So one fine day, AIR’s monopoly was broken, and hot, newbie mirchi-wale private radio stations made their grand entry, with it, completely revamping the way radio looked (er, sounded) – from a serious, informative channel into a lively, cool virtual hangout. Private players like Radio Mirchi (98.3 FM ‘semma hot machi’) blared popular Bollywood / Kollywood songs almost all day, providing more entertainment and less news. I, for one, didn’t complain ;-)
Radio, as an important channel of journalism, has undergone drastic changes over the decades.
Anyway, this post is not to glorify mainstream, commercial Radio. It is about the rather neglected cousin, or stepchild, ‘Community Radio’ (CR).
Have you heard of CR before? I hadn’t, until very recently.
Definitions are boring, but this is what Wiki has to say: ‘Community radio is a radio service offering a third model of radio broadcasting in addition to commercial and public broadcasting. Community stations serve geographic communities and communities of interest. They broadcast content that is popular and relevant to a local, specific audience but is often overlooked by commercial or mass-media broadcasters. Community radio stations are operated, owned, and influenced by the communities they serve. They are generally non-profit and provide a mechanism for enabling individuals, groups, and communities to tell their own stories, to share experiences and, in a media-rich world, to become creators and contributors of media.’
To put it very simply, Community Radio is a small-scale not-for-profit, local radio station, owned and run by the local community.
Our first impression is probably that of a poor, dusty village with a broken shack for a radio station, airing dull programming that appeals to farmers. Not entirely wrong, but not quite accurate either.
Since community radio is driven by the local community, they are often deprived of much funding and sponsorships. However, the locals who run the station are enthusiastic folk, who often know their job.
Perhaps to urbanites, issues like SOPA and PIPA are a big deal. At the grassroot level, there are much graver issues that need attention. These range from medical problems such as awareness about swine flu to social problems like mass migration. While commercial radio does not quite address these basic issues, Community radio stations focus on building awareness and seeking resolution too.
And no, CR stations do not just talk about pesticides. The range of programmes (note: they are mostly recorded by the villagers themselves) varies from folk-music, Bollywood songs, interviews with local people, healthcare issues, personal stories, and most interesting of all, local politics and elections!
Needless to say, community radio is not very commercialised, therefore, has less investment and infrastructure. Some of the most basic hurdles in the path of CR are:
Lack of advertisement/sponsorship/financial sustainability
Lack of sufficient technical training for interested villagers
Does not provide an viable financial livelihood alternative for villagers
Regressive belief that women are best suited for traditional roles like teaching or just building a family
Reduced listeners due to their busy lifestyle and lack of commercial programs
Restricted access to sponsors/corporations that can grant substantial funding
Limited number of reporters from the village and meagre payment - a catch-22 situation
The application process for a CR license - tedious, long drawn out (1 to 3 years) and almost entirely in English, rather than the local language
English again as the primary communication medium by external parties, rather than the local language
For several decades radio has been controlled and centralised, hardly catering to the specific needs of marginalised communities. This is changing, though not at the desired pace. I have recently had the privilege of interacting with a young and dynamic female entrepreneur, Ms.Saritha Thomas, one of the pioneers of CR in India. Her NGO, ‘People’s Power Collective’ is working towards establishing a CR station in Uttar Pradesh. PPC’s Visions statement says it all: ‘Our vision is to help isolated and/or economically disadvantaged communities set up and run participatory, not-for-profit, sustainable broadcast media, i.e. community radio, as a tool for social and cultural unification, self-development, empowerment and positive social change.’ CR is developing at a snail’s pace. However, with increased awareness and support, we should hopefully see a day when it is as popular as mainstream commercial radio stations, and greatly benefit local communities across India.
Photo credit: blog.indicorps.org