FM radio stations at three colleges spread hope, cheer and awareness in neighbourhoods across the city. Vasudha Venugopal tunes in

A few years ago, many city colleges were swept up on a wave of enthusiasm for community radio. While most of these campus initiatives flickered weakly and sputtered out, three are still burning bright. The students-run FM radio stations at Anna University, Loyola College and M.O.P. College have grown into thriving centres of education and entertainment for the neighbourhoods they were targeted at.

M.O.P FM

Run by the students of M.O.P Vaishnav College for Women, this community radio gives priority to issues plaguing underprivileged women. Women in the slums around the M.O.P. campus constitute its major target group. The radio station, launched in 2005, also deals with health care, entrepreneurship and related issues.

There are programmes that specifically target women domestic helpers and their children.

“These women are often unaware of the care they should take during pregnancy. It was only after one of the doctors in our shows asked a listener not to miss her regular scans that she went for a long-pending scan. Fortunately, she discovered she was going to have twins then,” said a volunteer.

Volunteers take the trouble to get off air and connect with these women in a more real manner.

“Our primary focus is to encourage these women into entrepreneurial roles,” said a student. So, while these women are trained over the radio in vocations such as beauty care, money management, catering and fashion designing by experts, they are engaged in interaction with college principal Nirmala Prasad in an attempt at helping them.

Interviewing achievers from the community is another key area. Said a student serving at M.O.P FM, “We interviewed this girl when she topped her school in Class X exams. Her parents were pavement dwellers. She came back for an interview when she again topped her school, this time in Class XII exams. Now she studies with us, in our college.”

LOYOLA FM

This community radio, started by the students of Loyola College in 2005, has 20 programmes designed to serve 23 slums in Nungambakkam and Chetpet. The effort to reach out to these slum residents in this manner has brought the issues plaguing them into sharper focus.

“Every student in Loyola has to spend at least 120 hours every year in social service activities, and the radio station enables them to reach people they have to assist,” says Rex Babu Jaysingh, project manager at Loyola FM.

Loyola FM is also a big-hearted promoter of efforts at creativity. It lends its air waves to music created by student bands.

ANNA FM

After grueling work involving three houses, domestic help Shanthi settles down to listen to Magalir Neram every day on Anna FM. This 32-year-old mother of two does not stop with lapping up advice from doctors and experts drawn from a variety of fields. She sometimes dons the cap of an active participant, sending in recipes or getting involved in other ways.

“We started with the women in the slums of Kannigapuram. With a view to making them feel comfortable, we encouraged participant only from women,” said Christie, who manages the station. A graduate of electronic media, Christie got in on the ground floor. From 2004, when Anna FM was launched, she has seen this community radio touch numerous lives. “For a short period, I worked with other organizations. I came back to Anna FM when I realized nothing else I do could be more fulfilling.” The possibility of sustained engagement with neighbourhoods appealed to Christie and eventually brought her back to the world of community radio. Christie says the reward of community radio is two-fold. “There is so much to learn from people. And there is so much more to give back to people.”

Anna FM is on air for nearly 11 hours a day and seeks to engage women from subaltern sections. Social awareness programmes are a hallmark of this station. And interestingly, the listeners are sometimes roped in as resource persons. As part of orientation drives, people in surrounding neighbourhoods are taken on a tour of the station. They are encouraged to go on air, after which they are allotted slots. In an effort to involve the community, radio sets have been distributed to people in nearby slum.

“Our programmes are largely related to health, hygiene, education, setting up an enterprise, developing new skills and yoga. Almost everything geared to developing people into better and happier citizens,” said Christie. “True empowerment is possible only when you impart skills to the community and let them take charge of their lives.”