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Lubao FM: Prioritizing community voices and children on the air

Charles Oduor has been at Lubao FM in Kakamega county, Kenya, since day one. Today he’s the director of operations, and has proudly overseen the growth of Lubao FM from an online podcast to an award-winning commercial radio station.

Mr. Oduor explains that the vision for Lubao FM was started more than ten years ago by Mr. Fredrick Witaba, who wanted to make a lasting impact on the surrounding communities.

Mr. Oduor continues: “You buy somebody a cow, the cow may die, and the impact is lost. But when you bring something that can change or bring newness into the lives of people—that’s what he wanted.”

By 2015, the studio was built, but there were still major challenges to overcome.

Mr. Oduor says that securing a frequency can be a major challenge for Kenyan radio stations, and so the first live broadcasts from Lubao FM were online. For three years, the station used a podcast format to raise awareness about local issues, including the environment, entrepreneurship, and education. 

By 2018, Lubao FM received its frequency, and its signal reached nearly 100 km to bring the station’s broadcast to 12 surrounding counties. 

Mr. Oduor remembers that the time between launching their podcasts and receiving their FM frequency was an important period of reflection for the station. 

He recalls: “We have so many radios around, but we wanted to do something different, not just promote a cause … We wanted to create change in society. This was the vision that Mr. Fredrick Witaba had in the beginning.”

Despite their designation as a commercial radio station, Mr. Oduor says that Lubao FM was always intended to serve the community. To do so, Mr. Oduor and his fellow staff went on a mission to interview 500 guests in three months. 

He recalls, “We interviewed so many farmers, so many farming organizations, farm input organizations, the companies selling machinery, and so on. And these guests were not just anybody who can talk. These guests were people who were in different departments that could … influence the lives of the local person.” 

Mr. Oduor says the ultimate effect was that the community felt heard on the radio, and comfortable enough to call in to the station themselves and share their experiences. 

After one year, a program on Lubao FM that featured more than 500 community interviews was rated the seventh best program in Kenya. 

Mr. Oduor says, “With that, we realized that we are on the right path, we are doing the right thing, and we are accomplishing the objective that Mr. Fredrick Witaba had in mind at the beginning.”

Another key focus at Lubao FM is youth. 

During COVID-19, for example, Mr. Oduor says the station was able to air government-approved educational programs to help maintain children’s education during school closures. At this time, Mr. Oduor says the station was dedicating a major portion of its broadcast schedule to children. 

Now, Lubao FM is looking to expand its reach even further by launching more online platforms and seeking non-financial partnerships. In this context, Mr. Oduor says that partnership with Farm Radio International is key, especially to strengthening the content of Lubao FM’s agricultural programs.

Recently, journalists at Lubao FM used Farm Radio content on youth and agriculture, which he says made a crucial, strong, and timely addition to programming. He explains that the resources on youth in decision-making were especially important for his listeners, many of whom practice family farming. 

It is usually adults who lead family farms while youth take more of a back-up role. This arrangement results in youth being concerned about lack of individual recognition and rewards, and lack of control over farm output. 

By engaging with Farm Radio resources on youth and agriculture, Lubao FM was able to encourage family farmers to give youth more responsibility and leadership in the family farm. 

Mr. Oduor encourages his fellow broadcasters to take a similarly community-minded approach to their programming, and to always prioritize the benefits that communities receive from the station. 

After all, he says, “You can have a community radio, but still not function in a community manner.”

You can listen to Lubao FM online at: https://onlineradiobox.com/ke/lubao/?cs=ke.lubao [1]