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YFM Invests in Malawi’s Youth

Malawi NGO launches radio station to serve as educational platform for the country’s youngsters

YFM producer Rodrick Mwale works in production.
All photos by Lameck Masina.

ZOMBA, Malawi — In October 2014 local youth-oriented NGO Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) launched YFM, filling a much-needed gap in the Malawi airwaves with its youth-focused format.

Until then only a few FM stations in the country had randomly broadcast programs and music of interest to youngsters. YFM currently covers about 70 percent of Malawi’s population by means of its four 1 kW RVR transmitters located in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba.

The radio, whose head office is located in the hilly city of Zomba, has become the darling of the youth as well as the some of the adult population since its launch. Charles Banda, YFM radio and advocacy manager, says the organization decided to begin its own station after it realized the huge amount of money it was spending on sponsoring youth-oriented programs on other radio stations.

YFM Radio and Advocacy Manager Charles Banda

“The airtime for our programs was not adequate enough to be completely effective,” he said. “We, as a dedicated youth organization, focus on many issues, such as child protection and awareness campaigns on sexual reproduction and health. So we thought that it would be easier for us to reach out to our target group, using our own broadcasts.”

He explains that despite the existence of other radio stations that marginally touch on youth-oriented topics, YFM has a unique approach because it “comprehensively covers the issues that affect our target group — mainly youth but also women.”

The station also seeks to solve unemployment problems among its target audience by recruiting those who are under 28 years old. According to Banda, the station today employs 30 young staffers in various departments and plans to hire another 30 by the end of the year.

YFM presenter Chimwemwe Mikwala
broadcasts in the on-air studio.

“We have seen that many youngsters finish their secondary and tertiary education but remain unemployed,” he said. “So apart from directly hiring them, we plan to offer number of programs that will link them with service providers through which they can potentially find employment.”

Banda explains that the organization, which initiated a toll-free telephone helpline in 2006 for youth to channel their concerns, feels it’s is now time to have those issues aired and discussed publicly on radio.

“We have a number of programs that address the most pressing issues. We also want young people to interact with community members to ensure they are in contact with service providers, support units of the police and social welfare offices.”

Another important topic is HIV/AIDS, he adds. “Young people still have limited information about this. Not many are able to access information on the pandemic, so through various programs we are sure to highlight this matter,” says Banda.

Chief Engineer Innocent Mkukumira monitors
equipment in the control room.

Good broadcast sound quality broadcasts have also helped YFM attract listeners. The station’s Chief Engineer Innocent Mkukumira owes this to the modern gear they have installed. “We have been collecting feedback from our listeners through phone calls and social media for two months and we have carried out a number of transmission tests. Almost all those who listened to us said that as regards sound quality, we compete with no one,” said Mkukumira.

South Africa’s Broadcast Installation Engineering (PTY) Ltd. supplied all the studio equipment, while United States-based Bruno Group supplied the transmission gear.

The station’s on-air studio is fitted with a D&R Airence 12-fader split digital sound console, IMG E140s and IMG DMG 450 mics, as well as Fostex PH-5 headphones MP0.4 active studio monitors.

The on-air studio also makes use of Axel Technology broadcast playout software, a Barix Extreamer 500 IP audio decoder, a Barix Instreamer 120 IP decoder, an Axel Falcon 3i audio processor, RDS encoder and DML logger.

Mkukumira says the production studio comprises a Behringer SX2442FX Eurodesk 24-input, four-bus analog mixer and three C3 omnidirectional Behringer mics and a Sonifex telephone hybrid.

“Our transmission sites use a BiQuad DAP4 FM audio processor, which receives the audio signal from the Barix Instreamer 120 and feeds them to the DEVA SmartGen 4.1 RDS and subsequently into the 1000 Light 1 kW RVR transmitter with a built-in FM exciter.

“Because the area our headquarters is located in is hilly, and doesn’t have ‘line of sight’ for transmitting antennas, we therefore use Barix codecs for delivery. This technology also allows us to monitor all of our sites by simply inputting the site’s identification into our system.” he says.

Mkukumira concludes that plans are in the works to install more transmitters in order to achieve full nationwide coverage. This will allow YFM to reach all of Malawi’s youngsters, which, according to statistics, account for over half of the country’s population.

Lameck Masina reports on the industry for Radio World from Blantyre, Malawi.