How RootIO Broadcasts Radio in Uganda Using a Bucket

13 April 2018

Digital Content

The open-source toolkit allows users to broadcast using just a smartphone and a transmitter

Radio is still and continues to be a powerful medium across most of the African continent. Not only is radio used to share community information but it is cheap and very accessible. In Uganda, a mixing of radio’s power with new mobile and internet technologies has created a cheap and powerful open-source toolkit that allows communities to create their own micro-radio stations. All one needs is an inexpensive smartphone and a transmitter and a community that will share, promote and collaborate on dynamic content.

RootIO is working to mobilise what they call ‘intercommunity communication’. Co-founder, Chris Csikszentmihalyi says the idea came after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when FM radio stations transformed their programming from ordinary radio shows to programming on information on how people devastated by the earthquake find places where there was water or where they could find help. About a year and a half later, Csikszentmihalyi found himself in Uganda while working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) through an educational programme. He was amazed at the manner in which Ugandans used phones — rarely for calls.

“In the rural areas, people would go for long without recharging their credit or they didn’t keep credit on their phone and at the same time, they listened to radio 24/7,” he says. In the villages where I was staying, people would walk about 7km to charge their phones, put credit on and then only make a call. It’s not like an always on thing. They used it when they needed to. I thought is there a way of joining these two things together in a way that no one had done before.”

While working at UNICEF, he met Jude Mukundane, who at the time was working for Uganda Telecom helping to develop Mobile phone based birth registration for the Ugandan Government in conjunction with UNICEF. Mukundane was doing some interesting stuff with telephones using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). “I tried to hired him … then about a year later, he was he is ready to do something,” says Csikszentmihalyi.

“So together we said we should change radio and make radio work better with phones, make interaction with radio easier for people. And we came up with RootIO at that point,” Csikszentmihalyi says. Read the full article here: