Internet is the destiny of Community Radio in India

Abstract 


‘Survival of the fittest’ is the old Darwinian theory used in context of living beings. With changing times, the same phrase is applicable to mass media as well. Being a mass media practitioner for more than a decade, I have been an eyewitness to the endurance of Media.

This Media endurance has reached to the level of Digitisation. After Television, time has come to digitise all forms of Radio. And this is the future for Community Radio as well. Let’s imagine having your own radio station where you can walk in any time to ask for your favourite music, plan your peculiar style show, share information about important local event, organise and broadcast local festivals or chat with your neighbour. Off course, it should be of the people, by the people and for the people. This is what Community Radio is basically meant for.

In that sense, why not ‘A Community radio in every village’ can be a feature of respective Panchayats. These Panchayats make use of the digitised technique of reaching its people easily and effectively. With a bit of effort and support, there would be no need of frequency modulation or no traditional beaming set up. Only Streaming is needed which would make it ‘Streaming based Community Radio’.

All this would encourage innovative ideas for programming and unique content generation for the various Community Radio platforms created. This can be popularised by contests like ‘Radio ka Superstar’ or Award shows like giving away ‘Best Programming Award’ region wise and nation wide. Special programmes on local issues, health, sanitation, education etc., A show by the most literate person of the village on any relevant topic of the time, Special programme for the conservation of endangered art forms, Programmes in local dialect and choice, etc. can bring this whole concept into limelight.

Slowly, these community radio stations would be provided with digital kits and can move on the concept of Internet and mobile based Radio. Moreover, Community Radios themselves can become the internet service provider for the region. They can cover a particular line and length of a specific area, thus matching with the need and aspirations of the crowd.

Most revolutionised example of digitisation of radio comes from Norway, first country in the World to digitise its Radio completely. Detailed discussion on this revolutionary idea would help us move a step ahead in our region as well.

This paper would help you find answers to questions like: 

  • With more than 70% of population in India living in villages, having little or no connectivity of Internet, Can Internet be made available to these areas in the upcoming years for the bright future of Community Radio ?
  • Existing Community Radios are run either by Non Governmental Organisations or Educational Institutions, So, a role for ‘Community’ can actually be established with technological efforts ?
  • Today everyone owns a mobile phone, irrespective of the social status, Whether these mobile audio apps can turn any smart phone into a mini-production centre ?
  • How illiterate people can be trained to make use of the latest technology in the form of apps in Community Radio Perspective ?
  • How these apps working with or without internet can reach the remote areas, which are actually the target audience of Community Radio ?

While writing full paper, all these questions and many more would be answered and leave a comprehensive detailed analysis of ‘Internet being a Boom and not a Bane for the Community Radio’.

Introduction 

Way back in 1964, American songwriter, singer and artist Bob Dylan wrote the song ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’. Many of you must have heard this song. Times are actually changing… because for the first time, a Songwriter got a Noble Prize for Literature in 2016.

You must be wondering why this example under the topic of ‘Internet is the Destiny of Community Radio in India’ ? This reference is just to bring to your notice that change is inevitable. Be it in Noble Prize given since 1901 and a drastic change was seen after more than a century or Radio broadcast since 1920 which is awaiting the same level of change when approaching century. In last more than nine decades, radio programming has seen a complete transformation and now is the time  for upheaval.

We often listen to people saying… “Who listens to radio in the 21st century ?” The answer is India listens to radio always. Radio has a very rich history in India. The nation got the news of India getting independence in 1947 on Radio. Many leaders lost their lives and the country could know about it because of the presence of radio. When emergency was imposed on the country, the nation was informed about the same via radio only.

We are very well aware of the fact that Radio has access to maximum number of population in India. May be because of its low literacy rate, irregular supply of electricity, slow internet and its availability… and many more, most of the rural india and a particular class in Urban India are dependent on radio for their infotainment needs.

Literacy rate in India specially in rural areas is 71% as compared to 86% in urban areas. Irony is Literacy rate has gone up but so has illiteracy. Between 2001 and 2011, the population above the age of 7 grew by 18.65 crore but the decrease in the number of illiterates is just 3.11 crore. From 2001-2014, the number of children who enrolled in primary schools increased by just 1.86 crore, and at the upper primary level by just over 2 crore. The population during this period, however, increased by more than 18 crore.

