By Tadrash Shah:
Hearing the term radio, which today is too generic in the interest of scientific and technological advancements, points to the window of a wide electromagnetic spectrum to engineers and physicists and may point towards the X-Ray and Doppler studies for medical enthusiasts. But in this case, we must capture the informal meaning that seeks to serve all. Nobody can claim either the ignorance of or access to the radio tuner and in case you find someone who does, you better enquire about his planet of origin.
We have all been accessing the radio for decades now, be it in form of a simple tuner to the most sophisticated ones installed in our houses and offices. I don’t think the world would have seen so much evolution in any medium of communication saving the computer. Only a few decades ago, people had valve radios in their homes which they used to switch on at least half an hour before the program of their interest was about to go on air and now we see cars zooming to the rhythm of the radio. Radio has its own charm and more so because it adds this dynamism to life. It takes to the unanticipated territories of music with each new song played unlike our MP3 and YouTube playlists which play music as per our orders.
We have been seeing a wide variety of radio channels. Commercial ones are the most popular in the urban setup but we must not disremember or disregard the influence that community radio has. Community radio, across the globe, has stood as testimony to service, community-mindedness, access and participation of the listener. They have been most effective when it comes to engaging the listener. What else can be more engaging than a closed geographical region where people themselves generate more than fifty percent of the programmes locally to be called a community radio? Commercial radio cannot possibly serve the local interest of any region, despite its several efforts.
Community radios came into formal existence in February 1995 when the Supreme Court of India granted permission to such start-ups with the wonderful words — ‘Airwaves are public property’. Since then, these have been the first elements for information evolution though they have contributed and backed much more agendas than just information dissemination. Having established that, allow me look into various aspects of the same:
Community radio keeps the community, be it the student community in campus based community radios or a rural community in a region based community radio, tightly woven together. It is because there are just a handful of stakeholders; they can use these radios in celebrating success and participating in the pains of one and all. Somebody’s obituary can reach the community at once and everyone can send in their condolences and then, the extraordinary success of a member of a community gets recognized among peers. The latter mention is deliberate because peer recognition is more important than national or international ones. We always want to do what the neighbours did, and at times wish to do it better. In that sense, community radio can ignite healthy competitiveness too. One, who is recognized on such a platform, has his feeling of belongingness in the community nourished. Moreover, any local talent can be featured on these platforms too thus giving him the first sense of some accomplishment. Such an activity can only help his talent grow and embark heights. Local interests and hobbies can also be nurtured on the radio; for example people in Saurashtra in Gujarat listen to Daayro with a lot of interest while it is not as prevalent in other parts of Gujarat. This is a good example of a community radio program. In all these ways, community radio can serve the principles of individual and collective development, uplifting talent, catering community interests, preserving latent art forms of communities and most importantly all of this happens usually without material benefits.
As already noted, the cultural heritage of a community can be always preserved, similarly, the traditional wisdom and time-honoured countenances can also be preserved. But yes, it is equally important for the caretakers of such radio platforms to make sure that the community listeners are not confounded in old-fashioned ways of living only, the radio must also serve as gateway to link them to the latest happenings and access to newer and better practices. The balance must be struck else the listeners may remain in third-world generations. The culture must be preserved with letting in the new and improved. Maintaining this balance has been difficult, not to mention the nitty-gritties of it, and we have seen that polarization on either sides kills the innate instincts. Local radio is the best way to advertise the local cottage industries and handicrafts, thereby preserving them in their congenial environment.
I have seen the dimensions of community radio, but I would not end at that. There are some suggestions I would like to make. These radios are potent enough to serve the widest spectra of communities like colleges, villages, religious communities, etc with the first two being the most important. Though these channels may seem less glamorous when compared to their commercial counterparts, it must be understood that peer recognition drives the amateur talent to excellence. I stand by the recommendation that was made by the UNESCO Chair on Community media that these radios must be set up in more numbers for the deprived areas. Having explored the benefits on these, I would say that this step is imperative for a community upheaval. Lastly, with the ubiquity of the use of cell phones, if these radio channels can be coupled with mobile telephony, the best results of community development could be reached. Amen!