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Once Upon A Time In Radio

Once Upon A Time In Radio

March 04, 2012

While commercial radio is the pulse of the nation, the much neglected Community Radio struggles to find its feet.

Not so long ago, we used to wake up to the sound of Vividh Bharati. In those days, radio was a matter of much importance. In the pre-NDTV days (and most definitely, pre ipad/iphone days), we depended a great deal on All India Radio (AIR) to tell us what was going on in the country. Why, they even had recordings by common people like me! I remember the time I had an opportunity to read a wee little story on AIR about 20 years ago. While I was excited about the little stipend, the thrill of recording my programme was unimaginable.

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


  • Writerzblock
    06.03.12 06:52 PM
    @ Saritha,

    An honour to know you, and our best wishes for your initiative. Your blog provided substantial insight into the challenges faced by CR, so thank you for that.

    I second 'DD', in wishing PPC could garner enough (and more) funds quickly and get started in a big way!!
  • Saritha
    06.03.12 03:30 PM
    Thank you Writerzblock aka Pallavi and thank you DD!
    Building awareness of Community Radio in the current Indian context on influential and well networked platforms like these, is the need of the hour.
    Thank you writerzblock for the mention on us
    We are indeed grateful!

    If any of your readers would like to get involved with our work or help us with fundraising, we'd be only too pleased to hear from them! All our details are on our website. Many thanks...
  • Writerzblock
    06.03.12 02:19 AM
    @ DD:
    Wow, that is a small world!!! I too would love to see an initiative like PPC achieve a lot of success. Imagine the potential benefit to an audience that truly needs it!!! Thank you, DD.
  • Dd
    06.03.12 01:26 AM
    I've had the special privilege of knowing Saritha Thomas for quite a few years now. She is, how would you say it on CR, my chaddi buddy! If I could wave a magic wand and get together enough funds to fund PPC, I would do so in a heartbeat. Great article Pallavi.
  • Writerzblock
    04.03.12 11:00 PM
    @ Harry,
    Forget about sleep, I had butterflies in my tummy!!! And even with all the practise and preps, I still missed a word in between!!! Hola, by 'wee' story I meant a 'little' story. What were you thinking?!!!! :-(
  • Writerzblock
    04.03.12 10:56 PM
    @ Satish:
    Thank you so much. That is very kind of you.

    @ Harry:
    I'd never think you were being nasty! Like you said, chances are pretty slim, but I don't think it is Nil.

    Check out this link, Harry. It talks about farmers using Facebook (not Farmville, btw ;-)) to discuss strategy and prices. So perhaps if the entry barriers weren't so high, they would also use radio the same way?!
    04.03.12 10:55 PM
    @ Pallavi

    I forgot to ask you, were you as excited as a kid going to disneyland? when you had an opportunity to read a wee story on AIR that you couldn't sleep a night before. :) I'm laughing at your expense Pllavi, :) while typing this post, and I think I will soon get the beating by rolling pin from the Mrs if I don't stop. :)

    04.03.12 10:25 PM
    Hi Pallavi

    Would you not agree with me, that the chance of any CR (comunity radio) to be successful as any main stream Radio like AIR, Is as good as nill. I got better chance of going to moon on hot air. :) You said it in your article, lack of funds and know how are the biggest killer in any media business.

    I think this medium is only good for one thing, giggle, but you can't take it seriously. When I say this I'm not being nasty, only frank.

  • satish
    04.03.12 06:17 AM
    Excellent post. I was not aware of this platform despite being associated with 'Media'. There are plenty of issues --and not just Krishi Darshan' types---which can benefit from, and in turn support, this platform. One of the rare posts I will share on FB:)

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