A neglected Nigerian radio station is finally filling an information vacuum thanks to a shortwave transmitter site in France.
The Federal Radio Corp. of Nigeria (FRCN) station in Kaduna is part of the country's publicly funded domestic network. FRCN Kaduna has traditionally provided coverage not only to Kaduna State but to much of northern Nigeria. The station faces many problems in reaching its audience.
FRCN Kaduna relies upon diesel generators at times. “Whenever our transmitter in Jaji is not working because of the power supply, the radio station goes off air. The transmitter guzzles diesel that the station’s meager resources can’t afford,” a staff member told the Daily Trust newspaper last November.
Even with a reliable power supply, Kaduna's AM and FM transmitters have inadequate coverage. Shortwave used to fill the gaps, but this part of the network has collapsed. There have been calls to replace the 40-year old transmitter for over a decade. It was operating at just a fraction of its rated power before it went off completely last year.
Nigeria's external service, the Voice of Nigeria (VON), has at least two newer transmitters. In theory it could also transmit FRCN Kaduna. But VON has the same power supply problems and issues with transmitter availability that Kaduna has.
FRCN Kaduna staff staged a brief protest last July lamenting the condition of their equipment and appealing to the federal government.
Nigeria is also entering a critical political phase as it is scheduled to hold national elections in February.
Broadcasters such as Radio France International and the BBC have shortwave transmissions beamed to Nigeria. The broadcasts include transmissions in Hausa, a language used by tens of millions of people in northern Nigeria. Western-backed non-governmental organizations also broadcast to the country through the purchase of airtime on brokered stations. In addition, Nigeria exile groups purchase time but they tend to come and go.
These stations have been filling the information gaps left by the collapse of FRCN Kaduna. Until recently, that is.
Kaduna's Hausa service started brokered broadcasts in October via WRMI in Florida. Transmissions are now via Issoudun in central France for 11 hours a day. The signal is reportedly good thanks to a directional antenna and 150,000 watts of power.
The move is unprecedented but after years of neglect FRCN Kaduna now appears to be reaching its entire audience.
Hans Johnson has worked in the shortwave broadcasting industry for over 20 years as a sales and frequency manager.