Visibly excited and nervous, Vignesh, a teenager from the nearby Anugondanahalli village, is giving finishing touches to a poem in the ramshackle studios of a community radio station. With able guidance from Jayamala, an anganwadi teacher turned studio manager, he can’t believe that he is ‘going on air’ and reciting his maiden effort at writing.
Day in day out, this tiny FM radio station, bordering a verdant sunflower field, sees a trail of enthusiastic students, youth, women, farmers and the working class from the surrounding areas of Hoskote taluk. In the first of its kind FM station that is run entirely by women, they produce and present their programmes on a variety of issues affecting a semi-rural community. Within a span of five months, this community radio station has become very popular in a rural district that is just 40 km from Bangalore.
The brain behind the rural air waves, D S Shamantha runs the Sarathy Jhalak 90.4 FM channel single handedly, and is ably assisted by a host of rural women from different walks of life. A rich experience of 20 years, Shamantha is a thorough media professional having worked in both print and electronic media and associated with many social groups on issues affecting women and children. Winning both state and national laurels for her documentaries, TV serials and literary works, Shamantha carries on relentlessly with her new venture.
Unlike the jazzy, ad-deluged private FM radio stations, Sarathy Jhalak is a classic example of a successful community radio station (CRS), but weighed down by economic constraints and inability to pay its programming staff. Funded by the Karnataka Government, they have established the station with great difficulty.
Amid continuing problems of funding and lack of corporate support, Shamanta’s NGO Sarathy which is running the radio channel is transforming the lives of many individuals involving anganwadis, self help groups, farmers, students, teachers, doctors and turning the concept of community radio a success.
Every day, they broadcast live and recorded programmes covering issues like financial literacy, agriculture, health, and entertainment programmes like songs, talks, etc. Apart from this, semi literates and neo literates are motivated so as to educate them while children/students are actively encouraged to participate in the project and start peer group classes.
“With more than 1,730 Stree Shakti groups in Hoskote, we have been successful in motivating them in giving a new perspective to women’s development programmes, while the government teachers are involved in providing student counseling, searching hidden talents through us. We even have classroom teaching where students teach other students specifically for Class 9 and 10, this has been done in coordination with the education department. We are overwhelmed by the support of the villagers and different agencies. We hope to give a marketing slot for local agro-products and also develop the channel as a media adda in the future,” says Shamantha and adds gleefully that the noted Kannada music composer Hamsalekha has provided the signature tune for them.
Operating from a simple bare and dare four room tenament at Anugondanahalli, this FM station is presently operating on a trial basis. Covering an area of 30 kms and a target population of 8-10 lakhs, their reach is as far as Whitefield, Hoskote, Anekal, Malur, Karnataka-TN border Bagur, Sarjapur, Chikka Tirupathi and K R Puram.
Belting out 14-hour- programming every day, they have been bringing a subtle change in a semi-rural population that has a high literacy rate. “We are carrying out programming from 6 am to 8 pm and almost 10-15 people come to our studio for interaction every day. Response has been very good as we have been able to reach a community who otherwise would never have got an opportunity to express their opinion. But, it is disheartening when there is no payment for our efforts,” says Studio Manager, Jayamala. Adding to this, teacher turned radio jockey, Ambika says,”Our programmes on environment that includes sustained campaign on cleanliness, pollution and reforestation has been a big hit with the younger generation as the daily feedback on various programmes has been overwhelming. We have been specifically focusing on personal hygiene for teenage girls as they are hardly aware of such issues.”
One of the programme producers, Radhakrishna says, “It has become an ideal platform for many people to tackle issues pertaining to the youth, addressing social problems like smoking, drinking and drug addiction, providing information on health matters and tackling other day-to-day problems like waste disposal, conservation of water resources and de-silting of tanks in a rural community that is perpetually facing water shortage every year.” It is not just social issues but the reporters of 90.4 FM also do live reporting on cultural and religious events like the recent Kalyanotsava at Chikka Tirupathi which was a big hit with the community.
“The evening slot between 6-9 is a popular slot and our Manasina Matu programme, an agony uncle slot, where our listeners ask questions about their career, education, confusions etc. has received lot of appreciation,” says Shamantha and adds,
“In almost all slots, we discuss law, police, and health issues with tips. Also, we are happy to share our success in motivating listeners to write poems, short stories and other literary, cultural, cinema, theater activities.”
Jhalak’s programmers are local celebrities today. People call them for functions as guests and listeners want to be a part of Jhalak. Their station is a platform for sharing people’s experience, creativity, knowledge etc. At least 40 per cent of listeners have shifted from the local FM Rainbow (AIR) channel and other private FMs, they claim.
With hardly any rehabilitation or old age centres in and around the villages of Hoskote taluk, Sarathy Jhalak is also planning to address the problems of not only the differently abled but also the elderly population and students from poor families. It will not be surprising, if Shamantha and her band of dedicated programmers, will make the concept of community radio station a big success in the coming days.