Shortwave, Medium-wave, FM, online stations...they are all able to transmit life-changing radio programmes, but why use SW for one project and FM in another?  

Find out the different strengths and weaknesses of the various frequency bands and why our partners and projects might use different approaches in different areas. 

infographic radio frequency bandsUsing the right tools for the job

Radio broadcasts can - and do - make a lasting impact on individuals, communities and nations. But ‘radio’ comes in various forms, all of which are useful for different places, different contexts and different needs...

Feba’s partners around the world aim to use the most appropriate radio technology to meet the needs of their particular locations and audiences. Here’s how those different tools compare and where they’re being used:

Shortwave (SW)

Shortwave radio has a huge range – it can be received thousands of miles from the transmitter, and transmissions can cross oceans and mountain ranges. This makes it ideal for reaching nations without a radio network or where Christian broadcasting is prohibited. Put simply, shortwave radio overcomes boundaries, whether geographical or political. SW transmissions are easy to receive, too: even cheap, simple radios are able to pick up a signal.

The strengths of shortwave radio make it well suited for Feba's key focus area of the Persecuted Church.  For example, in areas of North East Africa where religious broadcasting is banned inside the country, our local partners can create audio content, send it out of the country and have it beamed back in via a SW transmission without risk of prosecution.  

Yemen is currently experiencing a severe and violent crisis with the conflict causing a massive humanitarian emergency.  As well as providing spiritual encouragement, our partners broadcast material addressing current social, health and wellbeing issues from a Christian perspective.  In a country where Christians make up just 0.08% of the population and experience persecution because of their faith, Reality Church is a weekly 30 minute shortwave radio feature that supports Yemeni believers in local dialect.  Listeners can access supportive radio broadcasts in private and anonymously.  

A powerful way to reach marginalised communities across borders, shortwave is highly effective at reaching a remote audience with the Gospel and, in areas where Christians are persecuted, leaves listeners and broadcasters free from fear of reprisal. 

Medium-wave (MW)

Medium-wave radio is generally used for local broadcasts and is perfect for rural communities. With a medium transmission range, it can reach isolated areas with a strong, reliable signal. Medium-wave transmissions can be broadcast through established radio networks - where these networks exist.  
Woman in India listens to radioIn northern India, local cultural beliefs leave women marginalised and many are confined to their homes. To women in this position, transmissions from Feba North India (using an established radio network) are a􀀈􀀂􀀅􀀚􀀋􀀆􀀛􀀌􀀋􀀜􀀌􀀝􀀞􀀞􀀌􀀆􀀂􀀌􀀇􀀌 crucial link with the outside world. Its values-based programming provides education, healthcare guidance and input on women’s rights, prompting conversations around spirituality with women who contact the station. In this context, radio is bringing a message of hope and empowerment to women listening at home.   

Frequency Modulation (FM)

For a community-based radio station, FM is king! Enginneers up mast - Umoja FMRadio Umoja FM in the DRC recently launched, aiming to give the community a voice.  FM provides a short-range signal - generally to anywhere within sight of the transmitter, with excellent sound quality. It can typically cover the area of a small city or large town - making it perfect for a radio station focusing on a limited geographical area speaking into local issues. While shortwave and medium-wave stations can be expensive to operate, a license for a community-based FM station is much cheaper. 

Aafno FM broadcasting from their suitcase studioAfno FM, Feba’s partner in Nepal, provides vital healthcare advice to the local communities in Okhaldhunga and Dadeldhura. Using FM allows them to put across important information, perfectly clearly, to targeted areas. In rural Nepal, there is widespread suspicion of hospitals and some common medical conditions are seen as taboo. There is a very real need for well-informed, non-judgmental health advice and Afno FM helps meet this need. The team work in partnership with local hospitals to prevent and treat common health problems (particularly􀀋􀀌􀀚􀀊􀀅􀀗those with a stigma attached to them)􀀌􀀇􀀅􀀅􀀇􀀎􀀗􀀂􀀅􀀋􀀂􀀉􀀔􀀌 and to address local people’s fear of healthcare professionals, encouraging listeners to seek hospital treatment when they need it.  FM is also used in radio for emergency response - with a 20kg FM transmitter being light enough to carry to disaster affected communities as part of an easy to transport suitcase studio. 

Internet Radio

Man listens online to Radio Voice in EgyptThe rapid development of web-based technology offers huge opportunities for radio broadcasting. Internet-based stations are quick and easy to set up (sometimes taking as little as a week to 􀀑􀀂􀀅􀀌􀀀􀀒􀀌􀀇􀀈􀀃􀀌􀀆􀀀get up and running! It can cost a lot less than regular transmissions.􀀈􀀃􀀌􀀎􀀇􀀈􀀌􀀎􀀋􀀁􀀅􀀌􀀈 And because the internet has no borders, a web-based radio audience can have global reach. One drawback is that Internet radio is reliant on Internet coverage and the listener’s access to a computer or smartphone.  

In a global population of 7.2 billion, three-fifths, or 4.2 billion people, still do not have regular access to the Internet.  Internet based community radio projects are therefore not currently suitable for some of the poorest and most inaccessible areas of the world.

In Least Developed Countries (LDCs), only one in every 10 individuals has regular access to the Internet, and worse yet, access is often striated along gender divides.

Lulu Chang, Digital Trends, 2015 [Accessed 5th May 2016]

In areas of the world where listeners can access the internet, online radio stations are a great way to reach people with messages of hope and life. Radio Voice is an internet radio station in Egypt supported by Feba, broadcasting programmes that cover practical ways to bring positive change.  From discussions on gender equality to environmental issues, the station tackles subject matter that can be difficult to discuss openly in public; love, relationships, religion, values, politics, peace and hope.

With a young digital savvy audience who have access to mobile technology and the internet, the station is able to interact with listeners in new ways.  Social media, text messaging, sharing content online, mobile phone applications - our partners in Cairo use several technologies to reach people from diverse faiths and backgrounds.  Radio is not a one way broadcast, it's a conversation between the producers and community of listeners. 

Have 90 seconds to spare? Watch our short video on Radio Voice and our work in the Middle East to see how radio can make a difference online.

Published: 6th May 2016