FrontlineSMS let users send, receive and manage SMS over a mobile network.

A message for all those experienced or interested in using FrontlineSMS in a radio station context: FrontlineSMS is collaborating with the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at the University of Cambridge to develop and design a FrontlineSMS platform tailored to the needs of community radio stations.

Our broad aim is to provide stations with an easy-to-use, accessible, low cost tool that will enhance two-way interactivity with their listening audience. Greater levels of audience feedback to inform programme content, texting questions or comments contributing to on-air discussions, and polling public opinion are some of the functions FrontlineSMS:Radio will offer. But radio stations may find a vast array of uses beyond this, which is what makes the development of FrontlineSMS:Radio very exciting.

Working alongside Developing Radio Partners and Internews, we have a fantastic group of community and small commercial radio stations trialling the original FrontlineSMS platform. Through the project community site, they are discussing how it works, how they use it, and how it could be adapted for radio station use. This will shape the design and development of the Beta FrontlineSMS:Radio which will be rolled out mid 2011.

We are keen to hear thoughts, ideas, and experiences from those who have used FrontlineSMS with a radio focus. How you used it or ways it could be built to serve the needs of radio stations more effectively.

I look forward to hearing from you!


Tags: Radio

Views: 230

Replies to This Discussion

HI Karim,

This product, FrontlineSMS:Radio, would be perfect for the work our organization is doing here in West Africa. We are installing and equipping community radio stations with FrontlineSMS to increase call-in and text-in interaction within rural and marginalized communities, with a specific focus on increasing womens participation.

I am having a hard time finding phones or GSM modems here that will work with FrontlineSMS, so my work has been really hindered. I can't begin until I find the equipment. But -- from my brief time reviewing the FrontlineSMS software -- I can tell that it can be better optimized for the needs of radio stations. For starters, it would be good to have a way to flip through sent-in text messages for on the air reading. As it stands, I think you have to click on each message to read it in FrontlineSMS and then you have to close the pop-up window; it would be better if you could view all the messages at once or scroll through with the use of an arrow.

I'd like to give more feedback, but I can't until I start on the project. But we'll be installing FronlineSMS for radio stations over the next few months, and in several countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia). Our organization has strong ties with the radio community so this work is very much organic and sustainable. We're excited about how FrontlineSMS can help radio station managers and look forward to the release of FrontlineSMS:Radio.
Hi Andrew

Can you get *any* GSM modems or network dongles in any of these countries? I'd be extremely surprised if you can't get something from one of the mobile operator shops. Most Huawei or ZTC modems should work. If you can't get them locally then you'll need to get someone to buy them overseas for you. Unfortunately we're not able to help much with that.

Let me know if you think we can be of any further help, via the Forum (so that we don't clutter the Radio thread here). There have been numerous discussions around devices, so try searching for the country names where you're having problems in the Forum and seeing what you come up with.

Hi Karim and Ken,

So, I've finally managed to find the GSM modem keys to begin testing and installing FrontlineSMS. I've managed to install it on a local community radio station here in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and hope to continue to use the application for an ongoing research project on testing and improving women's participation and access to information using radio/mobile phone technology.

Already, after just the few radio programming sessions I've attended, I have some suggestions on how to better tailor FrontlineSMS for explicit use with radio stations. Some of these features have already been mentioned, but I'm including them again in my findings:

1) Ability to also route email messages received to the "messages" tab, thus providing an easy panel display for both SMS and email interaction. This of course assumes the radio station will have access to the internet -- which is NOT the case with nearly all of the ones I will be working with -- but still, it would be a handy feature for those who have access, and would be a good feature if/when internet access improves in the future.

2) Larger font size for easier reading of messages on-the-air ... very important

3) Improved interface design for scrolling through and reading received messages on-the-air. Probably the most helpful feature currently missing. As it stands, radio presenters have to double-click on a message to read it, then click to close the message window, then select the next message, then double-click to read that message, etc... The process is almost as clunky as reading messages off the phone directly...

4) Differentiating between read and unread messages in the message queue (to help with on-the-air sorting of comments already received and those which have not been)

5) Ability to flag important messages

6) Option to import all text messages already on SIM. Not very important, but could be helpful. As it stands, only text messages received while the phone/modem is connected to Frontline are stored in Frontline.

7) Are text-in caller's contacts automatically saved in the contact list under their phone number? If I understand correctly, contacts are only saved in Frontline after you assign a name to a caller. If this is so, it would be helpful to automatically store all numbers received -- with or without a name -- under the identification of the phone number used. Then you could take advantage of sending group messages even if you didn't have the name of the caller, or you could add in the name of the caller at a later and more convenient time

Looking forward to providing feedback as it comes in...

With regards,
Hi Andrew

This is fantastic feedback! Many, many thanks for taking the time to send this in. It's exactly the kind of thing we're looking for.

Great to have you on board. \~/

Many thanks Andrew. This is really great to have. Please do keep voicing the feedback and ideas as it emerges out of your work in Freetown. I hope you are finding FrontlineSMS useful as well! Which GSM modem and network are you using in SL? One of the trial stations is setting up FrontlineSMS and it would be good to recommend a reliable one.

