BENGALURU: From breaking myths and fake news to relaying stories on the marginalised and those affected by the pandemic, community radio has emerged as a sought-after medium amidst the lockdown.
“There is a need for people to speak now,” says Pinky Chandran, the co-founder of Radioactive, an urban community radio station in Bengaluru. “People send voice notes. It connects with them because it’s real-time,” she adds, pointing out every day brings different stories, and being unable to keep up with them, they are also putting them out as podcasts and on the social media.
Stories range from experiences of members of the minority community and struggles of the underprivileged like waste pickers to doctors reflecting on mental health and fake news. Samantha DS, founder and president of Sarathi Jhalak, a community radio run primarily by women in rural Bengaluru, says the station started broadcasting a series on COVID-19 in February, featuring doctors who imparted detailed information to listeners.
“We started talking about the pandemic through various perspectives – cultural, historical and medical. At the end of March, UNICEF partnered with us, and by this time India had entered stage two. We started addressing psychological issues, and covered medical and economical aspects in April,” says Samantha, adding that their broadcasts aim to cover various aspects of the subject to give listeners a step-by-step analysis over time. The increased popularity of programmes during the pandemic has made the broadcasters increase the duration of shows as well.
Radioactive, which was launched in the city in 2007, was earlier bringing out eight hours of programming per day, but post the lockdown, they had more volunteer-driven productions, with about 90 producers participating over the last week. A big role in forging the connect with the listeners is played by the producers themselves, says Chandran.
“The producers are also the listeners, and their stories are experience-based, which portray problems but also gear towards a solution. Our RJs are from the community of interest or a geographical area they produce from. For instance, Radha Mani is from the PLHIV community while Mansoor is a dry waste collector operator in Jayanagar. So their programmes are centric to their community, allies and the areas they reside in,” explains Chandran.
The medium is also being embraced by people who want to keep away from fake news. “Rumour mongering has been a big issue and community radios all over the country are doing special series on the same,” says Ashish Sen, a community media practitioner and theatre person who has been involved with community radio since the late 1990s, and who has served as the head of World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters ( AMARC Asia-Pacific).
“For instance, Radio Kadal Osai in Ramanathapuram carried a series just to debunk myths, and Alfaz-e-Mewat in Haryana did a similar thing,” says Sen, asserting that mental health and counselling has been a subject of importance.
“Community radio has an extraordinary role to play here because you are one with the community. You’re going beyond broadcasting because you are from that community and that makes a difference,” says Sen.