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Grassroot Wavelengths: Highly Networked Grassroots Community Radio through a scalable digital platform

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - GrassrootWavelengths (Grassroot Wavelengths: Highly Networked Grassroots Community Radio through a scalable digital platform)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-12-31

The aim of the Grassroot Wavelengths project is to pilot solutions for participatory innovation in the domain of media pluralism, working to: lower the barriers to start and sustain a community radio station, create regional and European-wide networks of stations that can pool community-level resources and co-innovate collaborative media services, and increase the permeability and impact of those stations through a combination of existing digital and nondigital technologies.
Our goal is to dramatically increase the number of digitally enhanced FM radio stations in Europe and around the world. We start from peripheral and rural areas, usually most in need of local media. GW is built on the RootIO radio platform, a free/open hardware and software stack that allows the creation of a station based on an inexpensive smartphone. Community members listen on FM radio, and interact with the station through the Web and their phones.
GW will start in three rural communities: the islands of Western Ireland, the Danube Delta in Romania, and the island of Madeira in Portugal. Often called “peripheral,” these communities are typically not considered epicentres of new technology development. The needs for communication is no less in such communities, though they are different. While the technology being developed will work just as well in more urban areas, we are developing GW to work in rural areas first.
Each of the three partner countries have different legal frameworks governing radio transmission, and have varying levels of existing community radio infrastructure. A lot of work was invested in understanding these regulatory frameworks and the processes that must be followed to establish sustainable community radio stations.
Community events were held over the first year to generate interest, build potential ideas for content and programming for the radio, and build a network of potential volunteers for each station.
Licenses were obtained for Radio Civic Vârvoru de Jos (Dolj) and Radio Civic Sfântu Gheorghe (Tulcea), the first community radio licenses granted by the Romanian National Audiovisual Council. With the help of local volunteers, the stations were successfully launched and have been running 24/7 whenever possible. Bere Island also received a radio license from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, allowing them to install and successfully launch the station, after holding training events where considerable interest and enthusiasm was generated for the Bere Island Community Radio station. Two temporary low-power radio stations were established in Madeira; those stations have been used intermittently for broadcasting events and festivals, and will soon be launching as fully-fledged community stations.
The RootIO platform was consolidated and a strong support infrastructure for the community stations was established. With the launches in Romania, the platform has been thoroughly tested and improved. Key CereProc TTS components were integrated with RootIO. An open-source DNN-based TTS voice for Romanian was developed, along with resources for localized Irish Gaelic and Portuguese TTS voices. A commercial Irish TTS voice has been released by CereProc.
Partners have been engaged in several events, both local and international. Some of these include the 2018 Web Summit, where the project received praise from Carlos Moedas of the European Commission and the wider research community.
The Grassroot Wavelengths project will create a game changing network of inclusive digital platforms for citizen engagement, community deliberation, and free flow of information within, into and out of discrete geographic communities by piloting solutions for connected inexpensive, community owned and operated radio across Europe.
Our approach includes features of the Living Lab and Participatory Design methods for setting up stations and services and understanding the processes in which they will be used and appropriated, along with an emphasis on synthetic speech to support the curation of audio content, thus turning data into media. Building on the success of the existing RootIO platform - with its proven commons oriented technology and catalytic capacities for promoting/enabling collective awareness and action, participatory innovation, community resilience, and media pluralism - we will: 1) deploy and test a network of low-power community radio stations in Ireland, Portugal and Romania; 2) work with community groups, journalists, and public good experts to develop a robust platform for expansion across Europe; 3) enhance use and accessibility of networked community radio through text-to-speech, community oriented programming applications, and other community-supported modes for contributing and managing content; and 4) work within the EU framework to establish a public support infrastructure for local ownership and revenue generation.
Together, these four actions combine to form a robust and tested platform with a clear path to scaling and exploitation in Europe and beyond.
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