Best wishes,

Hi Karim,

We ended up going with the largest telephone/internet service provider whose coverage overlaps the countries in which we'll be operating. The provider is called "Airtel" (formerly "Zain" until a week ago when it was bought out by an international competitor)

The GSM modem model is a HUAWEI E1550, can be purchased for 260,000 leones (~$70), and works just fine with FrontlineSMS.
HI guys,

I’ve been thinking on how to best use FrontlineSMS with my work, and I came across another feature that doesn’t exist but that would be helpful to have, and what I think would be helpful for other radio stations as well.

Currently, I am not sure how to automatically segment callers into groups without either:

1) requiring callers to text in a keyword (which is an added, and in my opinion, unnecessarily complicated requirement that may be too much to ask from our listeners and can be prone to spelling errors), or
2) automatically adding *all* callers to a default group using the “none” keyword function (this works for automatically adding callers into groups, but not more than one group… and the “none” keyword settings have to be set up and dismantled every time you want to switch groups)

We would need to segment our listeners into groups for several reasons:

1) to send reminders to a specific group, for example, to remind listeners of a certain radio program to listen to next week’s program
2) to send targeted information to a specific group, for example, to send voting information during election time to listeners of a voting radio program
3) to add contact information – for example, their name – to a caller in the “contact” database. If I understand correctly, the only way that Frontline can edit a caller’s information is if that caller is a contact and is part of a group.
4) To archive and keep statistics of a listener audience based on program

As you know, radio stations have multiple programs during a week, with each program usually representing a particular audience. We would like to segment callers into groups according to the program that they interact with. For example, if a radio station has a women’s program, it would be helpful to have a way to automatically add all SMS interaction during that program hour into a “womens” group in FrontlineSMS. As it stands, I don’t see any way to do this apart from the automatic addition into a group based on keywords that the callers send in (or use of the “none” keyword). What would be nice is to have Frontline provide an easy way to switch between groups depending on a radio station’s programming.

Here is my other feedback as it relates to FrontlineSMS for radio use:

•There is no way to save or edit caller information unless they are saved into groups! Callers should be automatically saved into – at minimum – a default general group, and be given the unique identifier of their phone number. This is a big problem b/c as it stands, unless you have a keyword routing the callers into a group, then the only way to add a caller’s contact information is to do it manually in the “add a new contact” page of the “contacts” panel. This is impossible to do if you received 100 callers in an hour, for example.

•On a related note: there is no way to edit a contact’s information from the message panel. When you click on a message in the “Messages” panel, none of the fields are editable – even if the message is from a previously saved contact. The only way to edit a contact is on the “contacts” page, but it would be nice to be able to edit it on-the-fly from the message panel. For our purposes, most listeners send in their name with their SMS – we would like the ability to cut and paste their name into their contact file, straight from the message window.

•Someone already brought it up, but you can’t fully edit saved keyword settings. Instead you have to delete them and re-create them.

Please let me know if this doesn’t make sense or if I’m misunderstanding some of the functionality already available.

Thanks guys for your hard work – excited for the release!
- Andrew
Hey Andrew,
Many thanks for sparing the time to discuss all this alongside your own hard work in SL! It's all really valuable. The issue of auto-categorising callers into groups is something we've been thinking about a lot for FrontlineSMS:Radio. Hearing the particular issues you've encountered is definitely sharpening those thoughts.

We're getting to a stage where it's right to start discussing our draft functionalities and designs for FrontlineSMS:Radio. A few more days of idea generation and then we'll be showing everyone an outline of our "draft FrontlineSMS:Radio". I'm hoping it will be met with a torrent of feedback, questions, and criticisms so we can re-draft a few times before we begin building it in 2011.

On a different note, are any of the SFCG team working with Radio Gbafth in (or just off) Freetown? They are one of our basic trialists for FrontlineSMS and have hit some technical difficulties setting up. I just thought if you guys are already working with them, you may be able to help them get going with FrontlineSMS... Obviously no problem if not!

Hope all's well with you otherwise.

Best wishes,

I've just seen you're friends with Stephen Douglas! Bill Siemering connected us two up to see if he might be able to get down to Gbafth to help them out, but I think he's been pretty snowed under with his other work out there.

Hi Karim,


Yes -- Stephen has a full plate indeed!  But in a funny twist of fate, I had suggested reaching out to Radio Gbafth for the research project I'm currently developing.  My boss should make a decision soon, but we've already short-listed Radio Gbafth.


And -- I met the radio station manager last week and he too informed me that you had reached out to him.  So, they've been on our radar in more than one way, through more than one source, over the last two weeks. 


I'll let you know soon if I can say for sure, but it looks like we are going to partner with them, which would include sending a technician out there for three weeks to help with installation and use of FrontlineSMS.




Hey Andrew,

Hope all's well in SL. Would be great if you (and any of the stations you are working with) could fill in this short survey to help build up a picture of radio stations using FrontlineSMS.


Best wishes,


Hey Andrew,

Was just wondering if Radio Moa were one of the stations you were working with in SL ( The video clips featured Bill Siemering and Ambrose James which made me think SFCG were in touch. It looks like a great station and it'd be good to see if they were interested in FrontlineSMS:Radio in the future.

Best wishes,



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