By Paul Ndiho
Innovation is happening across Africa, in many different sectors, from agriculture to banking, education to energy — and in broadcasting. In Uganda, Rootio, a community radio station is broadcasting without a studio or transmitting tower.
Humility is what describes Jude Mukundane, a Ugandan software developer and technology enthusiast. He’s the inventor of a grassroots community radio station dubbed the “Rootio Project” Or “the radio in a bucket.”
Among his peers, he’s just regular guy, in fact, very few people know about his innovation that is creating buzz on the international scene. Mukundane is part of a new breed of young African innovators trying to change Africa’s image. His love and passion for technology has inspired him to build from scratch a grassroots community radio station.
“I’m into technology for the grassroots. The kinds of projects that I am working on are projects that try to reduce technology to a level where people, and their grassroots can take it, and apply it to their lives, and use it in ways that do not require them to learn a lot to use computers and things like that.”
The Rootio Project is a loosely-integrated, content-agnostic “solution stack” for peer-oriented radio networks.
“We build a very small community-based radio stations. These radio stations are small enough to fit in a bucket. We have taken out all of the expensive equipment and put in more bio foam and anything transmitted in a bucket, and so that plays audio content that’s broadcast out into the communities.”
Mukundane is part of a talented group of Ugandans that has been tasked to find homegrown solutions for Ugandans living in rural villages.
“I do understand the things that you can do with technology. But also, part of me is about looking at technology and wondering what can you use this technology for…”
Rootio grew out of the recognition that despite the wonders of mobile telephones and the Internet, radio is still a vibrant medium — and in many places across Africa it is still where most people get the bulk of their information. It doesn’t require literacy, a personal device, or much power, it is transmitted free of charge, and it comes built into many of the phones used around the world.
“People receive them using their regular radio receivers. They don’t need any specialized applications or smartphones, just their standard radios that they are using at the moment.”
Technology analysts say Rootio stations are designed to best serve rural citizens and bridge the gap between the communities and the currently available commercial radio stations, which are located within the business centers hindering access. The Rootio project has had some success as well as many challenges.
For example, we’re proposing radio at a scale that the Uganda Communications Commission was not used to giving these kinds of licenses. Our station runs at a maximum of 25 watts, so that is nothing compared to a typical radio station, but regarding the issue of credibility, these stations are owned by the committee, it’s not an individual.”
Uganda Communications Commission recently licensed Rootio community radio stations to run pilots in Northern Uganda, up to a radius of about 35 kilometers on flat terrain areas.