Radio innovations from The Hangar: Beeping for vital information

Radio is a fantastic tool for reaching millions of listeners with life-changing information. But the cell phone revolution is making this communication tool even more powerful. A cell phone allows listeners to call the radio station and contribute to a program.
‘Beeping’ also allows callers to contribute and receive information in new ways. ‘Beeping’ has become a new buzzword at The Hangar, our Radio and Innovation Lab located in Arusha, Tanzania.
Beep2vote allows listeners to vote in a poll question by simply leaving a missed call ‘beep’ to a designated number. Generally a separate number is designated to each option in the poll question, so the missed calls are simply tallied.
The Listening Post builds on this by instead using an interactive voice response system to call the farmer and conduct a poll using the keypad. This means farmers can also add their voice to open-ended questions.
Leaving a missed call ‘beep’ is free for the caller, which is important because while cell phones are fairly common across Africa, air time can be expensive.
Here are some other ways we are using ‘beeping:’
Weather information is vital for farmers. This is more than just the temperature; information on when major rainfall, a heat wave or drought it expected helps farmers make decisions about planting and harvesting.
Beep4weather provides this information on-demand, coupled with agricultural tips. Farmers ‘beep’ the number, and an interactive voice response system returns the call, providing a recent weather report and related agricultural tips. Local broadcasters are engaged to gather this information, record it and promote the system on their radio show.
In radio, “vox” is a term for voice (from the Latin). Beep2vox is our system for putting more voices on air, without cost to the caller.
Sharing farmers voices over the airwaves is an important component for participatory radio. Our beep2vox system allows farmers to call the radio station and share their voice — for free. After leaving a free missed call beep, the farmer is called back and asked to share their opinion on the question of the week.
This system is being used in our Her Voice on Air project in four countries: Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. Beep2vox is getting more women’s voices on air.
Farmers have hectic schedules that don’t always leave time to tune in to agricultural programs. Beep4tips allows farmers to catch up on the important information they may have missed.
Broadcasters record the highlights from their show to share with listeners. Callers ‘beep’ the number shared by the radio station, and an interactive voice response system returns the call to play this summary.
Beep4tips is also useful for farmers who need a reminder of the show’s advice.
Sometimes, the hardest part of trying to grow a new crop is finding the materials. Beep4inputs is designed to connect farmers with local suppliers of agricultural inputs, such as seeds, vines and even specially-designed storage bags.
After leaving a missed call ‘beep’ to a designated phone number, farmers will receive a call back. A recorded message provides them with access to a directory of suppliers based on their location – all of this at no cost to the farmer.
Bart Sullivan, ‘Captain’ of The Hangar, describes the service as a ‘Yellow Pages’ for agricultural inputs, linking supply and demand. It has even helped farmers start their own agribusiness.
“Many distributors have been quite successful from being referred to other farmers through the service, so much so that farmers see it as a great business opportunity. A year later they come back and say ‘We were beginners last year, but now we’re selling vines. Can you put our names on the list?’ So it becomes a circle.”

About the author  
Kayla Wemp
Kayla Wemp is is a recent graduate of Carleton University’s Bachelor of Journalism program. She is spending her summer interning with Farm Radio International in Tanzania, working on telling stories from their mental health program and various agricultural projects.

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