From January 9 to 15, Southern Sudan held a referendum to decide if the region should become an independent state. Although results have not yet officially been announced, estimates indicate that the referendum will pass with an overwhelming number of pro-independence votes. (Read MediaShift’s recent report from Simon Roughneen on the ground in Sudan.)

It’s essential to keep citizens informed of new developments during the voting period — and one of the best ways to reach large numbers of people is through radio. The Sudan Radio Service, which has been operating since 2006, recently began incorporating mobile technology into its work in a two-pronged approach to monitor the reach of their broadcasts and to solicit reader feedback.

Jacob Korenblum of SoukTel, the company that designed both mobile services, explains that the service, which is based out of Nairobi, Kenya, and Juba, Sudan, wanted to make sure that their broadcasts were being heard by their target audience.

“The power of radio is that it can reach millions of people; the challenge of radio is that you don’t know if people are listening,” he said. “So I think that there was a big need for ways to get feedback from listeners across southern Sudan.”

Survey

In order to monitor the reliability and clarity of the radio broadcasts, SoukTel designed a survey for field workers in ten different regions where the Sudan Radio Service is heard. Previously, the broadcasts were sent out of Nairobi over shortwave radio frequencies, but the new station in Juba uses an FM signal. The branching survey, available in both English and Arabic, leads the field workers through a series of questions to describe the sound quality of the programs and, if the sound quality is poor, potential reasons for the interrupted service. The information is sent back to the main radio centers where the data is used to track trends in service interruption and to make changes in problem areas. Written in PHP and SQL, the survey is available to field workers entirely through SMS so it works on basic phones.

Korenblum said the reason for this was to make sure the field workers could easily participate. “The whole point of our platform is that it’s bottom-of-the-pyramid,” he said. “So it’s all SMS-based, you don’t need to have a Java client or an Android handset…Frequently the field staff have only the most basic phones, and we never ask for our partners to go out and purchase different hardware — you can use whatever handset you have.”

The field workers are remunerated with air time at the beginning of the month to cover their expenses for completing the surveys. (The Sudan Radio Service is a project of the non-profit organization the Education Development Center and is funded by USAID). Since the project launched in early September, they have run the survey program ten times in each region.

Listener Feedback on Programs

The second part of the mobile technology project launched in December is meant to capture feedback from listeners about programming. Since the Sudan Radio Service has programs covering everything from news broadcasts to soap operas, getting feedback from listeners about the type of content they find useful is important.

Announcers of different programs promote the feedback line, and users text in their replies, some of which are read on air. Although the Sudan Radio Service broadcasts in 12 different languages, Korenblum said that most of the responses have been in Arabic, with a few in English.

So far, Korenblum estimates that the Sudan Radio Service has received roughly 400 SMS responses; below are a few examples of some of the responses (translated from Arabic with the names of submitters removed):

> “This is very reliable news. I hope your news gets all over the world. We listen to your radio station and it’s very clear in Saleh valley.”

> “I like to listen to SRS programs because of the variety in programs, and the accuracy in news. The Sok Almawasera series talks about real problems and give us real messages for our life. Also thanks for the Al-Asmo program, and thanks for all the services the radio is providing.”

> “Very good news service. I hope you invite a speaker from the army or the camps and increase the broadcasts. Please also provide us with a program that’s hosted by refugees.”

> “I appreciate your dramas on the subject of al-Kojour in Darfur. They reflect the traditions and habits of Darfur in a very realistic way.”

Listener responses help the radio station determine which programs are enjoyed and valued by their listeners; it can also help the station plan for future broadcasts that meet the needs of Sudanese residents and the Sudanese diaspora within range of the Sudan Radio Service’s broadcasts. Combined with the frequent tests of the station’s broadcasting capabilities, the Sudan Radio Service can provide reliable information that reaches the greatest audience.

“It’s really about creating a dialogue between radio listeners and the content providers of the programming, and mobile is a fantastic way to do that,” Korenblum said.