World Radio Day

How radio can be a conversation (not a lecture) and a jukebox (not a playlist)

How radio can be a conversation (not a lecture) and a jukebox (not a playlist)

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.

SMS Builds the Radio Star

FrontlineSMS:Radio was recently featured on PBS Idea Lab - a group weblog by innovators who are reinventing community news for the Digital Age. Authors are winners of the Knight News Challenge that focuses on reshaping community news and Participation. The post by Amy O'Donnell, Radio Project Manager, is republished below or you can read the original post here.

Radio's history has spanned over 100 years and it continues to reach billions -- even in remote and underserved regions. So when UNESCO announced that the inaugural World Radio Day was to be celebrated on February 13, one question on many people's lips was: Why now?

A diverse World Radio Day panel gathered in London last month to demonstrate that, if anything, radio is growing in importance. Discussions about radio are more relevant than ever because innovations are rejuvenating radio programming, particularly in opening up channels for participation. Technology to spark this change need not be on the cutting edge either; it's just as exciting to realize how radio stations around the world are employing existing tools in new and ingenious ways.

Sixty-five percent of the world's population is not online, according to an ITU report. But people are demonstrating that they need not have an Internet connection to have a voice in the discussions that affect them. By using their mobile phones, audiences are increasingly able to contribute opinions to discussions or news tip-offs for reporters, making radio programming responsive, relevant and appropriate.

This reinvention of radio sparks recognition of the fundamental importance listeners place on radio as a participatory and localized platform. While voice calls bring richness to a show, the number of contributors is limited by time. SMS, on the other hand, has almost no limit, allowing space for engagement which represents more people. Crucially, incorporatingSMS feedback allows radio to reflect local debate and concerns.

In an era where every revolution has a hashtag, we must remind ourselves that community radio has been a forum for collective dialogue for more than 100 years. By a generous estimate, Twitter has 500 million users. Juxtapose this with the 6 billion active mobile subscriptions and 95 percent of people who have access to the radio.

Radio is particularly important for those who aren't online or able to get a newspaper delivered. Radio requires minimal electricity (a negligible amount with a windup or solar radio) and tuning in is free. Applications using SMS with radio -- two of the world's most used platforms -- is proving that mobile technology has the power to create new possibilities by transforming radio from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue with listeners.

FrontlineSMS's free, open-source software, which assists with the management of text messages without need for the Internet, is being used in radio contexts in more than 80 countries.FrontlineSMS:Radio is a tailored version of the software developed with this in mind. The tools we've built are designed to assist with the analysis of aggregating of text message data so that DJs can relay opinions to audiences while live on air. We now have 20 stations across Africa taking part in the trial, and one of them has received 16,000 messages in just three months. The large regional, cultural and economic variation in platform adoption is why at FrontlineSMS we're focusing on the ways that traditional platforms can be used to complement each other.

At the World Radio Day panel in London, speakers stressed the importance of the decentralization of radio: a need to ensure that ownership of programming is in the hands of communities. The penetration of mobile coupled with innovative applications of FrontlineSMS allow radio managers to incorporate audience feedback and lean on listeners' insights to shape audio content.

Another theme identified on World Radio Day was that for many, radio is the most trusted information source -- second only to word of mouth -- and this is based on the personal connections people feel with radio presenters by interacting with them. As communities themselves are able to determine topics up for discussion, these can lead to actions that dramatically change lives. The change in relationship between radio stations and their communities is fostering an evolution in even traditional (or institutional) broadcast environments. It is this need for local dialogue which underlies the motivation of FrontlineSMS to support radio stations that engage with listeners.

It's great that radio gets one day a year to enter into a global conversation. But for me, it's important these discussions happen more often to build momentum in people interested in sharing and innovating around the radio -- in particular, how to make radio interactive and preserve space for locally appropriate discussions to thrive. Neither video nor social media have killed the radio star. In fact in many places -- when coupled with SMS -- locally representative radio is taking central stage.

“Radio isn’t just a platform; it’s a social institution.” Reflections on World Radio Day Celebration in London.

Peter Westman had an eventful start to his internship at FrontlineSMS, as his first day coincided with what was one of the most eventful days in the FrontlineSMS:Radio calendar so far: the inaugural World Radio Day. Here, Peter shares his thoughts on an event organized in London and the opportunity to reflect on the power of radio.

By Peter Westman, Radio Project Assistant

This past Monday 13th February a packed lecture theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (UK), helped get the first World Radio Day off to a flying start. World Radio Day marks a unique opportunity to reflect on radio’s importance as an information source and its ability to reach remote and marginalized communities. Alongside SOAS Radio, Lifeline Energy and Empowerhouse, FrontlineSMS:Radio co-organized an event which focused on “New Perspectives on Traditional Radio,” adding London to the global celebrations taking place from Australia to Guatemala, from Bangladesh to Zambia.

Opening the event in London, Guy Berger, the Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, explained his belief that: “Radio isn’t just a platform; it’s a social institution.” Offering a moving account about growing up in apartheid South Africa, Guy explained how “Radio Freedom,” broadcast by the African National Congress in Zambia, acted as a voice for resistance and a tool for building communities  from the 1970s and through the 1990s.

