The Latest on the CR Movement: Osama Manzar writes about the steadily growing need for CR

The power of community radio
To millions living in the countryside, a radio is still a dominant and powerful information and communication platform
Tech Tools | Osama Manzar

In 2007, when Shiv Shekhar Shukla took over as district collector (DC) of Sagar district in Madhya Pradesh, his first act was to make himself available 24×7 to all citizens. He did this by giving out his mobile phone number; the calls never stopped, some coming in well past midnight. But Shukla wanted to do more than be available. He wanted to process these queries in a transparent manner.

Soon the DC devised a mechanism: live radio from the local station of All India Radio (AIR). This led to the launch of the Jansamvad programme.
Shukla announced a dedicated time for grievance redressal calls on the local radio station. The promise made was the DC himself would attend the calls. And the conversations would be broadcast live. The initiative received the Manthan Award for innovative community broadcasting for 2007.
To millions living in the countryside, a radio is still a dominant and powerful information and communication platform. India has 225 AIR stations and around 310 commercial ones. In addition, it has around 70 community radio (CR) stations out of which around 45 are campus-based. Despite criticism that CR could compromise India’s security or propagate communal sentiments, the fact is, community broadcasting has the ability to address key development and governance challenges.
And demand for them is growing. Till the end of 2008, India’s information and broadcasting ministry had received 800 applications for the service. Since launch in November 2006, CR stations in India have offered communities a locally owned public forum to look into their problems. And the Manthan Awards have recognized innovations on this platform.
The Kalanjiam Samuga Vanoli initiative in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, a winner of the Manthan Award in 2008, undertook community awareness drives after the tsunami. Broadcasts told locals how to cope with disasters better. Sangham Radio in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh, an entry in the Manthan Awards for 2009, works with village women’s collectives. The station focuses on issues such as food and seed sovereignty, and autonomous health, market and media.
So what next? Perhaps all panchayati raj bodies in India can be helped to run their own CR stations. Government-sponsored programmes such as NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and policy drives such as RTI (Right to Information) can find greater outreach through such platforms. The utility of an accessible technological tool like CR as a direct link between the government and the governed should no longer be ignored.

Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of Manthan Award. He has recently released his third title Digital Inclusion for Development—Cases from India & South Asia.
He can be reached at


November 6, 2009 at 6:21 am Leave a comment

That’s all it takes! A Home grown radio station: the seeds of CR are already sown

The amazing DIY village FM radio station

By Amarnath Tewary
In Vaishali, Bihar


It may well be the only village FM radio station on the Asian sub-continent. It is certainly illegal.

The transmission equipment, costing just over $1, may be the cheapest in the world.

But the local people definitely love it.

On a balmy morning in India’s northern state of Bihar, young Raghav Mahato gets ready to fire up his home-grown FM radio station.

Thousands of villagers, living in a 20km (12 miles) radius of Raghav’s small repair shop and radio station in Mansoorpur village in Vaishali district, tune their $5 radio sets to catch their favourite station.

After the crackle of static, a young, confident voice floats up the radio waves.

“Good morning! Welcome to Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1! Now listen to your favourite songs,” announces anchor and friend Sambhu into a sellotape-plastered microphone surrounded by racks of local music tapes.

For the next 12 hours, Raghav Mahato’s outback FM radio station plays films songs and broadcasts public interest messages on HIV and polio, and even snappy local news, including alerts on missing children and the opening of local shops.

Raghav and his friend run the indigenous radio station out of Raghav’s thatched-roof Priya Electronics Shop.


The place is a cramped $4-a-month rented shack stacked with music tapes and rusty electrical appliances which doubles up as Raghav’s radio station and repair shop.

I just did it out of curiosity and increased its area of transmission every year
Raghav Mahato
He may not be literate, but Raghav’s ingenuous FM station has made him more popular than local politicians.Raghav’s love affair with the radio began in 1997 when he started out as a mechanic in a local repair shop. When the shop owner left the area, Raghav, son of a cancer-ridden farm worker, took over the shack with his friend.Sometime in 2003, Raghav, who by now had learned much about radio mechanics, thought up the idea of launching an FM station.It was a perfect idea. In impoverished Bihar state, where many areas lack power supplies, the cheap battery-powered transistor remains the most popular source of entertainment.