In a country where illiteracy is dominant even after all efforts, the only solution to the information and communication craving is traditional and alternative means. When it comes to mainstream media, Radio is the easiest, cheapest and most affordable means of communication. What’s encouraging is, to use radio for disseminating information about local issues, culture, traditions, art and values. This can be done the best using  community radio.

Community radio is a radio service offering a third model of radio broadcasting in addition to Commercial and Public Broadcasting. 

No doubt, India has been a latecomer to the concept of Community radio. It is a decade and a half old concept for India, although it has been a known idea for the foreign countries. In a country like ours, with linguistic and ethnic diversity… Community Radio / Rural Radio /  Cooperative Radio / Development Radio… what ever you call it, has kept its feet rolling below the carpet and reaching the minds of the masses.

The concept of Community Radio is not about being popular, not for making money but being necessary for the people. Starting from villages for local communication to educational institutions to non-profit organisations to the communities all over, Community radio is all about writing inspirational stories.

In terms of Community radio, stations are operated, owned, and influenced by the communities they serve. They are generally non-profit and provide a mechanism for enabling individuals, groups, and communities to tell their own stories, to share experiences, to discuss their problems, to find solutions and to become creators and contributors of media.

Access and Participation are the two Guru Mantras behind the concept of community radio. Local Audience and Popularity are it’s Aim and Internet is it’s Destiny. Integrating radio programming with the internet is one way to reach out to the people. If the radio station has a computer with internet access, programme producers can use the enormous spectrum of information on subjects of general concern of the audience. Broadcasting such information can bring internet to all the homes.

With time, Internet or the new media is leaving no stones unturned to make everything smooth and straight for the people using media. Connecting social issues and its remedies via Community Radio using Internet is the next level of innovation. The internet’s availability and popularity has already encouraged many stations to podcast and/or stream audio and make it available globally.

As we know, community radio is for the people, of the people and by the people, these people need to upgrade themselves to the next version of programme production. In terms of radio meant for communities, they need to learn new techniques and way outs. And on part of Government, they need to make internet available to them.

Digitisation of Community Radio

Media is remodelled according to the 21st century norms. These norms have hidden technological aspirations. We often listen people inside and outside media, discussing boom in technology and survival issues for the traditional / alternative / community media.

In terms of Radio, this alteration has been from typical government controlled radio stations to privately owned radio channels and lately community radio concept coming into picture. Boom in technology is not a bane for community radio, for sure, rather it can be the most supportive defence mechanism for it.

Starting from Television programming coming to Internet via Apps and video channels, radio has to follow the same footsteps. Today, we are not dependent on TV channels for our news, serials, movies or music needs. We have apps designed which make us feel independent of the TV channels and we can manage our day according to our choice, timings and preferences. Moreover, one can stop and play their favourites any time, any where. Thanks to the the Internet Revolution.

In the era of Digitisation, it is very important that radio should also go hand in hand with most of the rising media technologies. Radio is doing good, but it can always do better. It has a wide spectrum of information processing and transferring the processed information to the masses. The production of radio programme are far simpler than Television programmes or film making. Reading and writing is no criteria for using radio as is the case with print media. So digitising radio is the most forward looking approach.

No doubt, every media has infotainment as its key function. But media structure is completely different from community radio concept. Community radio is all about participatory communication, rather than programmes made for them by somebody else, as is the case with mainstream media. Where a producer designs a show, a reporter gets the story, the video editor edits it according to the time and importance of the story, etc. In case of community radio, the news is about the community, prepared by the community and would be heard by the people of the community themselves.

There is distance constraint in terms of community radio as it can’t go far off. Government rules and regulations have certain limitations on community radio expansion. But, after discussing it with people associated with community radio in different parts of the country, this control can be taken positive. Local issues and local people would get a voice via the community radio and distance wise also, they would have variety in expressing their issues and understanding their friends and neighbours.

