I spent today with the Ghanaian version of Ohio's legendary broadcaster Ed Johnson. And just as the beloved Ohio farm broadcaster was often known just as EJ or Ed, northern Ghana's highest regarded "agric" radio personality is called Sadik.
"That is my last name," he says. "But that is what everyone calls me. Even my father just calls me Sadik."
MANAGING DIRECTOR: Adam Cockra is a broadcaster and philosopher: "If you are strong use your self to defend the weak. If you are knowledgeable, your knowledge must be used to the benefit of your society. If you are rich, let the poor eat from your hand," he says.
Sadik has been in radio broadcasting for 29 years. For 22 years he was a part of the only regular agricultural programming on Radio Ghana. He is currently the head of programming on Radio North Star 92.1. It is a station that was started in 2007. He was hired in 2008 after being recruited by his former colleague Adam Cochea, the station's managing director. Cochea is also a veteran broadcaster who worked for the Ghana Broadcast Company for 42 years before joining Radio North Star when it was formed.
The station operates from 4 a.m. to midnight. It offers talk shows that discuss current events. It brings in experts to share their views. It reports news and sports two times a day. It has shows that play both traditional and contemporary music. It also provides listeners with Islamic and Christian programming.
"Our mission is to make our station the most widely listened to by building programs that help our listeners make the most of their scarce resources and get out of poverty," Cochea says.
In 2010 the station developed its rural desk. The desk targets farmers in rural communities and provides them information of agriculture, health, environment, education, development and culture. Twice a week they offer educational programming for the farmers. It may feature an agricultural extension agent from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture or some other expert or source of information that will educate the listeners.
Radio North Star has developed a unique way to get the farmers to participate in these programs. They have formed Listener's Clubs. A club has no more than 30 farmer members. However, some villages may have more than one club. After they register their club with the station, the group is given a mobile phone. The club members gather around the radio during the program and use the phone to call in their questions for the specialist on Thursday and Saturday nights.
The programs target about 700 farmers. Only 11% of their male listeners over the age of 35 have an education and 43% of the men under 35 are educated. Even for the younger class of women, the level of education is much lower with 78% listed as uneducated. So radio is a natural way to provide information to these areas.
AGRIC VOICE: Sadik, left, answers the phone while his staff reports the evening news.
"A few farmers have access to a radio," says Sadik. "We find they are happy to sit in a group and listen. In the past 2 years it has been very effective. We adapted the Listener Club idea from Canada and Denmark. It has been working magic."
So last night Sadik calls me at about 8:00 to let me know he is about to begin broadcasting. "I am first playing some traditional music," he says. "Would you like to listen?"
Over the phone I can hear the singing and rhythm of North Ghanaian music in traditional Dagbani language. Sadik comes back quickly and asks if I like the music. "I have a large collection of this music I have recorded," he says. "People ask if they can copy it, but I am keeping it."
He then explains that he had some experts with him tonight from the Yanni Fertiliser Co. The station had played some comments from a seminar the company had held earlier in the week and now about 175 members of the Listeners Club are at their radios and have their mobile phones ready to call. In fact the lines were already lighting up, Sadik says. "I have to tell them that they must wait for the show to start, he tells me. "I must go now."
So I hang up and go to the front desk of the guest house hotel I am staying at and ask if they would mind turning on North Star 92.1.
"I know this station," the hotel manager says.
The voice of Sadik, speaking in Dagbani, soon fills the room. He talks for awhile and then says something about "Listener…" About all I can recognize is "Hello." The caller talks for a minute and Sadik probes with some questions before saying, "OK."
He then translates for the Yanni representative that the man has used fertilizer at tasseling to make sure his corn ears would be really large. But it hasn't worked.
The Yanni representative does not laugh. There is obviously much to learn about fertilizer. "By tasseling the plant is getting most of its nutrition from the stalk," he explains. The nutrients must be applied while the stalk is still growing to get them into the plant."
There is more discussion and another expert jumps in -- all speaking Dagbani. After a fairly long discussion Sadik takes another call. This time I can tell by the surprise in his voice that the caller is in need of education. He explains that the man has decided that if a little fertilizer is good a lot of fertilizer will be much better. However, the plants are not producing as much corn as the other ones. In fact they do not look well.
"You must follow the directions from the company," the representative explains. "There is a yield response to fertilizer, but too much will not be good for the crop."
Sadik starts in again and then something happens that is quite common this time of year apparently: The radio goes silent, the lights go dark, the air condition stops running and the whole neighborhood lets out a collective groan that you can hear through the walls of the hotel.
I decide to go to bed. Later I hear a roar from surrounding houses. The AC turns on and I see the security light outside is lit. This happens several more times during the night. I can't say how many. I fall asleep imagining the farmers in these villages trickling fertilizer along their rows of corn.
Blogging from Ghana, Africa
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Oct. 25: In West Africa's Fastest Growing City