In Eastern Uganda, Bugisu sub region, where literacy remains a substantial barrier to development, radio can reach a large number of poor people because it is affordable and consumes little electricity.
On 9th October 2019, another new Frequency Modulation (FM) radio went on air in Bugisu. Programmes, which are majorly broadcast in Lumasaba (the local dialect) could be heard in two thirds of the Eastern Central areas including Masabaland’s households. There were few programs running in Luganda and English.
The new radio station, BCU Radio, is what the legendary Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) farmers have been waiting for, for years.
Broadcasting on FM 100.6, BCU Radio is located on Naboa Road, adjacent to Shine On Hotel and Bank Of Uganda (Mbale branch). The radio station is owned and managed by BCU.
Established in July 1954, BCU is a Ugandan agricultural cooperative union, privately owned by coffee farmers from Bugisu sub region. Based in Mbale town, Eastern Uganda, the cooperative union was started by a group of coffee farmers led by the late EV. Samson Kitutu.
Over time, the union has thrived, uniting the region and marketing produce on behalf of the coffee farmers in Bugisu.
BCU is led by Nathan Nandala Mafabi who also doubles as a Member of Parliament representing Budadiri West in Sironko district.
“The radio is now going to be the ultimate vehicle of delivery and mobilization for the union’s farmers because this is their own,” Mafabi said during an interview.
The BCU boss is confident that the already strong union is only going to grow even stronger, with the establishment of their own mass media station.
John Musila, who deputizes Mafabi said the establishment of BCU radio had been a long time desire of the farmers.
“The decision to come into existence is to avail farmers in Bugisu and our neighbours with an agricultural, informative and farmer educative broadcast,” the visibly delightful Musila told theCooperator.
“We want them (farmers and business fraternity) to know that this is their radio which basically means any form of support in form of adverts, announcements and paying for commercial talk shows by them will make BCU radio even stronger,” Musila added.
Musila, who doubles as Manafwa district Local Council 5 chairman, said that although the region already has over 15 radio stations, BCU Radio will be distinguished by principles, among which include: farmer community ownership and management, and farmer community participation.
Enhancing effective extension, education and communication services amongst its members are some of the key benefits the union expects from their new broadcast project, for: sustaining agricultural growth, strengthening food security and combating hunger and malnutrition in the area.
A BCU board member in charge of the radio operations, James Kutosi alluded to the fact that the radio project is seen as a lifetime blessing by both farmers and the board.
“We have been spending a lot of money on other commercial radios, in mobilization and educational activities but now that we have our own, we will not have to continue spending a colossal sum of money, contracting over 10 radios to pass the same massage to our farmers,” the overjoyed Kutosi stated while wearing an irresistible smile.
Kutosi continued: “It will be a requirement for our farmers to always listen to BCU Radio for all official communications of the Union, unlike in the past where everyone listened to the radio of their preference.”
According to Kutosi, BCU was spending approximately 150 million shillings annually on local radios, newspapers and television stations, for mobilization activities, an amount he says will now be minimized by the existence of BCU Radio.
Julius Musungu, a farmer in Manafwa district says they expect the radio to be the voice of farmers, which will also inspire farmers to observe weather patterns.
According to Musungu, farmer education through radio programmes will be another key aspect for quality coffee production.
“I suppose the radio will provide employment opportunities for some of our children who end up doing journalism and mass communication at university or institutional level,” Musungu said.
The majority of BCU farmers have profoundly welcomed their newly established radio with hope that it will provide a proactive and a farmer dedicated voice to the community, many of whom are rural coffee growers and dealers.
Listenership is already building up for BCU radio, which has also managed to attract majority of Bugisu’s eminent radio personalities.
The newsiest radio station has recruited over 15 staff members including a support team and experienced presenters among whom are: John Kennedy Wasikye alias John K and Richard Welishe alias Brigadier Ragga Chief who formerly worked with Step FM and Big FM in Mbale town, respectively.
Other presenters at BCU Radio are: former Elgon FM sports presenter, SK Godfrey Kakungulu; former Step TV news anchor, Imam Saudi Masalu; Vinikhet Manana formerly with IUIU FM; former Rock Mambo’s Racheal Namarome; and former Open Gate FM English news anchor, Emma Namonyo alias Joe Emmah.
Despite being just weeks old in a town which has got over 15 locally based radio stations, BCU Radio’s Wasikye is optimistic that they will be at the top of the sub region’s airwaves very soon.
“Our recruitment has been very good, so far. We have the experienced and most followed radio presenters in town, coupled with talented and promising journalists,” the enthusiastic Ragga Chief said.
The Ragga Chief emphasized that BCU Radio has something new in the programming content which communities near and far.
The broadcasting content of BCU Radio is increasingly becoming popular to a local audience because the kind of content had been overlooked by the predominant commercial broadcasters.
“It is a truly people’s radio that perceives listeners not only as receivers and consumers, but also as active citizens and creative producers of media content. The listeners determine what should be on air,” John K, one of the senior staff members explained.
The radio’s most listened shows thus far are: the Inyukha Hasi show – the morning show hosted by Joe Emmah, John K and Muduwa Wo Bbaaba, the Coffee Tree which is presented by the former Mbale Municipality MP aspirant and veteran radio presenter, John Kennedy Wasikye alias John K, and the Bira Mbire show, hosted by another veteran presenter Ragga Chief along with Racheal Namarome.
The other shows include Imbago Y’omulimi loosely translating as the hoe of the farmer hosted by Vinikhet Manana, and Manyama Busilamu presented by Soudi Muhamadi Masalu and, the Golden Medal sports show, among others.
Programming is locally focused, using indigenous knowledge to build on local cultural and agro-ecological diversity, blending with technology and scientific innovation.
On their official Facebook page their pioneer fans have commended the radio management for a great service.
“Great programming coupled with professional presenters is what has been missing on radio!” commented a one Moses Masuba on the BCU Radio 100.6 FM Facebook wall.
BCU Radio is the first ever mass media and commercial radio station to be owned by a farmer-based cooperative in Uganda.