In the 21st century, this task can be made further easy to be done. What if we want to make it more technical ? When it comes to technical knowledge, all the current practices and previous efforts become facetious. Its as simple as an illiterate person can use a cellphone easily. You just need to brief him/her about the colour of the buttons and when to press them. Similar can be the case with community radio digitisation. Even an illiterate person can easily make out which is the app for his personal radio, created and produced by his own people.

The person just needs to press the record button and record his problem, suggestion or performance. The recording is saved in the app and can be accessed by anyone having that app in the phone. Similarly, this app can work as a community voice which can be easily considered as a radio device. Right now, we need internet for apps to sync and provide same content to everyone using it. With time and efforts, we can even try this without internet, on a local platform.

These minute efforts would add momentum to the community radio movement in the country. Government need to support and take interest in taking the community radio sector forward. People must understand its importance in their lives and surroundings. All this is tomorrow’s vision for a better and fluent radio usage in our country.

Although its not going to be easy for the government to digitise radio broadcasting in India. It’s a far fetched dream, but one day it has to be true because it would end up with the survival of this mass medium. Do you know, the FM that you listen over radio is a 70 year old technology which is spectrum hungry and has reached its development limits. It can stay for some more time, but is not a strategic choice for  the future.

To improve the quality of radio, digital transmitters are being used worldwide. Digital transmitters have very good quality transmissions. Moreover, analog transmitters can broadcast one programme at one frequency, while in digital format we can broadcast three to four programmes on a single frequency that too at a far better quality.

FM came to India almost 50 years after it was introduced in America. Just see the gap of evolution. This is not a joke that we lag behind like an ordinary developing country, when it comes to technical excellence. We have to and we must look into this matter and minimise the gap in future. Although there are come unsolved queries related to Digitisation of Radio.

For example availability of internet is going to be the most basic issue in the digitisation process. This is actually in the hands of the government to give access to a respectable internet connection to the masses. Current scene is no network in the metropolitan cities, where we expect flawless connection. Going to villages, that too, far off ones is a challenge that has to be met before dreaming about digitisation of radio.

Secondly, to use this internet a community must be there. Right now, whether anyone admit or not, actual community is missing in any existing community radio in our country. This community is not deliberately absent, rather does not have knowledge of being a part of the community radio initiative. They need to educated and encouraged to come forward with their needs, problems, solutions, ideas, suggestions and brilliance. We live in a country of diversity, so we have so much to share about each other and so much in common. So, we must make ways to bring them in the front line and give their talent a way out.

Illiteracy effect can haunt the whole idea and its application. But not to that extent, if technical knowledge is not confused with bookish knowledge. I would suggest – teaching of the villagers about the usage of internet with the help of colours. Like a red round button can help you record your voice. A red square button can help you stop the recording. With a green round button, you can listen to your recording and another coloured button can save your video.

With this a villager with a voice can easily share his voice with the outside world as well as to the fellow villagers. Here, they don’t need to read words like – record, stop, play or save. Rather they would enjoy the technical expertise without being literate. Off course, the brain behind the concept has to be a literate one to make the community understand and become specialists of community radio.

Another very interesting move can be the Streaming technology. It is available in music for quite some time now. Our aim should be to use the same technology in radio broadcast as well. This will be a step forward to internet radio, which has still to gain a foot here. But, since technology is booming with time, it is just needed to divert it to the voice of the rural people, in the most remote areas of the country.

When we are talking about technology why not give it a more optimistic approach. Latest in the list are the apps. The applications which can be downloaded in your smartphone or other gadgets and can be used easily. App based programming is the upcoming step in digitisation of radio process. This app means a tool for the creator and the facilitator i.e. for the villagers and the technical expert.

It might sound a very unusual idea but if made possible can solve many of the problems of community radio. An app in your phone can make your smartphone capable of producing shows like radio channel. We would get on it in detail later, but for the time being, we must understand the mobile revolution has overcome the internet revolution and in no time would surpass it. Although fact of the time is, internet and mobile phone go hand in hand.

e-Panchayats and the Community Radio 

Panchayats are actually the centre of any village. So, why not a community radio for every village or in that sense for every community in every single village. This can be a feature of the respective panchayat to make necessities available to the people and form groups of known and literate to help the unknown and illiterate. This is even happening in many parts of India. Without giving examples here, I can assure people are working hard to lead a team for producing programmes to be run on  the available frequency.

