Liberian Bush Radio Escapades

Today finds me off in Bopola, a town well off the beaten track North of Monrovia, Liberia – where I’ve taken a lot of pictures and had a good time getting out of the city. I hitched a ride with an American NGO taking breeding rabbits upcountry, so the back of the pickup truck had 80 furry big-ears in it. It smelled some, since they had picked them up in Guinea 2 days before.

Handing out rabbits in Liberia

I saw this fascinating creation called a BUV on their station before I left too. 3 wheels, and it looks like it can haul anything.

BUV

The ride was just what I was looking for; providing me a chance to get out and see how the country really breathes and moves. The outskirts of Monrovia are hectic, as you would expect, but as soon as you get out it slows waaaay down.

Radio Gbarpola

One of my main missions while out is to talk to some rural community radio managers. When we got in, I made contact with the owner/manager of Radio Gbarpola and we had a good 2-hour discussion on their technology, programming, practices and business growth possibilities.

radio gbarpola in liberia

International Alert has pumped a decent amount of money into a number of strategically located community radio facilities. Radio Gbarpola is one of them, and boasts a bank of solar powered batteries, a 300 watt transmitter, a split studio, a 2-deck CD and tape player, and a motorcycle (for the news reporter to visit locations on). That’s some spread!

As I had expected, this radio station is one of the only ways anyone in much of the county can find out what is going on within the county. They currently cover 2/3 of it, and with a repaired or new antenna, they can reach all of it. The only mobile phone antennas are owned by Lonestar, and it doesn’t have nearly the reach of the radio station.

Getting interviewed at Radio Gbarpola

While there, they insisted on a quick interview as well – I hope the Liberians in Gbarpola county can understand my American English… :)

New technology injection

Being myself, after exhausting my question supply, I started demo’ing what you could do with just a SIM card, mobile phone, and a computer. The first thing out was a quick test of FrontlineSMS there, which worked like a charm. I explained how a setup like that could add a new revenue stream as well, if they started selling text ads.

Then, I went on to talk about what we did in Kenya with Ushahidi, and ask about what they thought of similar technology in Liberia. Interestingly enough, it turns out that all “important” information seems to filter into the radio quickly. It’s either direct to, or direct to police-to-radio.

That that has started me thinking about is using the 50+ community radio stations in Liberia as nodes in a larger network. I’m thinking it might be possible to set up a number of them with a FrontlineSMS system that uses Mesh4x to sync certain information between them and up to Headquarters in Monrovia. Just an idea at this point, but well worth doing more discovery on.

[Note: How did I manage to post way out in the middle of nowhere? Aforementioned NGO has a nice slow connection, and I have all night to upload these resized images…]

12 thoughts on “Liberian Bush Radio Escapades

  1. Had excellent chat with Horacio yesterday precisely on this point of having the 50+ rural radio stations be integral nodes of an information and communication ecosystem. Totally agreed on Mesh4X.

    Looking forward to the next update!

  2. Awesome to read about your continuing adventures in Liberia, Erik. And the strong focus on rural radio is also fascinating (something I’ve been taking a growing interest in over the past couple of months, particularly in relation to the use of SMS in the radio environment).

    The income stream issue is an interesting one and, of course, financial sustainability is a key challenge for many grassroots mobile projects and one I get asked about often by FrontlineSMS users. Your post brings back an idea I had last year to create an advertising “module” in the software which allows users to manage and automatically insert short SMS advertisements into outgoing messages – space permitting – and track distribution. This would appear to have legs in rural radio. FrontlineSMS is already being used by a number of TV and radio stations around the world and we’re currently working with Developing Radio Partners – run by Bill Siemering – to implement and develop use further.

    I’m happy to talk more with you about all of this, and the good folks at InSTEDD. There is plenty of untapped potential, and Liberia sounds like no exception.

    Travel well.

  3. Love the escapades. I am a volunteer working in rural parts of kenya and I have been thinking of helping the communities here access information and perhaps you could visit us here in Kenya for more escapades and advice to us. check out my blog. just started blogging though

  4. Again, Geekcorps Mali had fun with radio station income streams, designing CanTV to make money of re-broadcasting TV content and using low-bandwidth B-GAN to open up the web for rural areas. Another idea, which could work up to 30Km distances is BottleNet – wifi links made with local materials.

  5. @Wayan – you’re right, it would be interesting to see some of those guys from Mali in Liberia giving some input and training on how they’ve done things there.

  6. Thought this might be of interest: Aaditeshwar Seth, who will be in Boston later this spring is working in India to connect rural community radio stations to the Internet using new software and computer-based FM transmitters. He recently founded Gram-Vaani, a non-profit organization to enable media services using community-radio in rural areas of India. Perhaps something we could use for Liberia?

    http://gramvaani.org/technology

  7. Came across your blog while working on our website for BUVs. Pretty exciting to hear of a “BUV sighting ” off the beaten track in Liberia. They do haul almost anything. Look for a few more BUVs soon to be employed by entrepreneurs in hauling services in Monrovia!

    Hash, let us know if you have anymore sightings during your travels. And … Kari, let us know about your BUV need.

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