Voice of Firestone @ 3…is there anything more to offer?

Communication is the exchange of information between people; e.g. by means of speaking, writing, or using a common system of signs or behavior. Communication, however, brings reformation. But negative or wrong information brings deformation. The mere silence of guns does not mean a country is at peace.

To be at peace, citizens should be able to freely express themselves and follow their convictions within the confines of the law. Where democracy thrives, those who lead should be accountable to the masses with clear checks and balances. To some extent, the Liberian media and citizenry have come to enjoy some leverage since the “Iron Lady” came to power. Talk-shows are inundated with calls; newspapers are critical of government and its activities, et al. Invariably, some Liberians have gone over-board to miss use freedom of speech.

They say anything (whether factual or not) and walk with impunity. My grandfather once said, “When the lion is in its den, even the cockroach will come out and boast”. Probably the Almighty might not allow the Red Cow to come back since it went on an expedition. Here we are in this new age and dispensation where communication is taking a different trend. The Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR) currently boasts of over 50 community radio stations across Liberia; least to talk about the deluge of radio stations in Monrovia alone.

Many politicians see the opening of radio stations and newspapers as a fallback plan to lash at their opponents when they feel intimidated. No marketing strategy, no educational programs…music, music and more music. No wonder journalists are underpaid in this country. The entire station budget is in someone’s pocket.

However, the Voice of Firestone is celebrating three years of existence since February 26, 2010. The station is owned and operated by the Management of Firestone; Liberia’s largest natural rubber company. Is there anything different she has to offer? The history of broadcasting in Liberia begins and ends with Firestone.

Are you surprised? Don’t prejudice, give me a break and let me explain before you pass a verdict. It may interest you to know that broadcasting in Liberia started 1928 by Harvey S. Firestone. Who is Harvey S. Firestone? He was an American industrialist. Harvey Samuel Firestone (1868 – 1938) was born in Columbiana County, Ohio. At the age of 27, he became president of the Firestone Rubber Company in Chicago, with which he remained associated for four years. Then in 1900, with 17 workers, he formed the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. He was company president, 1903 – 1932, and board chai, 1932 – 35.

When Harvey S. Firestone starting broadcasting in 1928, the station started with request and news programs. Why? Harvey wanted to communicate with his workers. However, Firestone abandoned the radio project due to economic reasons; the company primary focus was production of rubber.

Nevertheless, from 1944 – 1954, Colonel John B. West because of his interest in broadcasting started a station called Liberia Broadcasting Service (ELRS). In 1954, Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) was established by a group of American evangelist to help evangelize and promote programs and policies of government. ELWA began an organ know as Sudan Interior Mission. This group was instrumental in the establishment of radio, which is today known as ELWA Radio.1963 – 1964 ELBC started operation. G. Henry Andrews was its 1st Managing Director. The station started in the Pavilion. In 1979, ELBC was moved to Paynesville. A static free multi-million station was started as an extension of the station to mark the hosting of the historic 1979 OUA Conference in Liberia. So, that’s a brief synopsis of the Liberian media.
Despite Harvey S. Firestone’s closure of the first radio station due to economic reasons, the history of broadcasting dawns and dusks with Firestone’s three year old baby – the Voice of Firestone FM 89.5. The Voice of Firestone, since its establishment, offers 100% free services to its workers and Liberians who don’t work for the company. At Voice of Firestone, this is where free really means free…free announcement, free event coverage, free request, free outside broadcast…just 100% free radio. The station boasts of state-of-the-art equipment. According to recent statistics, only three stations, including Voice of Firestone, have state-of-the-art equipment; namely, UNMIL Radio and State Radio, ELBC. Like UNMIL, the station now runs 24 hours around the clock. Voice of Firestone (VOF) produces all sorts of fascinating programs including sports, health, religion, entertainment, agriculture, business and economy, among others. The VOF partners with the Voice of America in relaying some of her programs.

According to VOF’s Broadcasting Superintendent and Engineer, Mr. Bortfeldt Lloyd, before the end of March the station is going to broadcast to over ten (10) counties in Liberia. As part of that initiative, the station now has two 1000 watts transmitters plus additional state-of-the-art equipment. Based upon its audience request to include some of BBC programs like News Day, et al, the Voice of Firestone signed an official Memorandum of Understand (MOU) with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to relay some of its programs. On Monday, February 18, 2013, the Voice of Firestone officially launched the relaying of its BBC programs.

But why is Firestone Natural Rubber Company doing all this? Is it to improve its image and public relations arm? Well, that’s an intellectual debate. But I think it goes beyond PR and improving her image. Firestone offers free medical services to thousands of Liberians through her Children Surgery Program yearly; she helps with the construction of feeder roads to communities in need; for many years she provided constant electricity to the Roberts International Airport; Firestone pays the tuition of many Liberians from primary to college through her scholarship program; she supports institution with their feeding programs and braces the College of Agriculture at the UL with an annual grant; its workers benefit from free housing and medical services; employees financial future is secured through their pension scheme; Firestone gives building contracts to local Liberian contractors to build new housing for her employees, among other. So, like I said, the operation of the Voice of Firestone goes beyond mere public relations. The Management of Firestone got so much to boast of.

As a matter of fact, the workers of Firestone have their own radio station – Stone FM. This is how transparent the exchange of views and ideas is. Firestone employees and Liberians have the privilege to use the Voice of Firestone 100% free of charge. So, gatekeepers at VOF will not restrict what a worker wants to say when he has his own station that covers the entire concession and beyond. Like the BBC, you can’t suppress a power question.
 
Interestingly, my nephews, cousins and brothers in my little village - Gbanju, Salayea District, Lofa County –can’t wait to use the services of the Voice of Firestone when it starts broadcasting to more than ten (10) counties in Liberia before the end of March. Voice of Firestone is where free really means free….free announcement, free event coverage, free outside broadcast. VOF at three…is there anything more to offer? Am sure there’s lot more to expect from Firestone radio. The history of broadcasting starts and ends with Firestone. As part of the celebration, the VOF held an indoor program on Friday March 1, and concluded with a thanksgiving service at the Harbel Community Church on Sunday, March 3, 2013. I hope during your fifth anniversary, the Voice of Firestone can boast of a vibrant television station. Offering free services to its workers and Liberia…is just many more reason to believe that Firestone cares! Happy Anniversary and kudos to the Voice of Firestone!!

About the Writer
The writer is a youth activist and practicing journalist based in Margibi County. He’s also a graduate of the Department of Communication and Political Science from the University of Liberia

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