How about the concept of e-panchayat. Digital Panchayat is a functional and dynamic Digital Platform and working station designed and created for each Panchayat. This programme is already going on in many states and districts. We just need to use this e-panchayat programme to add on to our community radios.

These Panchayats if funded properly can enhance the reach of community radio to the last person in the village. It just has to make a team, which can lead a programming set up for making radio programmes. One more thing we need to focus on, and that is innovative ideas and unique content generation. Some programming ideas are listed below :

  1. We can call the most educated person in the village to brief about the latest he has in his mind which would be beneficial to the listeners of that area.
  2. We can ask a female from a house to come up with cleanliness tips, traditional recipes or mother care information.
  3. We can even ask the doctor level person in the village to brief about recent health hazards and its precautionary measures.
  4. A teacher can give lessons everyday at a particular time for the children in the village. Radio would act as a teacher for a group of students.
  5. Some folk singers can plan a lively folk show on radio for their admirers.
  6. There can be a comedy show with one of the youth giving satirical comments about recent elections or political developments.
  7. There can be a detailed analysis of a particular art form getting extinct.
  8. We can even plan a chaupal live on radio from the panchayat meeting.
  9. Youth can come up with tips on beauty care, make up and latest fashion.
  10. One more area of interest would be some local sport activity in the area whose winners are brought to the community radio for getting compliments and also share the experiences.
  11. Off course, there would be news bulletin, completely filled with national, international and specific regional stories.

These are just a few examples, there can be many more such ideas. Many of such programmes can easily be sponsored by government, and many more can be made without being hefty on pocket. When we are talking about community programmes with respect to the Panchayats, these programmes can be done in their local dialect also, so the people of the community may relate more to it.

All in all, a complete package of information, education and entertainment with mere investment, as the people performing would be from the community, people making the show would be internal and the people listening to the programmes and enjoying would also be of the same community. Many of you might feel that all this is still happening, so what’s new ?

Innovative ideas, Localised topics, Unique content, Customised programming… these are some of the keywords for community radio reincarnation. The formula is very simple as suggested already –

Community radio + e-panchayat = Community radio success 

Streaming Based Community Radio 

Now comes the spin… Just imagine, no frequency modulation, no licensing procedures, no  beaming set up… you just need to stream all these programmes via internet. Here I am proposing Radio Streaming i.e. complete Digitisation of Radio. This can also be seen as rebirth of Radio.

Streaming means listening to music or watching video in ‘real time’, instead of downloading a file to your computer and watching it later. With internet videos and webcasts of live events, there is no file to download, just a continuous stream of data. 

Just like we can pause and play our live TV, why not same thing happen with radio. Many of us are using internet to watch our favourite shows when WE get time. If a match is missed, we watch the complete match and not highlights, via the mobile apps available. Ladies can watch their favourite TV shows, which they miss in the evening because of the usual household work, in the afternoon when they have leisure time. Kids can enjoy their favourite cartoon in their entertainment time rather than pissing off their sleep or study time. Also, now-a-days we see people travelling in public transport like buses, trains or metros and watching videos etc. Many of them might have it saved in their Mobile phones, but there are others who are actually streaming it via Internet.

On your way to office or back home, if you come across a major development, you can then and there stream to your mobile device and get to know the details and current scenario. You just have to download that mobile app in your smartphone, off course with the help of internet, and watch whatever you want and whenever you want and as many times as you want. You need a Smartphone and Good Internet connection. It would lead ways for India’s Community Radio on Indian as well as Global platform.

Use of app comes along with certain conditions… First and foremost is Respectable Speed of the Internet. This can solve all your problems without any fuss. This is difficult to achieve in our country, but not impossible. With time, all mobile networks are trying hard to provide their consumers with the best of available speed.

Via this best available Internet speed, Community radio stations can deliver their content to the masses. This Internet in the form of a mobile phone application,  can do wonders as discussed above.

