Charting a New Course for Community Radio Sustainability in Liberia

By Jefferson Massah, Senior Advisor, USAID Media Activity

Revenue in Liberia’s community radio sector has been hard hit by the sharp decline in advertising that came along with the COVID-19 surge in the country. A significant number of these community radio stations operate in regions where the audiences are typically low-income earners, and the stations have always struggled to earn revenue off small sales airtime, a few announcements, and short-term contracts from NGOs, etc. To compound the problem, some stations suffer intermittent broadcasts due to the lack of a sustainable electricity supply and outdated broadcast equipment.

Media economy research commissioned by Internews in Liberia during the COVID-19 outbreak established that income fell between 30-90%, with an average income drop of 59% at most community radio stations nationwide.

“To allow Internews to develop a systemic approach in tackling the sustainability challenge at 30 radio partner stations, selected under USAID Media Activity through a rigorous and competitive vetting process, a media-specific Organizational Capacity Assessment (OCA) was administered to generate first-hand qualitative and quantitative information on the existing institutional, managerial, and technical capacities, as well as current capacity gaps, for each Media Activity partner radio station.’’

Lien Bach, Chief of Party, USAID Media Activity.

As an outcome of the OCA process, a capacity intervention plan was developed and tailored to each partner station’s capacity development needs. The OCA intervention plan stresses the need for institutional strengthening in governance and management at most radio stations. 

Accelerated Efforts for Community Radio Sustainability

In June 2022, Internews completed a major milestone by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of support with 30 selected radio stations nationwide. Under this partnership agreement, the USAID Media Activity has started to provide support to selected radio stations to boost their capacity in quality journalism, enhance their effectiveness in serving as a conduit for citizen voices and government response, strengthen management, and provide suggestions for financial viability and revenue generation to improve their sustainability.

Radio Stations Developing Strategies at a 3-Day Media Business Training Session

Previous media development projects in Liberia largely focused on improving journalism quality with less attention on media viability through an improved business model. However, at the inception of USAID Media Activity Year One implementation, concrete steps were taken to develop a roadmap for finding practical solutions to the sustainability of partner community radio stations.

USAID Media Activity conducted two media business training sessions in year one. The media business training for 30 partner radio stations focused on business strategies, business plan development, financial management, human resources, revenue models, and business diversification. This was in preparation for the launch of a media sustainability fund for business development in Year Two.

“This training has opened my eyes to see that we are sitting on money, but because we didn’t know how to generate it, we keep saying there is nothing. I am going back to find and generate that money.”

Jenneh Kamokai, female manager at Radio Cape Mount situated in western Liberia. Indicated in a feedback session following a media business training held August 18-20, 2022 in Kakata, Margibi County.

Internews also delivered two broadcast technical workshops benefiting 60 station-based radio technicians coupled with upgrades at 18 partner radio stations led by ALICOR. Community Radio stations in hard-to-reach regions continue to struggle to secure reliable and affordable electricity—which has greatly affected their ability to broadcast. The high cost of fuel coupled with repairs of the power generator takes large portions of their minimal incomes. Solar panel installation is expected for a select number of partner radio stations in early 2023 to address these power issues. 

“The management of Voice of Sinoe Community Radio is profoundly grateful to INTERNEWS LIBERIA for the successful conduct and facilitation of a three-day Technical Training for Radio Technicians, which practically or theoretically benefited two of our staff. Far before the end of the training, the update gathered from the station’s participants was rewardingly impressive. With the training and tool provided, the technical sustainability of Voice of Sinoe is ensured and guaranteed, and the burden and cost to sometimes bring in a technician during the technical breakdown, even if the problem is easily solvable, is on the verge of total elimination.

Radio Technicians Get New Skills to Improve Station Health

“Thanks to the entire team at Internews Liberia for making the training possible, and we are thankfully appreciative of our selection and participation in the process as we look forward to more of this and other programs.” Patrick GMK Bolue of the Voice of Sinoe Community Radio highlighted in his feedback.

The Liberia community radio sector will, for the first time, see the introduction of a policy for community radio management to promote long-term sustainability, including attracting support from the government, donors, and advertisers.  With two stakeholders’ conferences held to ensure broad-based consensus among sector actors in developing a roadmap for the community radio sector, the policy further entails strengthening community radio governance and improving the viability of the Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR) as an umbrella organization.