As I start my role as Radio Project Assistant at FrontlineSMS, I have been struck by the use of radio as a  tool for freedom of expression. Despite the tremendous amount of attention given to ICTs centered around the internet, radio remains one of the most pervasive, immediate, and affordable sources of information for many people worldwide. We heard during Monday’s event that while 65% of the world's 7 billion people do not use the internet, 75% of people in economically developing do countries have access to a radio.

FrontlineSMS’ Amy O'Donnell explained how mobile technologies and SMS are changing the way that radio stations are able to encourage audience interaction and participation.  Listeners are increasingly being invited to guide and generate content via tools already in their hands: mobile phones. It was so exciting to get an sneak peek at the new FrontlineSMS:Radio software, a tailored version of FrontlineSMS optimized for use in radio stations. One highlight was the way the software allows DJs to poll listeners and receive replies via SMS, allowing a far greater share of the audience to express their opinion during the limited airtime of a radio  program. Amy explained how the data collected helps stations to learn about their audience and accordingly act in a responsive manner, such as producing more relevant, local content.

I was particularly impressed by the diversity of the academics, practitioners, and developers represented at the event. Participants included Lifeline Energy, an NGO that provides wind-up and solar powered radios to vulnerable populations for group listening, as well as  Empowerhouse, which offers online training for Community Radio stations  and support with evaluation and impact assessment.

I was also struck by a presentation from Dr Chege Githiora (Director of the Centre for African Studies at SOAS) who noted that the central role which radio plays in preserving and reviving local languages and dialects. Another presenter, Director of SOAS Radio Carlos Chirinos’ called for greater involvement by universities in connecting the local and global in radio, particularly with respect to academic and vocational training. Given the variety of stakeholders involved in radio, this seems important going forward.

Linje Manyozo, a lecturer in Media, Communication, and Development at the LSE, closed the session on a meaningful note as he recalled that during his childhood in Malawi, “I felt empowered because of the information on the radio...Radio provides opportunities for grassroots communities to challenge dominant narratives.”

Thanks to everyone involved with World Radio Day for making it such a special event! Check out some of the recent coverage about the use of FrontlineSMS in the context of radio on The Guardian Poverty Matters Blog and BBC Click Radio.

To catch up on everything that happened, you can find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @worldradioday (hashtag #worldradioday).

If you’d like to get involved in organizing events in the future or just want to stay up to date, join our Google group. Let’s make next year’s World Radio Day even bigger and better!

World Radio Day: An Opportunity to Celebrate an Unsung Hero

We have been excited to play a role in celebrating the first ever World Radio Day here at FrontlineSMS, through our sector project FrontlineSMS:Radio. Our Radio Project Manager, Amy O'Donnell, has been central to proceedings; helping to organise a successful World Radio Day event in London and attracting significant media attention, too. Below is an article Amy wrote about World Radio Day for the Guardian Development's Poverty Matters blog. You can view the original post on the Guardian website.

By Amy O'Donnell, Radio Project Manager, FrontlineSMS

World Radio Day celebrates radio's role in empowering people in remote communities – not just as a source of information, but increasingly as a way to make their own voices heard.

In a world of increasing opportunities to participate in public debate online via social media, the blogosphere and comments on news sites, the first World Radio Day on 13 February, organised by Unesco, reminds us to celebrate the radio as an unsung hero that is steadily empowering people to access information and – crucially – to respond to what they hear.

Radio is the predominant source of information in areas of the world that are sometimes too remote to get a newspaper delivered, let alone access the internet. This is why Unesco has noted that radio is a "low-cost medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people".

Attention given to technology for information communications has recently been captivated by web-based applications, especially "new" or "social media". But about 65% of the world's 7 billion people do not use the internet. In addition to those who are offline due to lack of access, there are also those who are unaware, unable or simply do not want to use social media.

People listen to the radio in their cars, on the move and at work. Radios don't require large amounts of electricity, and wind-up radios don't need an electrical source at all. Moreover, radio reaches large groups of people, being easily shared among families or listener groups. It is a medium often used as a focal point for community discussion on subjects including politics, elections and service provision. Radio efficiently reaches large audiences in real time. But can radio – a one-way broadcast platform – ever replicate the participatory impact of Twitter, Facebook or Google+?

Different technologies are changing the ways in which radio is used as a platform for engagement. At the end of last year, the ITU 2011 report revealed that there are almost 6 billion active mobile phone subscriptions. The ubiquity of mobile technology presents an exciting opportunity even for those in "last mile communities" to interact with radio shows using a tool they already have.

Take "The Organic Farmer" in Kenya, for example. The radio show gathers questions from its listener community of agriculturalists. On one occasion, reports surged in via text message about a disease affecting chickens in the area. In response, the radio show invited an expert to analyse the crowd-sourced evidence, diagnosed the cause as "Newcastle disease" and helped to organise vaccinations.

