Gone are the days, when select media were available for the purpose of infotainment: the ear tuned-in to the radio, the much awaited serial on a sparsely programmed television set and the “one film release” eagerly awaited could pretty much sum up the avenues. These channels of entertainment as well as information have since multiplied. Yet the once popular media have not ceased to exist. Talking of the radio, it still plays an important role ~ whether commercial or otherwise. The former as a platform for escapism, especially during traffic jams, and the latter ~ an emerging vital catalyst, more so when we talk about the concept of a community radio.

People’s medium

So, what is meant by this term “community radio”? Well, it should be pretty simple: a radio for the community. According to Wikipedia, Community Radio, or CR, is a radio service offering a third model of broadcasting in addition to commercial and public broadcasting. These stations broadcast content that is popular and relevant to a local, specific audience. The interesting aspect to note is the rising popularity of this model.

The “why?” to this statement lies in its definition. This model has changed and continues to change many lives. According to Pooja O Murada, director, communications, Sehgal Foundation, the relevance of the community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat (Voices of Mewat) FM 107.8, which provides a platform for local community voices in Mewat district, Haryana, “Radio continues to be the medium of the masses; it can be accessed anywhere at a very low cost.

In fact, this model holds special attention for its localised nature, accessibility and affordability. The impact of this medium is also commendable.” What about the presenters? Do they also experience life-changing experiences? Murada spoke of a case: “Fakat, one of the radio reporters, has been involved in making gender-related programmes for adolescents, for which he underwent relevant training too. This journey changed his outlook towards his wife significantly.

The programme, Full on Nikki, comes across as an enabler to facilitate conversations around issues pertaining to adolescence and build a conducive environment for dialogue and hence understanding.” S K Prasad, joint director, Media and Capacity Building Cell, NIOS Radio Vahini FM 91.2 spoke about the winner of a programme, Mat evam Matdaan, kare Loktantra Nirman, which was conducted in collaboration with the Election Commission of India, wherein one of the winners of the quiz, Shailendra Tomar, promised to mentor the youngsters of his family to enrol for their voting card.

The same was the case with Hitanshi Sachdev, another winner. She is training to be a teacher and shared information on voting practices actively with her students. In yet another example, a programme on substance abuse had a number of listeners pledge to quit smoking. Programmes on mediation, yoga, cleanliness, environment education and many more have changed the life of listeners. Professor Ashok Singh Sunhal, Station Director, Alwar ki Awaz, 90.8 Mhz, agreeed with Murada saying, “The Radio Mathematics Project, supported by the Union government’s Department of Science and Technology, held for students from Classes VIII to XII, enabled the students in remote villages to feel and develop the scientific temper, enabling the reduction of fear for the subject.

Besides this, improvement of communication skills helped in enhanced performance in examinations, including the State School Board Examinations. What was interesting was that the presenters became aware of the fact that ‘abstractness’ in a subject like mathematics can be reduced by relating the subject with real life examples ~ an important didactic tool, which could also help in their respective teaching processes ~ on a personal or professional level.”

Overcoming challenges

Though the journey is exciting and creative, the path is paved with challenges. “Sustainability of content and people, besides financial and technical aspects is crucial,” explained Murada. “Participatory programmes and community engagement on advisory and management levels are vital for the acceptance of the station by the community, for which it is, actually meant for.”

According to Prasad, difficulty to find community members, who can conduct need-based programmes, poor response to volunteering, lack of trained media personnel and community partnership, along with a proper research on the needs of people, are some challenges faced.

Sunhal added, “The application forms are easy to fill, but without the expectations of the ministry from the proposed station, the task becomes a bit difficult. In fact, the workshops organised by the government, in this connection, bring clarity to applicants. Funding is another challenge. NGO applicants find the quantum of funding required to start a community radio station high, although now even the government supports in this regard.

Licensing takes a lot of time as multiple clearances need to be taken. Infrastructural, technical and running costs are high.

