Knight News Challenge

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas. The first round of 2013, which opens in February, will invite innovators from all disciplines to focus on tools for open government. In 2012, three challenge rounds, each focused on an emerging trend, drew more than 2,500 entries.

Challenge 1 - on NETWORKS: Winners were announced June 18.

Challenge 2 - on DATA: Winners were announced Sept. 20.

Challenge 3 – on MOBILE: Winners were announced Jan. 17.

Anyone, anywhere can apply for the challenge - whether for-profit start-ups or non-profit ventures. For more information on a variety of topics - from guidelines for for-profits, on intellectual property licensing, open source software and more - visit our FAQ.

Scalable Networked Community Radio Infrastructure for the Developing World

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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

Scalable Networked Community Radio Infrastructure for the Developing World: a loosely-integrated, content-agnostic “solution stack” for peer-oriented radio networks and commercial, community, or public stations.

2. How will your project use mobile tools and approaches? [2 sentences]

We propose to research and test (in Uganda) a highly scalable radio network and station infrastructure: our simplest station nodes will run off any locally available Android handset, which even on a voice-only network will be able to broadcast live regional or national news reports, live emergency alerts, as well as serve a variety of telephony interactions and programming such as interview shows, listener voting, listener fundraising, and simulcast town meetings.  More established community, commercial, and public stations will also be able to benefit from the system through its cloud-based listener telephony interaction and regional and national content-sharing.

3. Who will use it and why? [1 sentence]

More than 80% of African households are reported to have access to a working radio, and community radio is experiencing dramatic growth (about 1300% during the early 2000s) yet very few community stations benefit from network effects; broadcast has important community dynamics not available to phones alone, and radio bypasses many cost and literacy issues of other media; community radio works well with unique language groups — bridging radio with mobile and cloud telephony can substantially augment this critical community medium, both in terms of program interaction and information quality.

4. Please list three ways they would learn about your project.

1) We will partner with community radio stations that have existing catchment areas.
2) Our prototype “hyper-cheap” stations, built through community investment campaigns and a “barn raising,” would be launched through relationships with civic leaders and established civic media participatory techniques.
3) We are working with UNICEF, which offers a freeway-wide path to dissemination: see, for instance, the U-Report project that our partner team in Uganda launched, which is spreading rapidly both in Uganda and internationally.

5. What connections have you made, or will you make, with others [communities, organizations or networks] about your project? [2 sentences]

The PI’s academic program is commencing a two-year pedagogical partnership with UNICEF’s Tech4Dev team and UNICEF’s Uganda office; one of our core team is a well-known Ugandan journalist; we will similarly reach out to many more Ugandan journalists, meteorologists, and agronomists, who might contribute to national or regional shows; we have reached out to and had productive conversations with Bill Siemering of Developing Radio Partners and Pete Tridish of Prometheus Radio, and plan to reach out to Farm Radio International and Media for Development International; we are interacting with the local tech community in Kampala, including Computer Science faculty at Makerere University and Hive CoLab; we have had preliminary conversations with Plivo (cloud telephony infrastructure), Uganda Telecom, and Orange; there are several initiatives in adjacent spaces to this, including Freedom Fone and RapidSMS, but to date these require a server and are thus are out of range of small-scale stations — nonetheless we hope to share with them.

6. What part of the project have you already built? [1-2 sentences, feel free to include links]

We have a minimal functioning station prototype, and the PI will be traveling to Uganda for 7 weeks this Fall to initiate research and development.  The PI has led research groups that have prototyped and deployed many influential telephony systems (e.g. txtMob, wave bubble, SpeakEasy — the progenitor of Freedom Fone — and Voip Drupal).

7. What does success for your project look like? [1-2 sentences]

We intend to produce a turn-key system for hyper-cheap community stations and to deploy several of these (seven in this time period would be a success), and will deploy a working, scaleable (voice-only up through Internet) network protocol, but most importantly we will create standards and practices that would encourage many more actors to get involved in designing “swapable” layers of the “solution stack”.  The ultimate technical success will be creating tools and practices that  enable communities to fund and create their own stations, and to share and network with others, as well as a thriving free software and hardware community building stack elements inspired by or augmenting our initial designs.  The ultimate news success will be when existing and de novo news enterprises start to provide content for the networks of stations.

8. What resources do you need to succeed? [1-2 sentences]

We have some resources already in place: some travel costs, office and lab spaces in Kampala, and talented partners — UNICEF’s support cannot be overestimated.  We will need further travel funding for rural trips; programmer salaries (primarily in Uganda but also in the US) for Android, cloud, and web development; hardware start-up for iterative prototypes of the first handful of stations; modest infrastructure for contributing journalists; consulting fees; events for recruitment and information; Ugandan legal services for the prototype stations; and design/documentation services (in Uganda and US).

Additional details:
Please list who is on your team:

Chris Csikszentmihályi (Professor/technologist, USA), Jackee Batanda (Journalist, Uganda/SA), James Kandier Rotich (Engineer, Kenya/USA)

Expected number of months to complete project:


Estimated Project Cost:



Chris Csikszentmihályi



Email address:


Los Angeles



How did you learn about the contest?

I have a passing familiarity with the News Challenge.