With Government’s Make in India and Digital India initiatives, India is gaining attraction from smartphone brands. In last two years, there has been a boom in smartphone usage figures in India. India has become the second-biggest smartphone market in terms of active unique smartphone users, crossing 220 million users. Though India still has a long way to go as the smartphone penetration of the total potential population is still below 30 per cent. But this has potential of a bright future.


Smart Phone – A Handheld Production Studio 

In India, to start a radio station is a long, tiring and hefty process. Let’s not go into the details. Because, here we are not talking about starting a radio station. Rather this paper comes up with a completely new proposal of making your Smart Phone – A handheld production studio for Radio Broadcast.

Your smartphone can also act as a mini production centre for the radio programmes.  You must be using it for sending voice messages, recording songs for your beloved or practising some speech or presentation. If that is possible, why not we can record programmes with a group or individual and save it via an app for the listeners or in that case a community as a whole.

Having the ability to record, edit, upload, and stream audio on mobile phones is useful. Audio quality can be an issue, but with time we are getting better microphones for recording and editing devices, which can be attached to your smartphone and recording, editing and uploading can be done if not easily, definitely smoothly.

There are apps available for computers which can broadcast any audio to internet and anybody can listen to it. These apps are the lifeline for the live streaming of radio. A smartphone based technology is the need of the hour for community radio. This is super easy to use with uncompromising quality. We must take this step ahead because radio has a special place in our lives.

You remember the days, when cricket match commentary was popular on radio. People used to listen to radio in groups over a tea shop or a bus stop. Things are still the same, now people don’t listen to radio, rather they watch the match and listen to the commentary on their mobile phones. And this is made possible and easier by apps.

At the same time, via internet, radio stations can obtain a lot quality and range of information from development agencies, NGOs, universities, etc. Radio programmes can be downloaded from the internet for radio broadcast. Once you have recorded, edited and uploaded a series of programmes, you can make a Fixed point chart (FPC) giving details of which programme to be broadcast at what time.

But, how the masses would listen to your programme ? Via internet but with the help of a mobile phone application. These applications can not only let the viewers listen to the programmes, but they can also share their views, record their opinions and help you grow. These apps are pretty inexpensive and remarkably convenient giving just about anyone the ability to be a radio producer. The point is that these technologies only add more value to your community radio toolkit and expand your ability to reach new audiences faster.

Special Programming for Super Special Radio  

Innovative ideas for Community Radio is the key to success of this universal concept. Programming on television can be seen, but with radio it can only be felt. So it has to be with whole heart and soul, so that it could reach the heart and soul of its listeners. For community radio, which is here for a mission, content generation should also be with a purpose.

Over 50% of the programming on community radio should be for infotainment. Special programmes with innovative ideas and unique presentation techniques can do wonders for the medium. There can be reality shows on Radio like Radio ka Superstar, Comedy ka King Kaun ?, Hidden treasures etc. Filmy songs, folk music, endangered art forms, unforgettable literature and poetry, etc. would get a new and advanced platform via this community radio programming.

Certain programme can be named as – ‘देसी कलाकार’ for the folk singers, ‘मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा’ for musical show, ‘गांव का स्वाद’ for receipe show, ‘तुमसे हो पाएगा’ for a show on youth, ‘जच्चा-बच्चा’ as the name suggests for the pregnant mother and child care, ‘Radio शिक्षक’ for an educational show, ‘गुदगुदी अंकल’ for a comedy show, ‘कहानी तेरे गांव की’ for a village story, ‘सरपंच जी talk करेंगे’ for a live chaupal, etc. These are some of the proposed programmes. More such innovative programming concepts need to be worked on to make this internet and app based community radio interesting.

To promote this new style of programming and presentation, award shows can be planned like ‘Best Programming award’, Best Mimicry Artist Award’, ‘Best Health Show’, ‘Best Male Voice Artist’, ‘Best Female Voice Artist’,  Best Music award, etc. These awards for community radio, would not only encourage the programming team which are actually the community members but also bring forward the people as an individual and a group.

Local issues of a particular community, like health, family planning, sanitation, education, environment, government schemes, agricultural practices, crime, social evils, legal issues, etc would be handled better via a public platform. Programmes on women’s empowerment, tips on various profession and home science attract the crowd. Special shows for teenagers, discussing their problems, shows for lesbians and gays, etc. can he added.