Sharing knowledge

Braham Prakash, Noida Lok Manch, who has been an integral part of many CRS (Community Radio Stations) setting-up processes, explained, “Sharing of knowledge with others is vital. This is important because different individuals have expertise in different areas, which when communicated can be of great use to people. The station should serve as a platform for this exchange. It is also to be noted that sharing knowledge is an excellent medium to learn; hence, a symbiotic relationship emerges, resulting as a win-win for all.

Also, the settingup of a community radio station should, ideally, be triggered by an inherent demand from the community. Involving people is very important. Anybody can get connected. Of course, it should help make the society a better place.” On the challenges, he added, “In remote villages, electricity is a problem. Radio stations cannot function, which is why programmes cannot be aired on time. Though gensets, inverters or solar cells are solutions provided, these are not always functional or sometimes absent due to financial challenges.

Another important aspect is that the community radio station is not a commercial venture. An important challenge is the sustenance of daily expenses, salaries, infrastructure expenses ~ the list goes on. Government ad campaigns do not really suffice.

Installation of radio towers and radio waves leads to protests by the local community. Vendors or suppliers are not easily available.The list can go on.”

However, the feeling of making a difference is overwhelming, especially with the involvement of the people. “The community member is at the centre of the change-enabling medium, which acts as a platform to bridge the gap between community members and government machinery. It was the power to identify talents too, besides reviving and preserving folklore, local culture and traditions,” said Murada, explaining the power of the people and their role in contributing to this important medium. Sunhal added that people not only speak about problems but generate food for thought and/or solutions for these challenges.

“Community radio is also an important medium for generation of employment and better opportunities. The impact of the radio station was such that girls, who had dropped out of schools and colleges, resumed their education and embarked on good careers! Besides, listening to people from your community addressing problems and carvingout solutions, in a language you understand, has a tremendous impact, as it is a medium of the people, by the people and for the people. Hence, sustainability of this important medium is priority,” concluded Braham Prakash.

Prasad had some very handy tips: Provide topics on which community-based programmes can be made, ensure effective participation, provide feedback and spread the word on CRS among people. Though challenges are galore, who says the going is not strong? Community radio is an inspiration for many, a dream and a reality, whichever way one looks at it.

Waves of change

The Alfaz-e- Mewat radio station in Nuh district of Haryana, was established byThe Sehgal Foundation. The FM 107.8 had the objective of providing a media platform for local community voices, since the most essential participants in the development work, at grass root levels, are these very local voices.

A whole range of issues like government policies, programmes, services, entitlements, agriculture-related information and water conservation initiatives are communicated, discussed and debated upon. It is interesting to discover the journey of some of the team members. There’s Sohrab Khan, whose talent for interviewing and interacting with people were honed by the foundation, so much so that talking from the heart is something people easily do with him, resulting in a deep connect with his listeners ~ his extended family.

For Khan, this journey with the radio station, has been a symbiotic one. He not only learnt the nuances of broadcasting, but experienced life-changing moments, which he had never imagined. Bhagwan Devi, from the Bhadas village in Mewat, sums her experience when she said, “I didn’t know how to express what I felt. Like men, I also have opinions, but they hardly take the shape of words. I felt sceptical about the community broadcasters’ training conducted by the foundation, but after attending the sessions, I felt I can talk too.”

Shakir Hussain remembered the agony of speaking in front of people and how radio changed all that. “I learnt to unlearn and relearn. That’s what the training at the foundation taught me. Even today, I share knowledge and gain knowledge from every person and every event,” said Hussain with a smile. Pooja Murada, director, communications, Sehgal Foundation, who started the community radio station Alfaze- Mewat, said, “Media tools like a community radio bring a boon to the community, which has very low penetration of the mainstream media.

Of the thousands of calls the station has received from listeners, nearly 20 per cent are from women and that number is growing.”