How to fit a radio-station in a cardboard box

July - 13 - 2012

Views: 16,705

What happens when you connect a cellphone to a simple radio transmitter and provide rural communities the opportunity to have their own mobile radio broadcast ?

What ideas does the community itself have about how to benefit from simple access to their own highly localized radio infrastructure?

Frugal Digital has conducted in depth research into these questions with a small scale local farming community in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa.

The farmers told us that almost all of the 300 members in their community has access to radio through their cellphones or cheap transistor radios.

We received much feedback from testing with a group of farmers assembled to do test broadcasts using the setup of a short range radio transmitter (about 1km radius) connected to a cellphone and a battery.


Interesting suggestions came about while the farmers experimented with the different elements of the prototype setup – once they had got a feeling of it they agreed on some general points of improvement:

Making a broadcast should be simple and easy for anyone – also for someone who was never introduced to it before.

The wires not needed to control the broadcast should be hidden – it should feel more like a product.

It should be easy for the broadcaster to confirm what is being broadcast.

It should be equally easy to broadcast an incoming phone call as to broadcast a conversation between people present in the same room.


This feedback led to the following improvement of the prototype – now fitted in a scrap cardboard box:

After being introduced to the improved prototype setup the farmers were quick to start discussing the different ways a community could benefit from having their own radio broadcast.

The community were very postitive that they could directly influence what information was being shared on air – and when.

They also told us it was a big difference to the existing community radio, currently covering larger areas, because the information often becomes too general to really feel relevant to people in their specific community.


Many different ideas emerged from the testing on how a radio broadcast could be relevant to the community.

Some of them included to keep the community updated by broadcasting “on-air announcements” or “news feeds”, at a certain time and given frequency.

Other ideas involved leaving the radio open for the community to call in and update each other from anywhere –  “on air tweets” in analogy of online tweets.

Through further discussions an interesting question came up:

Would it really be necessary for everybody to have smartphones and internet, being literate and skilled with complicated interfaces to participate in online community – if you can have on-air community just using your old cellphone and own voice?

Could this offer a new perspective on the notion of “airtime” for your phone…?

Including and building on some of the inputs from the farmers the concept LoVoCo Mobile was developed locally in Cape Town in collaboration with a group of radio producers at Worker’s World Media Production, who are currently continuing the field testing of a working prototype with different communities.

Martin Tai Lyhne Jensen

Martin describes himself as a humanist by nature, creative generalist by education and Interaction Designer by profession. Martin is interested in hands-on people centered exploration of technology, social action, and the critical application of design to prototype unbelievable ideas into powerful reality. As part of the Frugal Digital Research Group Martin is seeking to demystify and democratize technology - and pilot it towards the inspired imagination and skillful hands of individuals and communities who are ready to create the change they believe in. Martin has recently returned to Copenhagen from Cape Town (ZA) after collaborating with local grassroot innovators, around new use of mobile technologies, to increase the organizational capacity of young activist communities.

One Comments for “How to fit a radio-station in a cardboard box”

  1. Animaster Academy Says :

    That’s a nice gadget to have.

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