In March, Ben Barber, president and CEO of Inovonics visited Haiti, where he provided technical assistance and equipment to Radio Lumière, an evangelical cultural network based in Port-au-Prince that suffered extensive damage during the passage of Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 4. Radio World spoke to Barber about his experience
A Radio Lumière transmitter site in Menelas, a village located on the northwest side of Port-au-Prince.
Radio World: What motivated you to reach out to Radio Lumière?
Ben Barber: When I was around 10 years old I met a young missionary named Dan who was raising support to go to Radio Lumière and do engineering work there. He was a typical engineer and I asked him to help me with a power supply that I was trying to build. That was the first time I had heard about Radio Lumière, and since then I have kept an ear out for news about the network. When I read your article about the devastation from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, I figured it was time to become proactive and get involved, rather than just “observe from afar.”
RW: Please tell us a little more about the network? It’s reach and mission.
Barber: Radio Lumière consists of 14 stations, 10 FMs and four AMs, although they are not all currently on the air due to either damage or lack of power. A number of its stations run on batteries and solar panels because reliable grid power is simply not available. Radio Lumière covers 94 percent of the Haitian part of the island and about 7.6 percent of the market in Port-au-Prince.
The target for the network is “every man.” And while Radio Lumière is an evangelical station, it aims to provide holistic programming. With the tagline “The Haitian Cultural Network,” the broadcaster has always placed importance on delivering accurate news. Programs focus on topics such as medicine, education and public interest.
RW: Can you provide some information about Haiti’s radio landscape?
Barber: Rev. David Hartt launched Radio Lumière in 1959 near Les Cayes (the area Hurricane Matthew devastated last year) in Southern Haiti. This region is prone to getting hit by hurricanes, and that happened back in the early 1960s. The broadcaster subsequently decided to relocate its main operation to Port-au-Prince, which is protected on the south and east by mountains, potentially minimizing damage from storms.
Standing next to an Inovonics model 235 AM processor at the AM site in Menelas are (left to right) Rob Weir, consulting engineer; Placide Jean Philippe, Radio Lumière engineer; Tales, transmission site groundskeeper; Peniel Mizaire, Radio Lumière chief engineer; and Jerry Miel, Radio Lumière volunteer engineer.
Radio Lumière still has two studios in Les Cayes, which were flooded with two feet (.61 meters) of water during hurricane Matthew. One studio also lost its roof, and there was damage to their STL and coax cables that have been temporarily repaired. In addition, the network lost a 250-Foot (76.2-meter) AM tower in Torbeck, as well as its tower at Morne Brieux, the network’s primary FM site in southern Haiti, where the power has still not been restored. Two additional FM sites in the south suffered tower damage; only the one in Jeremie has been rebuilt. Fortunately, both studios and the towers at Radio Lumière’s main site in Port-au-Prince suffered minimal damage, due to the protection afforded to them by the surrounding mountains.
RW: What type of infrastructure did you find when you arrived?
Barber: Much of Radio Lumière’s equipment is old and well used. For instance we changed out a Marti Limiter at one AM site and replaced it with an AM audio processor. The network mainly relies on on-air equipment donated by stations that have upgraded to newer gear. A shameless plug right here is that if you’re reading this article, and have good/working broadcast equipment in your storeroom, I believe Radio Lumière would be quite grateful for it!
RW: What did your work on the ground entail?
Barber: I was there for four days from March 14–17. The first day we went to the main studio in the capital and put in a new audio processor that feeds the network. We also put in off-air monitoring gear. The second day we went to another studio in Pétion-Ville, a southeast suburb of Port-au-Prince, and replaced the audio processing and monitoring equipment. The last day we worked on an AM site toward the edge of the capital (coordinates: 18°35’45.58” – 72°20’20.33”) that is run off batteries and charged by solar power. This site is within walking distance to the sea and therefore has great ground conductivity. After replacing the audio processing at this site, we could not get the Nautel 1 kW transmitter up to 100 percent modulation or full power due to an SWR fault. Fortunately, retuning the Kintronic Labs ATU cleared the SWR fault and we were able to get to full power with full modulation — a great feeling!
Pictured from left to right are Rob Weir; Jerry Miel; Placide Jean Philippe, Ben Barber, Bernadin Domercan, Junie Metellus, Edeline Yacinthe and Peniel Mizaire.
RW: How were you able to help Radio Lumière overcome obstacles/challenges?
Barber: Initially, Inovonics just donated gear to Radio Lumière to help the network get back on air and to improve its sound quality. Somewhere along the way in my correspondence with Jerry Miel, a volunteer consultant for the station and trip leader of the March expedition, I realized that it would be an adventure and the chance to pick up a soldering iron — too much to pass up. Radio Lumière has a quite capable engineering staff that could have done the installations, but the chance to join in was an opportunity of a lifetime.
RW: How do radio stations in Haiti differ from those in developed regions if at all?
Barber: According to The World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. More than 59 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty line of US$2.42 per day, and 24 percent live under the national extreme poverty line of US$1.23 per day. Most of us spend more than that on coffee each day. I’ve traveled to a number of different emerging countries and the infrastructure and money put into broadcasting in these places is much higher than in Haiti. That’s part of the reason Inovonics wanted to help Radio Lumière in a tangible way.
RW: What is the most important thing you learned from this trip?
Barber: Honestly I’m still trying to process the trip. Why Haiti? Why Radio Lumière? Why did we give gear? Why did I go? I think I can sum it up from an experience I had a few years ago when I was in a cab in Orlando. My driver was asking me about why I was in Florida, and what kind of business I was in. I told him I led a manufacturing company that makes radio broadcast equipment. The conversation continued and I asked him where he was from and he said “Haiti.” I asked him if he knew of Radio Lumière? His face lit up and he said: “Oh Yes, everyone in Haiti knows about Radio Lumière.” He went on to tell me that it was a religious station but they were known for telling the truth and that everyone tunes in to find out what is really happening in the country. That made me smile inside, as it took me back more than 40 years when I was a kid and met a young missionary going there to work at Radio Lumière….I’m glad I went.