Sunday, October 22, 2006

Radio Stations in Liberia

Somebody emailed about Low Power FM radio:

"I noticed the CIA World Fact book had a radio
station survey, according to it, there are somthing like seven FM
stations, no AM stations, and broadcasts available through Intelset.
Does that sound right to you? Is there any LPFM? What about the idea
of setting up LPFM... how tightly regulated is spectrum?

I imagine -- but have no real idea -- that each of some the FM
stations might each be largely run by, or affiliated with, some of the
many political parties.

Is there any kind of need/interest in the realm of developing
community radio with low power FM? It's pretty inexpensive to setup
(at least strictly in terms of hardware, from the perspective of an
There are at least 7 stations in Monrovia, including UNMIL radio (which is quite good), and BBC. VOA and RFI are broadcast part of the day only.

I'm not sure of radio stations' relationship with political parties. I know that parties have historically controlled some radio stations, but so many of the 40+ now extant are brand new (2-3 years old), having been established by Mercy Corps (with US money) and UNMIL, and I am positive that neither of them tolerate overt political hackery on the air. Hate speech is not allowed either. It may still happen, here and there, but not much. Hate speech is said to come over the border from Cote d'Ivoire in places. International Alert is building a few radio stations right now, too.

All the stations in the bush are LPFM, with transmitters from 1 watt to 100 watts or more. Some counties have no FM radio at all. The spectrum is regulated, and I have seen current broadcast licenses hanging on the wall in the radio stations themselves, but I bet that anyone could establish a station out in the bush and get away with broadcasting for years before anyone came knocking.

But it's a real challenge to keep the little stations on the air sustainably. Stations get free phones and free use of a tower from the various cell phone providers, and some of them even get free electricity. But many are solar powered and barely manage to broadcast half the day. There are no replacement parts and very few skilled engineers, producers, and reporters out in the bush, few listeners have any money to donate, and population densities are too low to attract many advertisers. Even in places where radio stations exist, you might have so few household radios around that radio diffusion is only 10%.

During the acute emergency phase, UNMIL and USAID were happy to fund a lot of little stations all over the place, but now I have heard both of them say that they want to let the weaker ones perish so that fewer stations will cover more ground.


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