Reaching the unreached over the airwaves


he work of Radio Lilanguka is supported by SIM Malawi project MW#96852 Yao Ministry Support

At the end of November2018, Radio Lilanguka based in Mangochi and transmitting on 91.0FM, celebrated its first anniversary of broadcasting. Although it has done little or no advertising or publicity, it is already one of the most listened-to stations in the area

One of the beauties of using radio for evangelistic outreach is that the radio signals observe no international borders. A radio station broadcasting in, for example, Malawi, can be heard in Mozambique. For Mangochi-based Radio Lilanguka, this is one of the major advantages of its location. Another advantage it has over other stations is that around 60 per cent of its output is in Chiyao, the language of the Yao people group, probably the least reached people group in Malawi and Mozambique.

It is just over a year since the station first started broadcasting, but it has taken almost 20 years to get to that position, as a number of individuals and organisations tried to establish a station but failed. Indeed, Operation Mobilization (OM – Mulumikiza), which holds the broadcast licence, almost gave up on the idea before the licence was finally granted in October 2016.

Voice to the nations Some of the staff of Radio Lilanguka

“A South African missionary first talked about the idea of a Christian community radio station based in Mangochi in the year 2000,” said Paul Kranzler, Project Manager for Radio Lilanguka.

“Since then, various people and organisations have tried to get such a station off the ground, but setbacks and problems led them to abandon their plans. OM stepped in to take up the licence proposals being worked up by another agency to try and get things established.

“This is the first time OM has been involved in radio anywhere in the world, and even this almost did not happen. We were having problems gaining the licence, and the OM Malawi Board stared to pull back, but I encouraged them to stay the course and eventually the Malawi Government granted our licence in 2016. We began broadcasting just over a year later,” he said.

Paul Kranzler Project Manager for Radio Lilanguka

Radio Lilanguka operates with a staff of 20, eight of whom are salaried, and broadcasts 17 hours each day – from 5am until 10pm. The bulk of its, own productions is in Chiyao, and it is the 60 per cent which is broadcast in Chiyao which is having the greatest impact.

Paul Kranzler tells of a story relating to one of the presenters, Martin Saidi. He was walking around and someone recognised him from the station. “We listen to all of your programmes. We don’t necessarily agree with everything you say, but we listen to it all!” he was told.

“This is important to us, and has been how the station has developed in its first year of broadcasting,” said Paul Kranzler.

“The Chiyao output has really stared to engage with people in the community, and it is this which has led to the station becoming so popular so quickly. Our Chiyao output is mostly evangelical. We broadcast a ‘Thought for the Day’ and also have regular Bible-study and Bible-teaching programmes. So we are happy if people don’t necessarily agree with what we say, so long as they keep listening to our programmes!”

On the air: Broadcasting live from the station’s main studio

The licence granted by the Malawi Government is for the station to be a community station. During the licensing process, the people behind the station made it very clear that it would be a Christian radio station, and the powers that be were happy with this.

This means there is a good mix of music, community information and Christian teaching. Indeed, a number of community groups have regular access to the airwaves through the station. There is, for example, a regular slot for the local police to talk about traffic and security matters. There is a slot for women’s programming and also one for the ‘Modern Man’ which is aimed at giving advice on how to care for spouses and children, among other things.

There is also a regular programme by Albinos for Albinos and, perhaps most surprisingly, a regular slot for the Muslim ‘Forum for Peace and Justice’ which broadcasts community advice and how to be a good citizen and the like. Paul notes that they are happy to let them have the time as long as they do not preach.

In its first year of broadcasting, Radio Lilanguka has been blessed with a team that is happy to put in long hours to make sure the content is broadcast, and it has also been blessed with very few technical problems. Across Malawi, electricity ‘load sharing’ is common and power outages each day are part and parcel of everyday life. Radio Lilanguka is protected from this because there seems to be very little load sharing in Mangochi, but the station also has its own solar-power facilities and there is also a back-up generator.

While the first year has been good, Paul Kranzler is aware that there are some problems which need to be overcome, not least the broadcast range. Radio Lilanguka has a broadcast radius of about 100 Kms, but it has a major problem in that some of the most important Yao areas are behind hills which block the transmissions.

“Mangochi is on the valley floor and the hills towards Namwera and Chipondi form a major barrier to our signal,” he said.

In the news: Preparing a Chchewa news bulletin in the production studio

“There is a vast, as yet, untapped audience there, so we are looking at how we can access these people in the next year. I think the best option will be for us to make use of an existing antenna which will boost the signal over the hills and into this area in Mangochi district and also into Mozambique.

“Another main area of development in the next year will be with our staff. Currently, only the Station Manager has any formal qualification in Mass Communications, and we also have one Radio Technician. I would like to see members of our staff working towards formal journalism qualifications. As much as anything, it will give them confidence when, for example, they go into big press conferences or meetings and have to rub shoulders with some of the major Malawian broadcasters who sometimes look down their noses at our reporters.

“We are a small station, but we pride ourselves on being professional, and if we can improve the skills and the standing of our journalists then we will do all that we can to achieve this.”

But whatever the future holds, Radio Lilanguka is committed to maintaining its output in Chiyao. As Paul says, it makes no difference whether it is a Muslim Yao or a Christian Yao who tunes in, it is the content in Chiyao that makes this station stand out from the crowd. The fact that most of the content in Chiyao is evangelically Bible-based means that a mainly unreached people group is now being reached with the Gospel over the radio waves.