Tune into 90.4 FM to get a slice of community news

Thayamma’s phone beeps out an alarm and she announces to her co-workers on a coconut farm 80 km from Madurai on the Tiruchi Highway: “Today, namma (our) radio will air my song ‘ele ele …’ Those around her instantly tune into Kottampatti’s community radio ‘Vayalaga Vanoli’. The village folks have been doing so for the past 30 months.

The ‘Namma radio’ is handled by Madurai District Tank Farmers Federation (MDTFF).

“Vayalaga Vanoli FM 90.4 is the first community radio station established and managed by a people institution called farmers federation,” says B. Muthukumaraswamy, the station master.

Community radio is a third model of radio broadcasting in addition to commercial and public broadcasting.

“While the commercial stations cater to music fans especially film songs, this not-for-profit venture fills the void in local programming that commercial radio has left,” he adds.

In 2006, Indian Government allowed non-governmental organisations and educational institutions to run community radio stations.

MDTFF applied for license and got the sanction in 2011 with 90.4 MHz as its frequency. The frequency distance is 15 km radius. Vayalaga Vanoli caters to farmers of 27 panchayats which include 100 villages.

To what extent the community radio caters to the local flavour?

“Every programme,” says Muthukumaraswamy,“ is unique and need-based.” “RJs and members of information kiosks visit every village and enquire about their needs. Farmers choose what they want. It could be anything from tips on coconut, oil seeds and horticulture crops to cattle and poultry- related issues. We arrange live programmes accordingly,” he adds.

Muthukumaraswamy says Vayalaga Vanoli aims at using information and communication as a tool for development besides building local knowledge using local expertise.

“There are old farmers who know traditional methods of agriculture. We make them speak and share their knowledge through FM,” says Sundarapandian, a radio jockey (RJ) and programme coordinator.

The team has plans to air special programmes for students as many of them opt for commerce stream in under-graduation. Recently, there were broadcasts on examination tips and interview with top scorers in board exams.

The FM reaches 5,000 farmers and has a packed bulletin containing information on health, education, social affairs, cultural and music programmes details of vaccination programmes, free treatment centres, employment opportunities. Births and deaths, council notices and agri tips are also aired.

From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., Vayalaga Vanoli entertains villagers with devotional songs and agriculture-related tips. Between 10 a.m. and 12 noon, community radio airs non-news information, the day’s weather report , mobile offers, local employment information, birthday wishes and special events. Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. programmes titled uluthundu valvom, penmaiyai potruvom, udal nalam, oli vali kalvi are broadcasted.

The team

Vayalaga Vanoli functions with four male and two female RJs. Of them four report from the field while two are studio-confined for broadcasting the programmes. The information kiosk also takes the responsibility of community resource identification, programme recording and phone-in live programmes.

“In places where there are no roads, radio is the cheapest and easiest way to reach the people,” says V. Amutha Rani, RJ and adds, “anyone who can speak can be on the radio, so virtually everyone in the community can take part.”

“Community radio provides a space for community participation and a platform for dialogue and debate,” says her colleagure B. Tamil Selvi.

For farmers by farmers

MDTFF was promoted with a focus on sustaining tank-based agriculture by organising farmers in groups referred to as vayalagam. It covers Kottampatti, Kallupatti, Thirumanagalam and Sedapatti blocks of Madurai district.

Since 1992, in Kottampatti block the farmers are covered under the Vayalagams mainly to undertake water conservation activities to improve agriculture. Currently there are 159 vayalagams with 4,500 farming families.

The federation has an executive committee with 15 experienced farmers who are members of the federation. They meet once a month to discuss and review the radio programmes.

“Radio is being put to a substantial use and it seems more and more communities want their voices to be heard,” says Nivas.

“Community radio is the greatest tool of education and information we could have for the people. It follows people wherever they go without disturbing them unlike television,” says Muthukumaraswamy.

But Anusuya of Vairavanpatti has a reason to vote for community radios. She says, “It is interesting to listen to the folk songs sung by paatis and thaathaas “