Marco Giovannini, general manager of DM Broadcast, fitting and grounding the RF feed of the Ani Dusa FM mast. credit: Invisible Children
MBOKI, Central African Republic — Ani Dusa FM is the latest radio station to undertake the mission of helping soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army safely surrender and to spread early warning messages about reported LRA activity.
According to United Nations documents, the LRA, a rebel movement, is responsible for many violent attacks, including killings, abductions (especially of children and women), recruitment and use of children as fighters and sexual violence, in Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Republic of Congo.
Invisible Children (www.invisiblechildren.com) is one of the non-governmental organizations engaged in addressing the LRA threat. One of Invisible Children’s strategies is to encourage the defection of LRA soldiers. To this purpose, the association is funding the construction of locally run FM radio stations in the regions where the LRA operates.
The entire radio station, ready to broadcast. Currently, a total of seven FM and two shortwave stations broadcast unique messages from family members of LRA soldiers, former LRA members and respected leaders in the region. These “come home” messages encourage LRA combatants (many of whom were abducted as children) to safely surrender, giving them detailed instructions on how to do so and communicating the locations where security forces are present.
Ani Dusa FM, the most recent of the seven FM stations, broadcasts various messages that are compiled into a daily FM radio show entitled “The World at Home.” The program is also broadcast weekly on shortwave from Kampala, Uganda, and can be heard hundreds of miles away — where the LRA is. For combatants, FM and shortwave (battery-operated) radio receivers usually remain the only link to the rest of the world, so radio broadcasting is an effective way to spread the “come home” messages. FM stations also provide isolated communities with a system of communication for news, security and humanitarian broadcasts.
Located in the region of Haut-Mbomou in the Central African Republic, Mboki, with its population of approximately 8,400, is a key waypoint for Mbororo and regional traders. Ani Dusa’s programming is thus tailored to reach this diverse population.
Marco Giovannini, general manager of Italian firm DM Broadcast, was one of the people who designed and built Ani Dusa FM. “Literally, we started by building a brick hut,” said Giovannini. Invisible Children asked RCS, a company based in Uganda and DM Broadcast’s local distributor, to design a “flight-case radio” and then add the necessary equipment. They needed a portable studio, which is able to be “safely” stored after each day of broadcasting to protect the equipment from theft or potential damage from an LRA attack.
An omnidirectional, dipole antenna on a 30-meter lattice airs Ani Dusa FM’s signal. STUDIO ON WHEELS
“We designed an integrated studio on wheels. Each piece of gear was carefully selected to ensure high reliability, even under severe environmental conditions, and ease of use since nobody there had been on the slider side of a radio console before,” said Giovannini.
“We squeezed a complete radio station into a 15 rack unit. Once opened and removed, the side panel of the flight case serves as the speaker’s table, thanks to a foldable support. It also accommodates the monitor of the NEXT automation system and Sennheiser E835 mics.”
The case’s lift-off lid, which can be slanted to up to 40 degrees, holds a D&R Airmate mixer. The mixer includes two landline telephone hybrids wired to two GSM gateways from Tema Telecommunicazioni since no landline is available in Mboki.
The double CD player is a DJ-Tech CDX-310, and it also provides the station with USB inputs to ingest audio material from other stations or diverse archived content. An industrial-grade PC allows live recording of the aired content and playback of archived material.
The RF compartment is entirely managed by a DB Elettronica DPM 150 W air-cooled transmitter, housed in a single RU chassis and transmits to a DB Elettronica omnidirectional dipole antenna installed on top of a 30-meter lattice.
A live community radio program takes place in Ani Dusa’s studio. It was necessary to ensure proper reception within a radius of 45 kilometers and Giovannini personally verified that the signal was clear for up to 50 kilometers. “Any further verification meant venturing outside the 50-kilometer mark, which is considered extremely unsafe, so I was satisfied with the results up to that point.” said Giovannini.
No AC source was available to power the station and petrol generators were not an option, since no fuel is easily available in Mboki. DM Broadcast thus designed and implemented a completely solar-powered station. Twelve 2.5 kW solar modules feed 24 DC accumulators. Appropriate DC inverters then feed the entire station, lighting included. “The power station was designed to ensure 24-hour operation, even if the station currently broadcasts 16 hours per day,” Giovannini said.
Invisible Children taught some Mboki villagers how to handle production of live content and maintenance. “We also provided training, and in the end, the students were quite capable of managing the gear themselves,” Giovannini said. “It only took five days to get the station on air and the people adequately trained.”
When not concentrating on its core mission, Ani Dusa FM broadcasts live programs about current issues and hot topics in the village and in the surrounding area, religious subjects (both Christian and Muslim), as well as programs targeting women.
Marco Giovannini training children from the community. “Presently no syndicated programs or news are available to Ani Dusa FM,” said Giovannini. “The presenters take the news from the BBC or RFI shortwave transmissions, spreading the information to the locals.” He added that DM Broadcast, in collaboration with Invisible Children, is in the process of designing a new shortwave “superstation,” which can broadcast syndicated content to all of the stations funded by Invisible Children.
Ani Dusa FM is at present broadcasting within a 30-kilometer radius, reaching some of the most strategic points for LRA movement in the region. According to a study done by Conciliation Resources, 89 percent of LRA returnees cited “come home” radio messaging as the primary reason for abandoning the rebel group.
Other Invisible Children stations are scheduled to go on air in the coming months in South Sudan and the Republic of Congo.
Davide Moro reports for Radio World from Bergamo, Italy.