HOME
          
LATEST STORY
At Datalore, data plus storytelling means empathy, humor, and games
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 18, 2013, 11 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

RootIO wants to take radio back to the local level in Uganda

The Knight News Challenge winner will experiment with using cheap tools and existing networks to produce radio programming through mobile devices.

Is it possible to create community radio without a studio or a tower? With his Knight News Challenge project, RootIO, Chris Csikszentmihalyi wants to enable neighborhoods and other small communities to develop a network of radio stations using mobile phones, simple transmitters, and other low-cost tools.

Csikszentmihalyi plans to run a pilot project for RootIO in Uganda, partnering with Uganda Radio Network, UNICEF Uganda, and the UNICEF Innovation Unit to research information needs in the country. RootIO was awarded $200,000 from Knight, which Csikszentmihalyi says will help in the prototyping phase of the project.

“In the back of my mind, I’ve been trying to think of how radio could benefit from things like telephony and networks,” Csikszentmihalyi said.

As proposed, RootIO would be a combination of open-source software and other tools, like portable transmitters and a power source, that would allow people to use their phones to host shows and broadcast information on low-power radio stations. As Csikszentmihalyi describes it, hosting a radio show would be similar to holding a conference call, with the host and guests on different phones, broadcasting out to the greater community.

But the project is far away from that point. Csikszentmihalyi said they’re in discovery mode, where they’ll assess the available technology in communities and see how RootIO can take advantage of existing networks.

As a medium, radio has shown remarkable resilience, enduring both technological shifts and natural disasters. It’s that durability, which becomes apparent in emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti, that makes it a useful platform for delivering vital information to people. But community stations in particular, Csikszentmihalyi said, can play a different role than most radio outlets, through offering intensely local information and offering a tangible connection to place. Local radio, he said, “supports the ability of the community to inform itself and help decisions.”

Radio has a strong presence in Uganda, Csikszentmihalyi said, but as stations grow and become successful, they can shed their community focus as they try to appeal to broader audiences. Local stations would be able to focus on reports for farmers, as well programming for minority language communities, he argued. Using phones as a delivery and production point becomes important because it ties people to a place, but using mobile is also crucial because of its ability to deliver an audience. The network effects that come from mobile devices create a potentially large audience of radio producers and listeners. “There’s something really interesting going on in Africa right now,” Csikszentmihalyi said. Phones potentially make it easier for listeners to participate in shows, using SMS to take part in polls, alert producers to guests, or to send basic advertising to stations, he said.

By some estimates Uganda has 60 percent mobile penetration, which would make phones an ideal device for producing and listening to radio around the country. Phones end up serving multiple purposes, as an access point for banking, or a source for emergency alerts in a community. RootIO could potentially make mobile-based radio a familiar feature to phone users as well.

Aside from figuring out the technology aspects of the project, the other goal will be defining stations and networks. By partnering with the Uganda Radio Network they’ll be able to figure out what resources small stations could use, and whether additional services, like cloud-based production tools, would be needed. Building out or strengthening networks would let producers share content among each other, which would help propagate stations.

Csikszentmihalyi said the network piece is important because it could allow community stations to tap into news programming from elsewhere around the country — or maybe global players like the BBC or Al Jazeera in the future. “For this to work, right away, we have to work with the existing stations to make sure this is useful to them as well,” he said.

POSTED     Jan. 18, 2013, 11 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Mobile & Apps
PART OF A SERIES     Knight News Challenge 2013
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
At Datalore, data plus storytelling means empathy, humor, and games
At the MIT Media Lab, teams of designers, developers and storytellers pulled stories from eight different data sets.
Tied up at home? Have some Nieman Lab #BlizzardReads
Many of our readers on the East Coast are cooped up in their homes. To rescue them from boredom, here are a few recent Nieman Lab stories you may have missed.
U.S. journalists, the clock is ticking: January 31 is the deadline to apply for a Nieman Fellowship
It’s a chance to spend a year at Harvard and change the shape of your career.
What to read next
2588
tweets
Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk
The team that runs the Times’ Twitter accounts looked back on what they learned — what worked, what didn’t — from running @NYTimes in 2014.
728From explainers to sounds that make you go “Whoa!”: The 4 types of audio that people share
How can public radio make audio that breaks big on social media? A NPR experiment identified what makes a piece of audio go viral.
705Q&A: Amy O’Leary on eight years of navigating digital culture change at The New York Times
“In 2007, as digital people, we were expected to be 100 percent deferent to all traditional processes. We weren’t to bother reporters or encourage them to operate differently at all, because what they were doing was the very core of our journalism.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Seattle PostGlobe
Yahoo
Medium
Center for Public Integrity
Zonie Report
Al Jazeera
Quartz
Arizona Guardian
Frontline
Animal Político
Honolulu Civil Beat
MediaNews Group