“It took a long time to come up with the idea and make the kit which could transmit my programmes at a fixed radio frequency. The kit cost me 50 rupees (just over $1),” says Raghav.

The transmission kit is fitted on to an antenna attached to a bamboo pole on a neighbouring three-storey hospital.

A long wire connects the contraption to a creaky, old homemade stereo cassette player in Raghav’s radio shack. Three other rusty, locally made battery-powered tape recorders are connected to it with colourful wires and a cordless microphone.

The shack has some 200 tapes of local Bhojpuri, Bollywood and devotional songs which Raghav plays for his listeners.Raghav’s station is truly a labour of love – he does not earn anything from it. His electronic repair shop work brings him some two thousand rupees ($45) a month.The young man, who continues to live in a shack with his family, doesn’t know that running a FM station requires a government licence.”I don’t know about this. I just began this out of curiosity and expanded its area of transmission every year,” he says.

Local hero

So when some people told him sometime ago that his station was illegal, he actually shut it down. But local villagers thronged his shack and persuaded him to resume services again.

It hardly matters for the locals that Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 does not have a government license – they just love it.

“Women listen to my station more than men,” he says. “Though Bollywood and local Bhojpuri songs are staple diet, I air devotional songs at dawn and dusk for women and old people.”Since there’s no phone-in facility, people send their requests for songs through couriers carrying handwritten messages and phone calls to a neighbouring public telephone office.Raghav’s fame as the ‘promoter’ of a radio station has spread far and wide in Bihar.People have written to him, wanting work at his station, and evinced interest in buying his ‘technology’.

“But I will never share the secret of my technology with anyone. This is my creation. How can I share it with somebody who might misuse it?” he asks.

“With more powerful and advanced chips and equipment I can make a kit which could be transmitted up to 100km or even more.”

A government radio engineer in Bihar’s capital, Patna, says it is possible to use a homemade kit to run a FM radio station.

“All it needs is an antenna and transmitting equipment. But such stations offer no security. Anyone can invade and encroach such locally made transmitters,” says HK Sinha of India’s state-run broadcaster All India Radio (AIR).But people in Mansoorpur are in awe of Raghav’s radio station and say it gives their village an identity.”The boy has intense potential, but he is very poor. If the government lends him some support, he would go far,” says Sanjay Kumar, an ardent fan of his station.But for the moment Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 rocks on the local airwaves, bring joy into the lives of the locals.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/02/24 11:34:36 GMT


November 5, 2009 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

Another panelist: Radio Tarang of MVSS in Satara

Satara based MVSS is first NGO to get CR licence

By: Anita Iyer    25 Jul 08 17:40 IST

MUMBAI: A Maharashtra based NGO Mann Vikas Samajik Sanstha-MVSS has acquired the licence to run a community radio last week, becoming the first in the NGO sector in the country to join the CR (community radio) network. The NGO works for empowering the women in rural areas and got the license for aswad village in Satara. MVSS president Chetna Gala Sinha asserts, “Many NGOs had applied with the I&B Ministry and we were the first ones to obtain it. The radio station would be an extension of our NGO activities and will be used as a tool to propagate our financial plans. Many times, the villagers do not know about our micro finance loans and how to further implement the money in business, so we have planned programmes on those lines for their benefit.” “There were many regulations to comply with and the license comes with a number of restrictions too,” Sinha says. MVSS had applied for the licence last year. For starting a community radio, it is mandatory to receive permission from two bodies, Wireless Planning & Coordination -WPC’s wing Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocation (SACFA) for wireless frequency and the I&B Ministry. The radio station will go on air from 15 September and will initially broadcast for four hours daily, from 6 to 8 am and a repeat telecast from 5 to 7 pm. MVSS radio volunteer and technical support Reena Ray points out, “We have shortlisted the morning and evening slots because these are the times we might be able to reach a mass audience. However, looking at the response, we might decide to go on air full day on weekends.” The NGO hasn’t yet coined the name of the radio station, but is working on the conception of the programming. The programmes would be designed on the lines of health, self development; cultural, self financing, micro finance loans, and changes in the rate of interest, programmes like local quiz competitions for the kids are planned. Referring to the challenges of having a community radio, Ray says, “The stations are to be manned by an inexperienced staff as we don’t have anyone with a radio background. Also, we have to face competition from the already existing AIR channels and television. It’s a challenge to divert the audience to listen to community radio.” Remarking that community radio is a powerful medium, Ray says, “Community radio acts as a platform for common people to express their views and opinions and plays an important role in the development of the community.” The NGO Mann Vikas Samajik Sanstha is based in Maharashtra and Karnataka and operates in areas of Sangli, Ratnagiri and Raigad.

