The Rural Connect

Just 50 kilometres from Bangalore, from a ramshackle studio of a nondescript village, Sarathy Jhalak has been attracting FM radio listeners since its inception.

Published: 28th December 2013 07:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th December 2013 07:40 AM   |  A+A-

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This community radio station (CRS) at Anugondanahalli is so popular that people don't allow them to sign off. In its one and a half year of its existence, Sarathy Jhalak in Hoskote taluk has come a long way in taking developmental issues to the doorsteps of the community, however, floundering when it comes to the issue of getting help to sustain themselves. Unlike other community radio stations in Karnataka, Sarathy Jhalak tunes in from six in the morning to 10.30 in the night with a mix of live and recorded programming. The brain behind FM 90.4, Shamantha Mani, a media professional and author says that their radio station has successfully caught the air waves when it comes to the issue of coverage area and reach which is from Whitefield to Karnataka- TN border Bagur. But they are heavily weighed down by financial constraints and their inability to pay their programming staff.

PHENOMENAL GROWTH

"We started with one voice and within one week, we had four and grown to 10 in 40 days. It caught up the attention of the people so much that today we have 40 volunteers from the community, student RJs and a staff of 10-12. We even have teachers, anganwadi workers, petty traders and drivers doubling up as reporters from Kalkunte Agrahara, Chennasandra, Dunnasandra Cross, Thimmashettyhalli, Sarjapura and Chikka Tirupathi. Content wise, we have become very strong but technically we are lacking compared to 12 other CRS in the state who have upgraded their FMs with sophisticated equipment to improve their quality of transmission." Sarathy Jhalak has the maximum number of community voices and every day, they are adding 10-15 more, says Shamantha and adds, "Our station is very small and unsophisticated. But every day, we do live shows, phone ins with the community where all issues are covered and the approach is customised. Some of our programmes on water pollution during Ganesh festival, issues of human rights, women's issues, land and water problems which were converted to one hour programmes were done with good response from the community. On Sundays too, we transmit from six to four in the evening and that too totally live but the community's demand for increasing the duration continues."

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

The local community support has been phenomenal, adds T Ravi, the station manager and explains, "Since we have no urban listeners, we have not been able to get even one rupee worth commercial ad. But a few socially afflicted people who took part in our interactions have got community support. Recently, Govindraju, a visually handicapped person from Malur taluk related his difficulties on air in sustaining his son's education and you won't believe it, we managed to collect `4500 that was handed over to him at a community function. Apart from this, our Radio Jockey (RJ) training project has caught the fancy of the rural students and now we are planning to introduce English speaking skills from coming January." A member of Ashwini Sree Shakthi Sangha at Anugondanahalli for 12 years, Rajeshwari, also a field coordinator with Sarathy Jhalak earns just `3000 per month which she says is not even enough to pay for travel charges when she goes on field visits. "We have grown cent per cent with clear conceptualisation followed by the right selection of music and the involvement of the people through SMS and phone calls. But hardly get any government or corporate support as we are totally rural based which has resulted in low salaries not enough to meet our needs," adds Rajeshwari. On the other hand, Ramachandra Reddy, a tailor by profession and doubling up as a reporter for Sarathy Jhalak for the last 7-8 months, says, "I don't take any payment and am happy to work at the grassroot level reporting on day to day events where people are very responsive and need information. But technically we have to improve a lot as our reception is poor in low level areas."

GOVT. SUPPORT

The FM station has received a government funding of `10 lakh for setting up the infrastructure and sourcing the technical equipment. However, with salaries to be paid to 11 staff members and also improve the quality of reception, they need funding either from the government or the corporate sector. "Every month, we need at least `1.5 lakh to sustain the station that involves monthly payments, holding local workshops, get togethers and community participation. No government department takes the CRS concept seriously or understand our proximity to the community when it comes to implementation of development schemes. Excepting the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and Kannada & Culture department, neither the women & child welfare, health or the rural development and panchayat raj departments have supported us. Their awareness levels about educating people through CRS is absolutely nil when we are the main platform for increasing awareness at the grassroot level. The government talks about Right to livelihood and well, to be frank, this basic requirement is violated when I am unable to pay my staff," says a concerned Shamantha. Tall ambitions, high motivation and phenomenal response from the community are all well but how long can Shamantha and her team of rural volunteers sustain without money in running this dream radio station, is a worrying question.  

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