Friday, 28 March 2008 10:38 AM

Community Broadcasting Going Strong in Isabel Province

While the capital city of the country, Honiara, boasts that it has three FM stations, eight communities on Isabel Province are quietly enjoying eight Community FM stations established around the Province since last year.

The little known rural FM stations are gaining popularity in Isabel Province, all broadcasts presented in their local languages.

A member of Samasodu village at west Isabel, Nelson Boda, said the one in their village is getting highly popular.

"The station starts its broadcasts from 6pm to 11pm every day and is very popular each day. It plays requests, music and custom stories. There are programs about education, health issues, agriculture ... and a popular one is that businesses advertise their services so people from nearby villages where to go once they need anything. It's actually very good," said Mr. Boda.

He also said there are both community news and a daily relay of the news from the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, SIBC.

Mr. Boda added that the SIBC news is very popular among the communities who say the FM quality of the news has really revolutionized past reception problems.

Asked how the station is generating its income, Mr. Boda said they charge for service messages, requests and adverts at varying fees.

"A request costs five dollars, while messages and advertisements are slightly higher. This may seem costly but people know that the money is going to keep the station going so they don't mind. I think that the joy of hearing their names and those of friends on the station is more important. So they don't mind at all," he said.

One other most popular one, especially for business owners, said Mr. Boda is for them to advertise their cargo as soon as they arrive.

"As soon as the discharging boat unloads, the business owner would take the list to the station and pay to advertise what cargoes would be available in his shop or canteen," he added.

A member of the consultants Ashley Wickham said generating income to keep the stations sustainable was a snag during their visits around Isabel Province in late 2006.

"We asked the participants of a one-week news and programs production course that we held in Buala village in December 2006 about this point. We stressed that communities must find their own ways of generating income to sustain operations. An idea that we threw around at the time was to charge fees for their services, similar to what the People First Network was doing for its email services. That is, charging people to send and receive email messages," Mr. Wickham said.

The eight community FM stations are part of a pilot project funded and coordinated by the United Nations Development Program, UNDP.

The pilot project survey was carried out by a local group of consultants towards the end of 2006 after which they recommended the type of transmitters and broadcast units the village based Community radio stations should use.

UNDP finally decided to import low power and cheap systems from Wantok Enterprises, a company operating out of Canada.

The company is owned by a Canadian telecommunications engineer who spent some years working for the Telikom Company in Papua New Guinea in the past.

Erected in late 2007, the eight FM stations are manned and operated by selected individuals in the villages in which they are located.

UNDP said the outcomes of the Isabel pilot project will determine whether or not it should extend the idea to other Provinces in Solomon Islands.