November 4, 2009 at 12:36 pm Leave a comment

Singing the news

When Radio Sagarmatha was set up by the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (Nefej) in May 1997 it became the first Community Radio Station in South Asia to commence transmission. There are stories of how they overcame the monarchist government’s proscription of news broadcasts for a while by singing the news and passing it off as music programmes!

November 2, 2009 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

‘Sangham Radio’, India’s first community radio station, celebrated its first anniversary on 15 October, 2009. For those of us who were unable to share the moment with General Algole, PV Satheesh and the women of Pastapur, here’s a report from today’s Deccan Herald.

“Radioing friends over airwaves”

 R Akhileshwari, Deccan Herald, 1 Nov 2009

The amphitheatre in Machnoor village of Zaheerabad mandal in Medak district was recently buzzing with women who had turned out in their finery: wearing brightly coloured, inexpensive but new sarees and their traditional necklace of ‘gundlu’ and ear-rings called ‘genteelu’ with flowers in their hair, the women of nearby villages turned out for an occasion that was as historic as their own. Their ‘Sangam Radio’ had turned all of one year. Sangam Radio is India’s first community radio, entirely owned and run by members of women’s groups or Sangams as they are known. These Sangams are supported by the Deccan Development Society that has been working for the poorest, landless, Dalit women of Zaheerabad for the past 25 years helping them reclaim their lives from the relentless forces of globalisation. This was achieved through regaining their control over food production, seeds, natural resources and management, the market and finally over the media. Setting up the community radio was part of the efforts to shake off the grip of a centralised media that alienates the communities from their own roots that lie in their culture, traditions and language. Most importantly, the radio became the voice of the community as it highlights problems which afflict their crops, livestock and families as also the solutions that are thrashed out on air and solutions shared. As Bidekanne Sammamma said: “Our radio is our friend. When we come home after a day’s hard work our minds are full of problems we switch on our radio and are revived..with the radio by my side I feel my dost is there at home,’’ she said. Sangam Radio had its beginnings in the idea that the media should be an expression of the community, articulated in its own language unique to the region; that it should be a mirror of their identities and traditions; that it should be a platform for day-to-day problems and issues of their lives and livelihoods; it should be an outlet of their joys and woes, of their creativity, of their music and songs, of their crops and food. The idea was to reaffirm their strengths rather than be swamped by an alien media propagating an alien culture. It was to take pride in them rather than be persuaded by a media that they were somehow lesser beings for being themselves. Sangam Radio started in 1998 with UNESCO’s help. Half a dozen women from Dalit, poor, landless families were trained in all aspects of radio programming. They produced a few hundred hours of programming and since the stiff rules of broadcasting would not be relaxed, Sangam Radio ‘narrowcast’ their programmes, playing the tapes in the weekly meetings of the Sangam. However following the revolutionary judgement of Justice P B Sawant in the Supreme Court that airwaves were public property, Sangam Radio went on air on October 15, 2008. It is on air daily between 7 and 9 pm. The programme content is a mix of interviews, discussions, songs, folk tales and plays. According to a study, 80 per cent of the participants are women and Dalits. Elders are particularly encouraged to participate as they are seen as valuable repositories of knowledge. Sangam Radio has discarded the traditional top-down development approach and focuses on creating awareness in the community, based on the premise that critical information will trickle down and they will absorb information important to them. Instead the participatory approach has been adopted where the community makes the decisions about what is important to their lives. Importantly, the community owns the radio. Out of the 5000 women members of the Sangam (that are active in about 75 villages), at least 2000 are ‘active’ members, each contributing Rs 5 per month which takes care of the expenses of the radio station and its staff. Thus, the community ensures that the radio like the mainstream media does not depend on advertising which comes with its own set of strings attached. This model of community shareholding is unique in the country and which apart from financial sustainability, ensures social sustainability with a strong sense of ownership and identification of the community with the Radio. Another unique feature of the Sangam radio station is that the community members are not mere listeners but active participants. The radio station keeps its doors open for people to come and record their talk, songs or share their problems or knowledge. This promotes not just informality but a sense of belonging like we don’t need to take an appointment to get into our home! People from different villages are encouraged to visit the station once a month to take part in various programmes. Sangam Radio is not just an experiment but a valuable lesson on democratisation of the media and a huge step towards demystifying it! _______________________________________________

