontlineSMS:Radio)

FrontlineSMS:Radio. Giving Radio Listeners a Voice.

Building on the core FrontlineSMS platform, FrontlineSMS:Radio will optimise the software for community radio stations, helping them to interact dynamically with their listening audiences. An increasing number of stations across the world are already using FrontlineSMS to receive and manage messages on issues such as health, politics and the environment, allowing them to wave ‘hello’ to two-way radio ~/. Now, FrontlineSMS:Radio’s targeted pilots will run alongside research conducted by Cambridge University, allowing us to understand the impact of interaction. Amy O’Donnell has recently joined the FrontlineSMS team and is leading the FrontlineSMS:Radio project. Here she shares her ideas about the power of coupling SMS with radio and her expectations for the project.

“When I spent some time in Mchinji in Malawi, I had to walk for an hour from the village to the boma (town) and pay 200 Kwatcha only to spend an hour clicking ‘refresh’ on a dial up internet connection. In contrast, my telephone signal was mostly fine and alongside the eggs, bread and bottles of pop I could always buy Celltel credit at the small village shop. Most people I met had a mobile and it wasn’t email which people swapped on their business card, but their phone number.

This is exactly why I’m so interested in how common sense technology which utilises existing tools and structures can offer appropriate and simple solutions. With over 5 billion global mobile phone connections and a mobile phone penetration rate of 52% across Africa (Source Wireless Intelligence) , the tools are already in peoples’ hands. FrontlineSMS helps people to manage and organise text messages in their own projects to facilitate communication and interaction with their communities.

Meanwhile, 90% of African households own a radio, and the medium is widely accessible. With an explosion of wind-up radios which negate the need for electricity, farmers can listen while they are in the field, meanwhile drivers can tune into in-car radios. Barriers of illiteracy are mitigated as people don’t need to read significant amounts of text to understand key messages. FrontlineSMS is being used in the context of radio beyond Africa, in countries including Mongolia, Uruguay, Indonesia, Cambodia and Australia.

It is exciting to see how FrontlineSMS:Radio will be used and I can’t wait to see its potential develop. Our new website will become a central place for community radio stations to meet and share experiences and resources, particularly regarding the interaction with audiences. For the most recent information, check out our new website – - where you can read blog posts and quotes, see a user map and learn more about the status of the software."

To read this post in full, please click here

FrontlineSMS:Radio. Giving Radio Listeners a Voice. ~/