Lights, computers, microphones—all on!
From the soundproofed studios of Tuntufye Radio Station in Karonga, word goes out: “Fifty two years after independence, pupils at Kasimba Primary School in Paramount Chief Kyungu have been drinking stagnant water following lack of a safe water point at the school.”
That is how Ephraim Nyirenda, a reporter at the station owned by the Diocese of Karonga, started his news bulletin on June 1 last year.
The investigative story swayed Bishop Martin Mtumbuka to contact well-wishers in Malta who rescued the desperate pupils.
Missio Malta, a faith-based organisation, has sunk a borehole at the remote school following the story which won the 2016 Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) investigative journalist of the year award.
Opened in December 2014, Tuntufye FM has become a voice of the voiceless in Karonga, Rumphi and Chitipa.
Broadcasting is serious business with the power to transform or confuse societies.
Tuntufye FM deputy director Moses Kamanga attributes the station’s success to dedication of its 16-strong staff.
The station, which thrives on adverts and sponsored programmes, has two vehicles for its workforce.
“Information is power,” Kamanga says. “Due to their closeness to communities, community radios can contribute towards bringing change to the societies they serve.”
Karonga has two community stations—Tuntufye and Radio Dinosaur.
The two have helped dial up suppressed voices against hardship and exclusion resulting from widespread burning of houses of people suspected of witchcraft, grabbing of property from widows, and early marriages in Karonga, Chitipa and Rumphi.
Since 2014, Radio Dinosaur airs Shantwaya, a bizarre programme similar to the State-run MBC’s Nkhani Zam’maboma which exposes harmful cultural practices that fuel gender based-based violence, HIV infections, early marriages and teen pregnancies.
Interestingly, Radio Dinosaur managing director Alexandra Mhango is aware of community broadcasters’ potential to contribute towards the mindset change of rural populations where illiteracy is rampant.
Despite this potential, Radio Dinosaur is staggering between life and death, crippled by financial constraints.
This prevents the station from effectively covering its intended radius in Karonga and Chitipa. Also affected are12 volunteer broadcasters and a salaried security guard.
‘‘It is not easy to convince advertisers because our coverage radius is very small. Those willing to deal or partner with us usually offer low rates,’’ says Mhango.
Reporters use bicycles to gather news. When power goes off in Karonga, Radio Dinosaur goes off air because the station cannot afford to refuel a standby generator.
This deprives Karonga residents, especially in rural areas, access to local programmes aired in two local languages: Kyangonde and Chitumbuka.
There are almost 10 community radio stations in the Northern Region, but the majority of them face similar hardships.
Mzimba Radio station manager Clement Mseteka says it is tough to lure and retain volunteers due to financial hardships.
‘‘Most volunteers are discouraged. They come to work when they want and their work is sometimes not effective and up to standard,” he says.
At Nkhotakota Community Radio, programmes manager Edward Kwacha advises radio owners and supervisors to be innovative and vigilant in sourcing funds from well wishers within and outside the country.
Kwacha adds that it is high time the community stations in the country had an association that would look into challenges by the stations and find solutions to the problems.
But Zodiak Broadcasting Station director of news and current affairs Teresa Ndanga stresses the need for community stations to work in partnership with national broadcasters like hers.
‘‘Presently, most of the reporters from community radio stations in the country cover only news from organised events. It is high time they partnered with the national radios in order to reduce costs and successfully serve Malawians,’’ says the award-winning journalist.