Voxbox in all its ugly baby glory as a prototype

Voxbox. Or so we are calling it now. It started as a sketch on the back of a scrap piece of paper and it’s now a fully functioning prototype complete with an ugly case, wires sticking out every where (haven’t tried to board a plane with it yet) and a team of passionate developers programming the heck out of its guts (a raspberry pi).

Voxbox is a culmination of the things I especially love about radio: listener interactivity over the phone. When I first started radio in 1991 at CFRU 93.3 at the University of Guelph — I had a late night shift: 10pm-midnight Friday nights. A highlight for me, besides going through an amazing punk rock vinyl collection with weathered spines in the vaults of the station’s record room, was to watch the old black rotary phone pulsate with light when a new call was coming in. “People are listening — and their calling!”. With time we got better at our craft and more calls would come. I loved entertaining our callers and subsequently our listeners with various role plays. We had serial callers. One guy would call each week to update us on the status of his cat on the other side of the room which he would announce to the world (well Guelph at least. Well Guelph that was listening to campus radio at 11pm on a friday) that his cat was talking to him.

CFRU on air phone looked something like this

Fast forward 23 years and I am still working and loving radio. I have now built a box with a team of colleagues: Damjan Janevski — our Macedonian VOIP and telephony engineer extraordinare, Johannes Hilden reluctant UX/UI savant from Sweden and Geofrey Ernest — our Tanzanian gifted backend engineer and Golang enthusiast.

The box takes calls over sim cards, is navigated using a browser, is powered by a raspberry pi and does lots more. But perhaps thats a post for next time.

The reason I embarked on this was because of a challenge — the chairman of our board at Farm Radio — Doug Ward said what can you build to impact radio stations in Africa? And so we went for it. It was fun and not about results but more about — can we build it?

It felt great to sketch it and slowly bring it into being with a group of other people. And so far — I think it’s already positively affected radio stations and their listeners here in Arusha Tanzania and I hope and plan that it will spread across Africa and then the world!

Voxbox in the studio at Radio Mambo Jambo in Arusha, Tanzania
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