There has been a steady increase in the number of community radio stations in the country. But lack of adequate revenue streams and restrictive policies around coverage area is making it difficult for many of them to sustain operations.

For instance, Sunil Palaskar, in-charge of the community radio station of the Neotech Technical and Management College’s community radio station based in Ambikapur, Chattisgarh, called Neotechtimes, said that the regulation around advertisements is a detriment for stations running without any grant or financial backing. “The government recently increased the rates of advertisement for all forms of media, except community radio. Also, as per regulations we can only air ads for 5 minutes per hour. This has made things difficult. The ad timings and rates should be increased for us to sustain our radio station,” Palaskar said.

Limited coverage is yet another hurdle faced by the community radio stations in the country apart from limited advertising revenue potential. According to Devendrappa S, programme officer, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka, and Head of Krishi Community Radio,“we would like the Government to consider our suggestions on increasing the coverage area of community radios, which is restricted to 22km today. In agriculturally dominant areas, a wider outreach can help farmers adopt newer techniques and improve efficiency.”

For farmers, women

For most radio stations, maintenance costs also seem to be running high. Radio Vasundhara, a devoted community radio station that caters to farmers in and around Baramati, spends close to ₹ 10,000 per month to maintain their bell transmitter and computer systems at the central office. This takes away most of their revenue. “We save up on costs because our parent institute (Vidhya Pratishthan’s Institute of Information Technology) provides us with staff to help us with maintenance,” Yuvaraj Mohan Jadhav of Vasundhara Radio said.

Despite the shift towards digital and mobility devices, community radios are still being used as an important medium to communicate in agricultural, rural areas and have a steady audience. ‘General’ Narasamma, one of the two women who run India’s oldest community radio station, Sangam Radio, agrees that they have seen a drop in their audience, but is optimistic. “It is necessary that we keep alive our local traditions and culture and continue to provide valuable insight for our farming community. We still have a very loyal set of audience who are avid listeners. Looking ahead, we feel that despite the shift towards other alternatives, we will strive towards keeping the community radio alive.”

There are over 207 community radio stations in the country, according to a list maintained by the Community Radio Facilitation Center (CRFC), a department under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The accolades

Most community radio stations transmit content based on local news, events and new techniques in agriculture on the basis of funds granted to them by their parent organisations, a mix of NGOs, private educational institutions and government research institutes.

“In our 10th year of existence, our Krishi community radio service has been received extremely well by the local agricultural community. We are being funded by various Government agencies (NABARD, department of agriculture and horticulture),” says Devendrappa.

Jadhav of Vasundhara Vahini Radio said “ We mostly broadcast for 10 hours a day in Baramati (Maharashtra) on social issues, propagate female and transgender equality, provide agricultural news about different villages along with ways to improve health and sanitation.”