For such a variety of programmes on the list, and to get the maximum benefit, it is necessary to have programming policies. These policies would guide you towards the type of radio programmes that your community wants and needs. That straight away takes you to customisation of programmes according to the factors of a particular area to which the community radio belongs to.


Norway – Starting point of Digital Audio Broadcasting Revolution   

Norway has set the first example of digitising it’s radio completely. It has been planning to switch off its FM radio network for quite some time now. It has been a risky and unpopular leap to digital technology via Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). It is not new to the World but transferring a medium of mass communication from analogue to digital audio broadcasting is a courageous and futuristic task.

Of particular concern are the 2 million cars on Norway’s roads that are not equipped with Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) receivers. More than 60% of population of Norway are against this drastic change and only 17% agree to the benefits of digitisation of radio. They understand it is for the betterment of the nation.

Best part of this transformation is that it is going to save approximately 160 crore rupees yearly for the country. This is a huge sum of money and digital audio broadcasting can be used with one-eighth of the previous budget.

Digital networks can carry more radio channels, thus making it a full proof plan of not only transformation but also expansion. This has set a very good example in the world platform, thus motivating other countries to follow the foot steps without any hesitation. Switzerland, Britain and Denmark are next on the list, expecting the change by 2020.

This switchover was not an easy decision. To shut down of FM suddenly from the homes of Norway, was tough but well planned and executed. For the same cost, digital radio in Norway allows eight times more radio stations than FM.

Conclusion 

21st century media has to be different from the 20th century. When I am with my journalist father or father in law, they always compare the current scenario with the previous one and my journalist husband backs the current scenario, quite obviously. I, myself being a part of this media industry for almost a decade, can assure you that the best time in media in terms of technological advancements is yet to come.

Internet since its inception has left us surprised and at times shocked with the kind of things we can do with it. Have you ever thought of controlling the television with your mobile phone ? Or watching each and every ball of Cricket World Cup final anytime, anywhere you feel like ? Watching movies without going to the theatres and listening to radio without owning one is like never imagined about.

When the concept of community radio came up, the idea was to make it as big as it can engulf the whole of the country. Lately, that’s not the scene. Why ? Just because we need to give it the twist of the century. Integrate internet with the most loving medium of mass communication and see the wonders it can do for the country.

It sounds interesting and difficult at t time to achieve the goal of digital community radio. When I started researching for this paper, I came across so many options for community radio stations in India. I am sure there are many more which are not on internet but exist on ground. Still they are less in number as compared to the population and needs of the population.

In some years from now, when my 4 year old son would be a teenager, I am sure, traditional radio sets would go obsolete and I would be showing him my Father’s radio set as an example. With the advent of new technology, old one is going obsolete. Community radio being a new concept, is here to survive with the latest technologies and technical know how’s.

Only need is to upgrade it with the latest technology. Internet is going to be the deciding factor for the radio survival in India. In the choice for community radio, one must prefer to make required changes and upgradation. Involvement of the most oppressed and the most known communities, should be the aim of community radio programming from now on. Also, we need to develop the programming design for the upgraded version of community radio.

Use of Internet is going to be the deciding factor for community media in India. Nothing can go a long way without right fuel and vision. For radio, Digitisation is the right alternative if sought keeping the futuristic population in mind. No child would be interested in tuning radio stations and listen to an audio medium when there are visual options available.

Radio has to compete with Television and other visual means. This is not new, but has become a bigger challenge for radio in current times. Believe it or not, radio on mobile phone via an app would increase the number of users/listeners. Comfort and availability are two factors that is the basic need of the youth.

Last but not the least, Community radio should be 10 percent radio and 90 percent community. So, even when we are talking about internet, it is not only about bringing internet everywhere. It is about making these communities learn, work and enjoy the internet in the community radio circle.

 


This research paper is presented at
National Conference on Community Radio in India: Challenges and Possibilities of Information and Knowledge Sharing, 30-31 March, 2017, Uttarakhand Open University, Haldwani-Nainital