​​Radio Triumphs Over Technological Shifts

The death knell of radio is being sounded — first was television and now the wave of digital offerings — but radio continues to find new ways to be relevant to people's everyday lives.

Venu AroraVenu Arora   13 Feb 2023 6:05 AM GMT

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​​Radio Triumphs Over Technological Shifts

Community members learn to record and edit at a new upcoming radio station in Uttar Pradesh. All photos by Venu Arora.

There’s YouTube and InstaReels, never mind old fashioned TV. WhatsApp chat groups bombard us with shared media too.

Today Indians are inundated with video and text options – a dizzying array of ways to be informed and entertained.

And yet more and more people are listening to radio, particularly in Tier II and Tier III cities, according to a survey conducted by the consumer insights firm Toluna.

This is no surprise to those of us who have been working with community radio (CR) for over two decades.

Also Read: Community radio helps people in remote areas in Uttarakhand and the Nilgiris speak up and be heard

In the early 2000s when the Supreme Court declared India’s airwaves to be public property, many advocacy groups, including ours called Ideosync Media Combine, worked with communities to articulate the need for a policy that enabled local radio licences to become available to civil society.

There are over 350 Community Radio stations across India many of which are managed and governed by community members.

“There’s hardly any other media where 80% of the content comes through the direct participation of the community. Community radio Waqt Ki Awaaz is one such radio station where every program that is broadcast has an element of community participation,” said Hari Pandey, a community reporter at Waqt Ki Awaaz.

Arti Bisht records local women at the beginning of her radio journey. Bisht is a popular and accomplished reporter at Henval Vani and manages the radio station now.

Hari has worked with the local Community Radio for over a decade. He comes from a village quite close to the CR station and was first a regular listener and then trained to become a broadcaster at the station.

It is crucial to note that in rural India 34.1per cent women and 18.5 per cent men are faced with illiteracy. In times when crucial information regarding health, economy, banking, and infrastructure is disseminated through the internet it is also important to note that 75.4 per cent women and 51.3 per cent men in rural areas have never used the internet. In urban areas, 48.2 per cent of women and 27.5 per cent of men have never used the internet. In this scenario, an oral medium that broadcasts in local dialects is like a lifeline.

Making India inclusive

Several Community Radio stations have started programmes that act as a window into the online world for the communities. Innovative broadcast practices are used to bring information and knowledge that is available on the internet in local languages and dialects, thus helping their listeners overcome the challenges of the digital divide that continues to persist in India.

Community Radio stations are also adapting innovative ways to showcase their participatory media creation practices by adapting internet streaming audio and social media live video cast of the studio broadcast process, community engagement and field recording sessions undertaken by community radio reporters. “Our job is to reach every listener and our community radio strives to do that irrespective of the technologies,” said Arti from Henval Vani.

Also Read: Remembering Gurmeet Bawa: An epitome of Punjabiyat

India has forever been a country of oral traditions. While India has 22 separate official languages, it is home to a total of 121 languages and 270 mother tongues. This raises the question of regional diversity on the internet. Our oral histories run deep and hold the magic of traditional knowledge systems, cultural memories and folklore.

“At Alfaz-e-Mewat we engage with women, especially farm labourers who have never received any attention in the community for the work they do and the knowledge they hold. And the other thing we do is restore and share the dying Mirasi folk art,” said Pooja Murada from Alfaz e Mewat.

A feminist medium

Radio enables women to speak their truth to the powers that be. As an audio medium, it keeps their identities safe if so required, empowering them by amplifying their voices, narratives and experiences.

Radio has always been a modern medium – enabling multitasking. People listen to the radio while doing other things – cooking, farming, driving, and working.

The local CR broadcasting in the local dialects with the voices of the local people becomes a daily connection for the community unto itself. And this connection empowers and enables the local citizen, giving her agency.

“Our Community Radio is the voice of our local people. My people experience a sense of freedom when they call into our radio and are able to express themselves and voice their opinions,” Arti Bisht from Henval Vani told me with much pride. “Anyone from our community can join our Radio station and learn to become a broadcaster,” she said.

Also Read: A community radio station wins accolades for bridging digital divide in the COVID19 pandemic

As we commemorate World Radio Day, while we are proud that radio is continuing to play a critical role in the lives of communities, let us also remember that we might be among the only democracies in the world where news is not allowed on radio.

A medium of such importance in the life of local people must be strengthened with the rights that every independent media deserve in a free and democratic country.

As we listen in to local voices in local dialects this radio day, let us hold dear the dream of a community radio that realises its full potential as a free local media that is able to hold those in power to account like any independent media should be able to, fearlessly broadcasting local news and views apart from the beautiful local songs, music and information on health and education, work and livelihood that they already do.

Venu Arora is a communication for social change professional, researcher, trainer, and film-maker with 20 years in the sector. She is co-founder of Ideosync Media Combine, a communication for social change organisation based in the NCR of Delhi. The article has been provided by Village Square. Views are personal.

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