Improvements in mobile data in Liberia spur radio station to do international online hook-up to promote local music

Top Story

While Liberia is a regular host of fairly useless, high-minded meetings on fragile states, the country’s youth keeps hustling from one small job to another to make ends meet. Liberia’s entertainment industry is not big but it is well alive and kicking, in particular the music side of it. LIB Hipco music and artists are keen to export their music outside of their small country in search of international recognition and other ways to generate revenue. Isabelle Gross met with Martin Fagans, a young producer of the radio program LIB Weekend Thing and Kaifa KY Yamah, the founder and CEO of LIBWEB Radio to discuss their experiment with simulcast on air and online of a radio program promoting the country’s entertainment activities beyond this small country’s borders.

In the last two years, data connectivity in Liberia has made impressive strives forward both on the international segment and the last mile access. Since January 2013, the country has enjoyed fibre connectivity via the submarine fibre cable ACE, moving slowly away from its dependency on satellite connectivity.

Before the commercial launch of ACE, the overall international bandwidth consumption of the country was around one STM1, today more than 5 STM1s have been lit and capacity on them is running out fast. On the last mile access side, the launch by mobile operator Cellcom of mobile data services based on HSPA+ technology recently upgraded to DC HSPA+  has provided to Internet users enough bandwidth (up to 42Mbps download speed) to have a good experience when accessing rich content like YouTube video streaming.

A month ago Liberian Internet users got even more choices as mobile operator Novafone (ex-Comium) has also launched a 3G data offering. The third mobile operator MTN/Lonestar is poised to rollout similar 3G mobile data services before the end of this year.

Good quality and affordable international capacity as well as the last mile with high speed data access are a prerequisite for anybody wanting to broadcast audio and video content produced in Liberia to the rest of the world. For Martin Fagans, the producer of the entertainment radio show LIB Weekend Thing, “the jump from traditional radio broadcasting to online radio broadcasting has so far been a discovery journey. It has showed me how the Internet has extended the audience reach of my program while at the same time enabling me to promote LIB Hipco music beyond Liberia’s borders”.

The radio programme LIB Weekend Thing started to be broadcast at the beginning of August on FM radio D15 located in Logan Town, a suburb of Monrovia. The show brings a mix of entertainment news, live interviews with artists and a top ten songs countdown. Because there is no audience monitoring system in place in Liberia, it is impossible to know how many people are listen to the show. According to Martin Fagans, a way to measure the success of a radio show is when there is an increasing number of listeners calling in during the broadcast of the program.

The first step to promote the radio show beyond radio D15 footprint was with the posting of a recording of the program on SoundCloud, an online platform where artists can post their music, videos and share them with their audience. In addition to this, a little bit of Facebook promotion helped to raise the interest for the program among some Liberians in the diaspora.
(There’s currently no publicly available data on the number of Facebook users in Liberia. But according to Social Bakers, the top three most liked (local fans) Facebook pages are: a bank (UBA Group with 2,284 likes); a church (T.D.Jakes Ministries with 2,031 likes) and an international broadcaster (the BBC World’s Have Your Say with 1,103 likes). )

The breakthrough came with the partnership with Kaifa KY Yamah of LIBWEB Radio. Kaifa who started LIBWEB Radio in 2009 explains that “I started the online radio mainly to promote Liberian entertainment to the world and to get people to know Liberia and the talents that we have. My motivation was that I had people that were always telling that I can take Liberian music and entertainment to another level”.

LIBWEB Radio is based in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA and is available worldwide via TuneIn , an online platform hosting over 70,000 radio stations. On Saturday, August 31st while the radio program LIB Weekend Thing went on air on FM D15, it was also simultaneously broadcast for the first time on LIBWEB Radio.

From a quality perspective, the first simulcast broadcast was not perfect as the link went down several times but it showed how the Internet can extent the footprint of a local FM radio while at the same time showcasing Liberian content and artists abroad. According to Martin Fagans, one of the most amazing thing was when listeners called in from country as far as Sweden, Korean or even Australia. 

Since then, the partnership has strengthened between Martin and Kaifa as both share the same passion for Liberian music, radio and new technologies. However, many challenges remain in particular a suitable business model to run a profitable online radio. As Kaifa underlines it “the most challenging thing in running an online radio is having advertisers or businesses to believe in you because they don’t hear the audio from the radio in their car. But they forget that online is worldwide which is a much better place to advertise than FM radio”.

The concept of a FM radio backed 24/7 by an online presence makes a lot of sense because each medium enhances the other one but will it be enough to make a difference first at the local level where many FM radios already compete for a share of the advertising money of a few companies?
 On the other hand, the online world is highly competitive and if Liberian music wants to make it, it will need to go head to head with Nigerian and Ghanaian music for a start. The discussion on local content has shifted a level up as it is not really anymore about the lack of local content (there is lot) but more about the quality of this local content. Only high quality local content has a commercial value whether online or offline.

New this week: The content model is changing….

Obi Emelonye on the online global premiere of his latest film Onye Ozi (The Messenger). He also talks about how his last film Last Flight To Abuja got 1.5 million views on You Tube.
African Films Going Online – Ghana’s Mobilefliks on your phone and Obi Emelonye’s global online premiere

Video clip briefings on Rwanda:
Rwanda: Five New Start-Ups and an ICT Incubator
Aphrodice Mutangana on his health app for patients with incurable diseases
Esther Kunda, OSCA Connect on her advice app and web market place for Rwandan farmers
Jean Niyotwagira on how his stock control software for breweries has been taken up by Heiniken
Rwandan Jessie Gakwandi on her Android going out app Get it! and doing outsourced work from Japan
Jovani Ntabgoba on the Rwandan ICT incubator kLab and the start-ups it has supported

A video and story briefing on Education and Technology in Africa:
Education & Tech - The Start of the Self-Learning Revolution in African Schools with the sub US$100 tablet
Jacques Murinda on the successful use of Teachermate and OLPC in Rwandan schools

A video briefing on Africa’s energy gap and how it can closed:
Former telecoms executive Eric Kariningufu, 3e Power on ways of solving the huge African energy deficit
Jonathan Berman, Fieldstone on Africa's energy deficit and ways to overcome it

For breaking news, follow us on Twitter: @BalancingActAfr