Similar to social media, the most important aspect of successful radio programming is participation. Seeking feedback from listeners helps to generate and guide content, which in turn increases local relevance and stimulates dialogue. Radio stations are increasingly reliant on audiences to be their eyes and ears, as they seek new tips to mobilise journalists who report from the field. More importantly, this enables more people to have a voice in the discussions that affect them. Mobile interaction "closes the loop", enabling audiences to listen to a discussion, contribute insight, and then hear their views encourage additional participation.

This may include challenging decision makers or service providers, which can be particularly powerful when feedback is democratically obtained. Pamoja FM has used listener input to challenge water cartels in Kibera, Kenya; Breeze FM in Zambia has held discussion on its "Issue of the Day" programme about upcoming elections; and Malawi's Mudzi Wathu FM has taken health questions from listeners to ministers, and relayed the answers on air.

Calls are a powerful way of getting opinions across – but there's only so much airtime. For those who can't get through, SMS is a digital and asynchronous way for listeners to express themselves, and this increases engagement. For example, DJs can ask listeners to respond to SMS polls, enabling them to get many points of view without requiring significant airtime. When using software such as FrontlineSMS, this can be automated and visualised, making these real-time interactions easy to understand and rebroadcast. Over time, radio stations can use this kind of digital data to analyse audience behaviour and the popularity of different shows.

In a "Twitter like" way, radio, combined with the ubiquity of mobile, can be a platform for community discussions that change people's lives. Radio stations are being called upon to embrace new technology, but it is fundamentally important to make use of tools that are available locally, engaging people on the platforms they already use. As radio stations and tool providers all over the world are discovering, it is possible to do smart things with dumb phones.

This post was originally seen on the Guardian Development's Poverty Matters blog.

Celebrating the Power of Radio All Over the World

By Amy O'Donnell, FrontlineSMS:Radio Project Manager.

Excitement is rising as we gear up to celebrate UNESCO’s inaugural World Radio Day next Monday 13th February. A wide spectrum of activities is being organized around the globe to raise awareness about the power of radio and to celebrate over 100 years of broadcast. For our part, FrontlineSMS:Radio is delighted to be co-organizing an event at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (UK) with SOAS RadioLifeline Energy and Empowerhouse.

I am really looking forward to joining experts in the field, including Guy Berger, the Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, on the London-based panel entitled “New Perspectives on Traditional Radio.” It’s great to see the diversity of practitioners, academics and tools providers who have already signed up to join us in discussions about the importance of radio.

One theme of the event will be the way that different technologies can serve to change the way in which radio is used as a platform for engagement. For example, the innovative use of different tools is now having a revolutionary impact on the way that audiences are able to interact with programming. As I found out when I recently visited a radio station in the UK, input from social media like Google+, Twitter or Facebook allows audiences to shape the direction of programming and presenters often read out comments on-air.

But, I can’t help but ask: how are people who are offline able to engage in discussions on the radio which affect them? 2011 ended with almost 6 billion active mobile subscriptions (source: ITU, 2011 Report), and through my work at FrontlineSMS:Radio, I’ve seen that SMS is increasingly being used by radio stations across the world to facilitate two-way communication with listeners. In a "Twitter like" way - radio combined with text messaging can be a platform for community discussion which can lead to tangible changes in people's lives. This might be challenging water cartels, identifying diseases affecting livestock or crowd-sourcing opinion on service delivery.

FrontlineSMS:Radio is a customized version of FrontlineSMS which has been designed with audience participation in mind. It assists radio stations to engage more effectively with their listeners via SMS and represent their views over the airwaves.  Meanwhile, the software empowers stations to gather information about their audience to enable them to be more responsive, stimulate dialogue and produce locally relevant content.

The timing of World Radio Day couldn’t be more perfect as the trial of FrontlineSMS:Radio enters an exciting phase. One station in Kenya has received over 16,000 messages into the new software in just 3 months! In the last few weeks we have opened the trial to a wider group of stations and we have started to receive their feedback and ideas to further improve the software. If you’re able to join us in London, we’ll be demonstrating a sneak peek of FrontlineSMS:Radio.

Meanwhile, many other innovative advancements are affecting the way that radio programming is produced and listened to. For example, Sourcefabric’s Airtime is free, open source radio automation software which lets radio DJs take total control of their station via the Internet. On the listeners’ end, Lifeline Energy provides solar and wind-up prime radios and Lifeplayer MP3s which are designed for large group listening. It is innovations such as these which conversations on 13th February will serve to highlight.

There seems to be a buzz of activity this week, as the finishing touches are made to different international events on the theme of radio- you can check them out on Lifeline Energy’s map which really gives the feel of a global movement. You’ll notice that discussions are happening from Dhaka to Canberra, Chipata to Lahore, Barcelona to Fiji... the list goes on. It’s also a double celebration as Airtime celebrate their first year anniversary and are holding meet ups in Berlin, Prague, Minsk, Guatemala City, Warsaw and Toronto. Let us know if you’re organizing something which you want to be added to the map!  We wish everyone involved in World Radio Day 2012 the best and hope this year marks the start of bigger and better events to come!

For more on the London event, see and the speakers' biographies. The event will be streamed from the SOAS website.

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If you’re interested in getting more involved in organizing events in the future or staying up to date with content and activities from the day, join our Google group.