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India’s first community radio still makes the right connect

Leading lights H. Narsamma and N. Narsamma who run the community radio station at Machnoor Village in Sangareddy district of Telangana.  

Musligari Nagamani, a farmer, is listening to the radio sitting a few inches away from her as she cooks dinner on firewood in her tiled-roof house. The broadcast in Telugu is peppered with local colloquialisms and slang. This is how evenings are spent in most houses in Pastapur, a village in the Jarasangam mandal of the Sangareddy district, ever since the very popular Sangam Radio, the first community radio in India, was launched in 2008 after decade-long efforts to get the license for it.

Off the main road of Zaheerabad, it takes 10 kilometres down a right turn to reach the radio station, which cannot be seen from the road since it is surrounded by trees. The tower that broadcasts eagerly awaited transmissions for two hours every evening sticks out from over them.

“We relax and listen to the radio while preparing dinner. We hear our language in our way of speaking. It makes me feel like one of our neighbours is talking to us about different things,” says Nagamani who, like her mother M. Ratnamma, prefers to listen to the radio than sit in front of the TV.

“Villagers feel happy when they hear their voice on the radio in the form of songs or discussions. They will also share this joyfully with their neighbours. The song the community radio plays depends on the season, whether it time to plough, plant seeds, irrigate or harvest. The songs recall our tiring work at the field in the morning,” says Begari Sammamma of the village of Bidakanne. Over the years, Sangam has collected of about 2,500 songs sung by members of the community, often with instrumental accompaniment. Apart from songs, programmes can feature farming practices, how to observe festivals, birthday wishes and health tips.

Interactive mode

The last half hour is allotted for listeners who want to call broadcasters and share their views with them. For example, missing cattle are reported and traced with the help of listeners. “The owners contact the radio to thank the listeners,” she added.

Sangam reaches about 150 villages in Jarasangam, Zaheerabad and Raikod, and parts of Kohir and Nyalkal, everyday from 7 p.m. to 9. p.m. Each village has a population of between 600 to 1,200 people. Transmission has never been disrupted in the last eight years, except on four days due to a short circuit.

Empowering facilitator

The Pastapur-based Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO working on issues related to farmers, sees community radio as a facilitator for two-way communication, as opposed to the one way of conventional media.

As early as 1999, Sangam had started narrow-casting, in which recordings made on a tape (some of their early recordings are still in this format) is broadcast for a limited audience in a place where the community can gather. DDS also established an FM radio station, a transmission tower and recording facilities, with the support of UNESCO, in the same year. Thereafter, it waited for permission from the government, which took nine years to arrive.

P.V. Satheesh, director, DDS, recalls, “While it used to cost about ₹5 crore to establish an FM radio station at that time, we were able to do it with only ₹20 lakh. Our transmission radius is about 30 kilometres, whereas for the All India Radio, it is 100 kilometres.”

Hyderabad Narsamma and Nalugindla Narasamma, the two Dalit women (another first) behind the Sangam radio broadcasts, are educated up to Class X. By day, they are farmers working in the fields, by night, they turn broadcasters.

The radio runs with about eight reporters — three men and five women, none of whom have yet completed Class X at school. All staff are on the rolls of the DDS.

Hyderabad Narsamma studied at the Pachasala, a school run by the DDS, where Mr. Satheesh would call her 'General' for her leadership and organisation skills, a sobriquet that stuck — most people know her as General Narasamma instead of Hyderabad Narasamma.

Village visits

“When we plan to visit a village, it will be in such a way that we spend almost the entire day meeting different sections of the people and recording their observations on various issues. If we meet elderly people, we record their experiences of farming when they were young, the songs they sang while working in the fields or during weddings and festivals. They know such a lot and we are sharing that abundant knowledge with others,” ‘General’ Narasamma told this reporter.

And guess how much it costs to run Sangam? ₹10,000 per month — that’s their power and phone bill.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 11:31:36 AM |

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