That stories rule the heart of its listeners is perhaps the most easily acceptable truth. And Pinky Chandran who co-founded and leads Bengaluru’s first community radio, called Radio Active, has been reaffirming this belief for over 12 years, since its launch in 2007.
Although radio has been around in India since 1923, and All India Radio (aka Akashvani) now competes with numerous commercial radio stations, community radio is relatively new in India.
Neither AIR or its commercial counterparts have reached the grassroots of 720-odd dialects from smaller communities that have unique interests and challenges. Community radio comes into play here, filling the gap and taking a step closer in democratising media.
Addressing smaller geographic locations, community radio has been successful in knowing the pulse of smaller groups, in a way that larger radio stations never have. For instance, Sarathi Jhalak is a community radio station in Hoskote taluk in Bengaluru, and its radio jockeys (most of them women) cater to the rural population of now settled in the city.
Another community radio – Tashi Delek 90.4 FM which catered to the Tibetan community in Himachal Pradesh – shut down a few years ago due to lack of funds.
Fortunately, Radio Active has stood the test of time, in acting on its vision to expand communities’ involvement in broadcasting. This journey began soon after Bengaluru-based Jain University inaugurated its department of Mass Communication in 2005.
Radio Active got its license in 2007 and has evolved over the years to run 90 shows in a week - for 23 hrs on weekdays and 24 hrs on weekends.
Their radio jockeys hail from different backgrounds, having weathered various odds to come together to run the station. It is also home to pioneers like Salma and Siddique, the world’s first waste picker-couple to become RJs, and India’s first transwoman RJ Priyanka who runs the longest running-show of the station called Yarivaru.
Others like RJ Manjula return home after hosting the children’s series Chinnara Chillipilli only to be called ‘Radio Akka’ in her colony.
Further, Pinky says, people of the community are encouraged to be part of the radio station and become a jockey or producer so that the narrative is not shaped by few hands. She asserts that a community media at its core, is people’s media. “There is a blurring of producer and consumer. The people producing are also consuming,” Pinky adds.
“Each Community has a Story”
At Radio Active, different communities have come together in a unique way. The waste pickers’ interest came up after several clean-up drives conducted on Independence Day of 2009, in the city had failed. Seeing public places being littered just the next day, Pinky and a few others leading the programmes started discussing what could have gone wrong. Over time, this led to the formation of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) in October 2009.
In one of SWMRT’s meetings, Nalini Shekar, a Bengaluru-based activist who fights for justice for the waste picker community through her organisation Hasiru Dala, was an attendee. Pinky recollects that she couldn’t help but notice Nalini nodding in disapproval throughout the meeting, and approached her after the meeting to find out what was bothering her.
Nalini said that one can’t plan waste management without including waste pickers in the framework. Not only did they figure out what was amiss with their plan, but Pinky also found another community to focus on.
Radio Active is also a pioneer in spreading awareness on LGBTQ+ rights through its programmes. Reflecting the voices of sexual minorities began with a workshop conducted by Sangama, a Bengaluru-based LGBTQ+ rights group, in 2009. Their very first lesson was to unlearn the concepts of gender and sex. Within a year, transpeople rights activist Akkai Padmashali (who was then working at Sangama) told Pinky that they are ready to launch a show and named it Yarivaru (which translates to who are you?)
The balancing act
Pinky says that people who work for a cause tend to go into tangents, but Radio Active keeps her balanced. She is not caught in the extremes of environmentalism or livelihood, but has successfully brought about a large scale impact in both ways.
Like every winner who never quits, Pinky also believes that her biggest achievement is yet to come. She says, “It’s important to celebrate the ‘everydayness’ rather than look for bigger milestones. We have the same philosophy at Radio Active.”
For Pinky, Radio Active is the platform that lets you meet many people and learn many things. “Through this platform, we get to question so many things without going by stereotypes and prejudices. It is easy to get caught up in your biases without knowing what things are. Never stop experimenting; look at everything as if it was a kaleidoscope; every new ‘twist’ presents new ways of looking at things,” she signs off.
(Edited by Athira Nair)