Campus radio station’s Easter launch reflects growing optimism in Liberia
(ANS) YEKEPA, LIBERIA – An air of excitement, renewal and optimism filled the campus of a Liberian Bible school on Easter Sunday as students, staff and local officials celebrated both the resurrection of Christ and the revival of a campus radio station that began test broadcasts last November, writes Harold Goerzen for HCJB Global radio broadcasting ministry.
Goerzen says radio station Life 95.7 officially launched on Sunday, April 8, at African Bible College University (ABCU), in Yekepa. This culminated a year-long process that involved technical and training help from HCJB Global’s regional offices in Accra, Ghana, and Quito, Ecuador, and financial help from HCJB Global-UK and the Ministry Service Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We selected this day in order to launch the station since Life 95.7 was coming back to life!” said Allen Graham, radio training director for the Latin America Region who has spent the semester at ABCU teaching three communications classes.
“We tied this event closely to the importance of resurrection Sunday. Completion of the studio areas of the new mass communications building was delayed, and we were only able to start wiring about two weeks before our announced launch date. It was tight, but we made it!” he said.
Representatives from the mining company that gave the land to ABCU, the head of the local women’s marketing association, the county head of community radio, key church leaders and local dignitaries, were invited for the launch event. “Some gave speeches before we cut the ribbon and turned on the transmitter,” Graham explained. “Others gave their remarks live on the air.”
HCJB Global says that just eight days after the launch, fluctuating power from the university’s diesel generator system damaged the transmitter, temporarily halting the broadcasts. But a loaner unit from Ghana along with a digital voltage regulator were soon expected to arrive to put the station back on the air.
The ministry says the broadcasts are a welcome addition for the people of Yekepa, a town of about 25,000 in northeastern Liberia’s highland region. Not only is this the area’s first Christian station, it’s the first radio station of any kind in the town, devastated by Liberia’s two prolonged civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people nationwide between 1989 and 2005.
“The war just ended a few years ago,” Graham said. “Many of the students had lived in exile in different countries or had lost family members. Although my students didn’t have any physical wounds as a result of the war, they had emotional ones.”
Inside the computer lab at ABCU in Yekepa.
(Photo courtesy HCJB Global).
ABCU reopened at the end of 2008 with an enrollment of about 100. “Radio is a major mode of communication in post-war Liberia, and having a Christian radio station will help reach others for Christ,” wrote communications student Boye-Nelson Kiamu in his evaluation of a class. “I believe it will help improve journalism in Liberia, especially Christian journalism.”
Student Preston Socro agreed. “Our country went through 15 years of civil crisis, and most of the citizens are traumatized,” he said. “Therefore, this station is needed to help give relief to these heartbroken people.”
Joseph Kebbie, a native Liberian based in Accra who coordinates the region’s training efforts, said ABCU has such a good reputation that the Liberian government approved its request for a radio license just three weeks after it was submitted.
Curt Cole, one of HCJB Global’s vice presidents of international ministry, and Kebbie taught a two-month class in early 2011, and Andrew Mazzella taught a mass communication theory course last July. Graham made his first visit to ABCU last June, leading a month of training. Then in August, Jeremy Maller, projects coordinator for the Sub-Saharan Africa Region, traveled from Accra to install the transmitter and to do initial wiring of the studio. He was accompanied by Alex Walker, a British missionary who moved to Ghana with his family in 2010. Walker taught a practicum to the communications students and helped complete the studio.
Maller said the station’s signal will increase significantly, covering parts of neighboring Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire when the school gets permission to move its antenna to a nearby mountain—one of the highest points in Liberia. “Right now there is a temporary broadcast tower on the campus,” he explained. “The tower is a 50-foot structural steel I-beam—the first time I’ve ever seen that! At this point the station is reaching Yekepa with a local signal.”
“We are initially broadcasting six hours a day, but our goal is to hit 16 hours a day,” Graham added. “Since no one has had training in radio prior to this, we need to get the students up to speed for production and programming. Most presenters will use English [and French], but we will tie in short segments, greetings, and announcement in all of the dialects as well as short-format programs in some of the major dialects with appropriate information, especially in the areas of health and current affairs.”
HCJB Global went on to say that a community survey conducted by ABCU students indicated that 15 languages/dialects are spoken in the Yekepa area. “To my knowledge none of these could be considered unreached groups,” Graham said. “Thirty-three percent of the men responded that they do not usually go to church on Sunday, whereas 20 percent of the women indicated they don’t. This emphasizes the need to focus our programming on women because there is more of a spiritual opening. The wife is often the gatekeeper to the ears of her children and spouse.”
Graham said he’s excited about the potential of the radio station. “First, it’s an opportunity for ABCU to reach the area with the message of life—eternal life through Jesus Christ. And second, this is also a great opportunity for students to not only study the theoretical aspects of communication, but to also put it into practice in the studio in a real-life environment.”
“The station’s name was strategically chosen because the desire is to share new life with people who have suffered many years of civil strife that destroyed not only the country’s infrastructure, but also families and homes,” Graham concluded. “New life is coming to Liberia as it rebuilds, and we want to be a part of it through the broadcasts.”