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Making Radio future-proof

Radio is increasingly giving voice to various communities in India and evolving to remain significant.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2014 17:35 IST
Swati Kundra
Swati Kundra
Hindustan Times

There was a time when a radio was a must-have in every Indian house. A messenger to the masses, it gave us memorable moments and was the primary source of scoop. For some, listening to it was a morning ritual, and to some it was a companion. With the passage of time, it has, like many other mediums, undergone a sea change, and it continues to evolve in the digital age. But what remains unchanged is its essence.

It is a source of nostalgia for those who have grown old with it. “People think that radio is dead and that TV has taken over. I don’t agree with them, for it is irreplaceable,” said veteran All India Radio (AIR) broadcaster Jasdev Singh. “As long as you have a radio, you have the world in your pocket!” he added.

For Vijaya Laxmi Sinha, retired deputy director general of AIR, what radio meant to people back then is indescribable. “Radio, being the primary source of information for many, was listened to attentively, which in turn, put a lot more responsibility on part of broadcasters, as what was said would not go unnoticed,” she said.

Then and Now
Over the years, advancement of radio technology and diversified programming have dramatically impacted the audience. What else has changed?

“The audience hasn’t changed. It depends on how you present the content,” said Neelesh Misra, presenter of the popular Yaadon Ka Idiot Box, who revived the story-telling format on radio. However, he agrees that there is a great immediacy now and the greater calm that used to be on radio at one point of time has gone.

In the younger lot of radio jockeys, there are also some who believe that change is not bad, provided we adapt to it. “Commercialisation is a product of privatisation and one can’t avoid it,” said Radio Jockey Suroshree Dutta of Hit 95 FM, whose love for music drove her to radio. “Nothing has changed. Like earlier, radio is still fulfilling its task of creating awareness among people, but in an informal and friendly way. Sometimes, we do it through music, other times we do it through discussions,” she added.

“Transition expands the horizons. With the rapid emergence and increase in the number of community radio stations, it is empowering people even more,” said Rajiv Tikku, Director and Editor-in-chief, OneWorld South Asia. “Programming has improved over the years and caters to a wider section of the society now,” he added.

Agreeing to the fact that it is yet inaccessible to around a billion in the world, he said, “It is gradually reaching to even the remotest areas, and will continue to grow. The biggest achievement (of the medium) is that it has survived despite the emergence and existence of other innovative mediums.”

To celebrate World Radio Day, we look at some unique initiatives which cater to the needs of various communities across India.

1. Queer radio
In a bid to support queer culture, Anil Srivatsa, CEO and co-founder of the Radiowalla Network Pvt. Ltd, started a gay-centric community web radio channel called Q radio, a first-ever in India, giving voice to members of the LGBT community. The radio channel, which started operating from Bengaluru, went live in September last year.

“Our main philosophy is to create a platform for the special interest groups in society by programming content with diverse interests, thoughts and music,” said Srivatsa, who became popular among the gay community with his late night talk show “Between the sheets” on Meow 104.8 FM in 2009. The success of that show inspired him to launch Q radio. “If one show meant so much to the audience, then I am sure an entire channel dedicated to their perspectives will be a welcome development.”

Anil Srivatsa-Radiowala. (Photo by Kashif Masood/ Hindustan Times)

An ardent proponent of freedom of expression, he said, “Coming out is an all encompassing theme on the shows. It touches upon the topics like bullying, rejection, violence, harassment, among others. Ever since the verdict of Supreme Court upholding Section 377, discussion around it is part of the shows too.”

With the intent of assimilating the gay community and society at large, the channel in its infancy, struggles to rope in the right team on place. “We hope people will embrace it and become part of our team to take it to the next level,” he added. The channel has been partially funded by United Nations Development Program and Guild of Women Achievers, an NGO.

A platform for multiple radio channels, the group has so far been successful in setting up more than twenty channels, including one for the Armed Forces- Fauji Radio.

2. By women, for women
Mann Deshi is a micro-credit bank in Mhaswad village in Satara district of Maharashtra. An initiative of a foundation with the same name, it was set up with an objective of empowering local women by imparting entrepreneurial skills through its non-financial services. In a bid to reach out to women to make them aware about its programs, the organization, in 2009, came up with the idea of starting its own community radio station called Mann Deshi Tarang.

With a radius of 60 kilometer, the radio service is accessible to 110 villages and provides eight hours of local programming in Marathi everyday. “We help women expand their business by advertising their products, sharing inspirational success stories, and inform them about our vocational training programs and workshops,” said farmer turned social entrepreneur Chetna Gala Sinha, founder, Mann Deshi Foundation.

Chetna Gala Sinha. (HT photo)

“To keep them updated about our Mobile Business school, we announce the bus routes on radio, and also provide them with our phone numbers to enable them to share the community related problems with us,” she added. To make it more accessible and participatory, a speaker has also been installed at the village’s main bus stop, and in radio clubs in schools.

The radio team has been trained by CEMCA (Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia) through its workshops on content development and technical training. “We have also been trained in generating programs on health related issues as well as engaging topics such as debate and quiz competitions, enabling us to serve and benefit the whole community,” said Sinha.

3. Giving voice to the northeast

With Jnan Tarang, the north-east of India got its first ever community radio service. Operational from the Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University in Guwahati since November 2010, it was the dream project of Dr. Ankuran Dutta (33), a former lecturer at the university.

The university got the first nod from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 2009 for flagging off the radio service on an experimental basis for two days. Regular broadcasting started a year later in November. "Apart from educational issues, socio-cultural issues are also broadcasted to benefit the community too," said Dutta. The Jnan Tarang radio is accessible within 10 km of radius from the university campus.

Dr Ankuran Dutta listen radio outside his house balcony in New Delhi. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times)

Getting started proved challenging. "The licensing process is difficult since it involves many ministries. It took two years for our case," said Dutta.

According to him, services such as Jnan Tarang voice the opinion of the masses more efficiently as compared to government-run public broadcasting services and profit-oriented private FM channels. "As per the anthropological survey of India, the Seven Sister states of the north-east comprise of 375 ethnic groups. It is not possible for mainstream channels to cater to each of these. Hence, nothing can match the scale and wonder of community radio here."