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November 1, 2009 at 5:13 am Leave a comment

One of our speakers at the Workshop: The all womens’ radio – Radio Sangham

Date:20/11/2006 URL:


Dalit women set to air programmes

By K. Venkateshwarlu

“We will talk about virtually everything that touches the community

  • Studio includes 100-watt FM transmitters reaching out to 100 villages
  • “It will herald democratisation of India’s airwaves”


    TUNING IN: `General’ Narsamma at the Deccan Development Society Community FM Radio Centre at Machnoor. MACHNOOR (Medak district): A quartet of Dalit women, sing “jagadam pata”, a song on a fight between a local landlord and a Dalit tenant, which unfolded in their village of Machnoor. In the adjoining room of the domed studio, `General’ Narsamma moves the knob on a mixer, occasionally helped by Algolu Narsamma.These Dalit women are all set to broadcast their hour-long programme from the country’s first full- fledged Community Radio Station set up here by a non-governmental organisation, Deccan Development Society (DDS). The Union Cabinet cleared the proposal to licence them on November 16. There are at least three such community radios set up but all of them depend on AIR for broadcasting.But for the licence, everything was in place with UNESCO providing part of the funds.The studio building was made with locally available low cost material, two 16 and 4 channel mixers and stereo recorders, two 100-watt FM transmitters with a coverage area of 30 km radius reaching out to 100 villages, were already set up.”Licence for the community radio was denied all these years citing security reasons. Now that the policy got the Cabinet nod we are immensely happy.

    It will herald democratisation of India’s airwaves. People’s radio has become a reality”, said P. V. Satheesh, Director of DDS. “It bridges the gap as mainstream media has no space for them”, observed Vinod Pavarala, Dean of Communication, University of Hyderabad.

    Making radio programmes has been a child’s play for these tape-recorder wielding Dalit women, as they have canned 500 hours of them so far. “It’s our radio and we will broadcast programmes made by us for our benefit. We will talk about seeds, crop diversity, organic farming, health, hygiene, women’s problems and sending children to school, virtually everything that touches the community,” said `General’ Narsamma brimming with confidence.

    There is expectation that the radio tailored to community needs would not only lend voice to the voiceless marginalised community but revive interest in the dying oral folk traditions like “Bichapola patalu.”

    © Copyright 2000 – 2009 The Hindu

  • October 31, 2009 at 8:50 am Leave a comment

    Community Radio Workshop

    Community Radio Workshop

    Comet holds a workshop to initiate Community Radio efforts in Western India with the collaboration of MICCI & FES.(picture taken from Report on Radio Bundelkhand by Development Alternatives)

    Date:November 27 & 28

    For registration and further details contact:


    October 30, 2009 at 9:56 am Leave a comment

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