Mali: From radio repairmen to radio station proprietors

| November 3, 2014

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Twenty years ago, Soungalo Traoré owned a radio repair workshop and employed a young man named Paul Coulibaly as his apprentice. The men lived in Zana, a village 140 kilometres east of Bamako, the capital city of Mali. Though the village is remote, it is now well known, thanks to the presence of Radio Etoile de Zana.

One day, Mr. Traoré sat down in his workshop to repair two radio sets. While working on the first set, he realized that the other radio was broadcasting the same program through its speakers. He was surprised. But after some experimentation, he realized that the set he had been working on contained a broadcasting device – and the second set was receiving its signal.

He made a thorough study of the system, and was inspired to build a transmitter that could send radio signals over a range of several hundred metres. At first, he was the object of the villagers’ ridicule, but his broadcasts soon captured the attention of the entire village.

This was the birth of Radio Etoile de Zana. The station started with music; villagers paid 25 or 50 West African francs [$0.05-0.10 U.S.] to request songs.

A pastor who lived in Bamako heard about the new radio station while on a trip back to Zana, his home village. He suggested that the two men request assistance from the Association Chrétienne pour la Communication au Mali.

The Association approved their request and equipped the station with modern tools – a transmitter, keyboard, pole, antenna, solar-powered batteries, solar panels and cassette players. In exchange, the station agreed to contribute 10% of its income to the Association. The village got together and contributed a two-room building to house the new station. Radio Etoile de Zana now broadcasts not only to Zana, but to several other villages within its 50-kilometre range.

Mr. Traoré’s former apprentice Paul Coulibaly was appointed Station Manager, thanks to his basic knowledge of French, and he ensures that the station is well-managed. Soungalo Traoré is Director of Programs and Technical Departments. He also hosts the main farmer program, Faso Dembe.

In July and August 2014, Meli Rostand conducted research for Farm Radio International at six radio stations in Mali and Burkina Faso, including Radio Etoile de Zana. His work is part of FRI’s African Radio Research Program Initiative (ARRPA). In 2011, FRI conducted research at 22 radio stations and organizations in five other countries, while Meli’s work concentrated on Francophone stations in Mali and Burkina Faso. Through Meli’s research, FRI hopes to get a clearer picture of the conditions under which farmer radio programs are created in Francophone West Africa, of the strengths of the radio stations and the challenges they face, and of how to better support our broadcasting partners.