Innovation @ BBG » Radio Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 VOA West Africa Trip: What I Learned… #Africa2014 Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:12:07 +0000 Adam Martin I recently returned from 17 days of travel through sub-Saharan West Africa, experiencing the culture, meeting with VOA broadcast affiliates, becoming educated on the local digital media ecosystems and gaining a better understanding of how US International Media can prepare to meet the opportunities presented by this rapidly evolving region and serve our strategic mission.

During those 17 days across Senegal, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria, I heard from a diverse collection of journalists, social entrepreneurs, students, cab drivers, broadcasters, technologists and Senegalese Wrestling fans (Laamb!) who shared what they say those opportunities are and also some of the challenges they face.

What I learned…

Media & Technology

  • Mobile communication dominates as a form of social interaction among young students and professionals in the region. Mobile messaging apps, chat services, SMS and IVR all inform the way people communicate, organize, learn, send and receive news & information.

  • The Social Web is the Web for many in this same demographic who regularly engage online. Facebook acts as a single destination for people where they can message with friends, share photos, find relevant information, socialize online and organize ‘in real life.’ Twitter, Instagram and multimedia mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber and 2Go are also growing as places where people engage with friends, family, media organizations, brands and public figures online.

  • But…radio continues to play a critical role in these communities with its ability to reach a large and diverse audience, engaging them on topics that are local, relevant and personal to their lives while bypassing challenges for Web access that range from low broadband penetration and cellular data accessibility to language proficiency and literacy.

  • Radio and the Social Web share many characteristics that make them complimentary and allow them to serve as critical sources for communications. Having an ‘authentic voice’ that reflects the local language and culture with the ability to respond to the audience in ‘real time’ is key to successfully engaging with and building a supportive, loyal following — on-air or online.

Adam Africa trip

Me (fourth from left) with the Radio Kledu FM Team in Bamako, Mali

  • The regional telcos (telecommunications companies) that control the ‘last-mile‘ flow of data, information and access to the global community have tremendous influence over the way people use their mobile devices to communicate. Working effectively with these power brokers will be necessary for near-term success in providing content to these communities while alternatives are developed to bring more competition and collaboration to the market.

  • Affordable access to cellular data and low broadband penetration continue to be two of the biggest obstacles to ‘internet everywhere’ across the Sahel. Closing the digital-divide in these countries will lead to opportunities for incredible growth in access to education, new business opportunities, health and social services and cultural exchanges.

Adam Africa radio

Radio Kledu FM and digital news teams preparing the afternoon rundown


  • Digital Media Literacy within these regional audiences is growing exponentially. There is a critical need to bring more digital training to the journalists, technicians, marketers, programmers and management teams at USIM affiliates in order to meet the needs of an audience that is increasingly finding alternative programming online.

  • VOA Broadcast Affiliates across the region are increasing investments in their digital operations and in original programming. They say there is a demand for unique, local content that reflects their culture and is relevant to their changing lives. This means news that is timely, actionable and formatted for a mobile audience that is increasingly engaging first, through the social web before turning on the radio or television.

  • The potential for Nigeria as a center of economic growth and innovation on the continent appears almost limitless but it also faces many challenges. A renewed confidence in local and national political leaders, investment in its infrastructure, re-emphasizing education reform, and improving access to social services for all citizens were all said to be critical to Nigeria’s future success.

Adam Africa Photo Radio

A look inside a Ghanian broadcasting company


  • Mali has an amazing local music scene with modern r&b sounds rooted in the traditions of blues-men like Ali Farka Toure, but there’s also an underground hip hop community and a collection of club DJs and band leaders bringing Merengue, Salsa and Bachata to Malians.

  • Extreme sports that combine speed, action, music and local passions are growing rapidly in popularity in West Africa. If you want to learn first hand about youth culture in Dakar, go to a Laamb match where you’ll find them watching their favorite wrestlers get after it.

  • Money, Religion, Sports and Politics are the topics people I talked with spoke most passionately about ~ so not that different for a neighborhood guy from north Boston like me.

  • In Lagos there is an ‘energy’ that comes from the people and from the city itself…you can feel the City breathin’. The pace is frenetic but with a sense of urgency – the kind that drives change.

  • But the traffic…Lagos needs to fix its traffic situation.

  • If you’re near Osu in Accra, head toward the beach and ask for the spot where they serve the best ‘red red’ you’ve ever eaten…trust me.

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OurBlock: Community Powered Radio Mon, 26 Nov 2012 18:36:45 +0000 Adam Martin Featured Image: Adam Martin, presenting @ OurBlock

The Office of Digital & Design Innovation recently hosted a Design Challenge at the Mozilla Festival in London where for three days web makers, hackers, educators and developers came together with a goal of developing digital tools and services that will enable the public to create their own web and media experiences.

The ODDI challenge, code-named the ‘OurBlock Project’, asked festival attendees to help answer the question, ‘What does our block sound like?’ The goal was to bring together content producers, listeners, radio programmers and the open source development community to create new services that will enable individuals to come together on digital platforms to create and participate in the power and passion of neighborhood community radio.

For people around the world, community-driven radio has offered a way to share local news, culture and critical information while building engagement through a real time, collective social experience. With OurBlock, ODDI plans to re-imagine and evolve what the future of this traditional social platform can mean to emerging markets in the developing world and create opportunities for the BBG to build new partnerships with content producing partners and deepen its connection with the growing digital global audience.


At the Mozilla Festival, the OurBlock session was attended by a diverse group of people with interests in traditional and digital community radio, journalism, independent radio programming and open source software development.

With this wide range of experiences and ideas for building community radio’s digital future, the group organized itself around three areas detailed on the project’s EtherPad:

  • New Work-Flows for Audience-Driven Programming
  • A Unified Social User-Experience
  • Re-Defining ‘Community’

New work-flows focused on using the open-web and service APIs from Airtime, SoundCloud and Twilio to drive community participation and content creation. This group also stressed the need to support lo-tech solutions as well with SMS and IVR integration presenting options for communities where broadband connectivity is not always available.

The UX group emphasized the mobile experience and put a premium on building trust within the community of content contributors and among the audience of listeners to grow engagement and develop a self-sustaining network effect.

Big-Ideas-OurBlock-Community-Powered-RadioThe individuals who took on the challenge of re-defining what ‘community’ could mean in a digital society developed several ‘Big Ideas’ that stretched the existing boundaries of community and radio. Their new definition focused on shared culture, experiences and understandings as ways to expand our concepts of community and use digital platforms to reach a wider network of individuals who would share and contribute in a new form of community.  While ‘big ideas’ will continue to shape the future of the OurBlock project, the ODDI Team is focused on the work begun during the festival with other open source developers to improve the current workflow challenges facing the project. With a new feature backlog built during the session, the OurBlock project team will begin developing a new platform for creating online communities using the shared social experience of ‘radio’. Developing on open source technologies to facilitate audio commenting from community listeners and with new user interface designs to provide intuitive methods for listeners to engage with a digital community radio station, ODDI plans to release an alpha version of the OurBlock project in early 2013.

To track the project’s process or to become involved in our open source efforts, follow the ODDI OurBlock project team @thisIsOurBlock on Twitter visit us at or joing our Google Group.

 [Authored by Adam Martin and Eric Pugh, Images edited by April Deibert]

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