Community Radio in Rural Development

Dr. Dilip Kumar*
(Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi-25)


India became independent on 15 August 1947. Since then we have achieved tremendous success in many fields but still much is needed to be done to become a developed nation. Statistics show that after Independence our growth rate has increased from 3% to 9%. But we still face problems like poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. Besides, a major chunk of the population living in villages (72%) is still backward. The government is spending millions of rupees in the name of rural development without getting the desired results. Among many reasons, the foremost one is the communication gap between government devised policies and common masses who remain ignorant about them. To bridge this gap, a firm communication policy will prove crucial. According to this policy, local community media should be promoted to enhance community development, at least at the grassroots level. Among various existing genres of local community media, Community Radio will prove most effective as it can easily cover a wider range of areas as well as a diversified audience. Besides, experiments with community radio in many parts of India have proved it to be the cheapest and the strongest medium for fulfilling the communication gap between the community and the government. It has proved to be a vital tool in strengthening the ‘Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’ As, the community radio is still evolving it might be possible that soon, we will witness its various new forms which will be more superior as well as user-friendly. Well whatever the case may be, community radio has proved to be one of the best media of communication at the grassroots level.


From the macro point of view, development refers to the change from simple forms of organization and production to complex modern ones. Originally, men and women lived in small, self-sufficient communities, dependent on things they found in their environment. If food, fuel, or materials run out, they would simply move on. One of the first significant social and technological developments was the transition from this nomadic way of life to agricultural cultivation in settled communities, from which began societies as we know them today. So, this phenomenon will be termed as development, though in the materialistic sense. Development is a wholesome process. Development doesn’t mean only economic growth but also the social, spiritual, and moral enhancement of the entire society or nation. Economists define development as the growth in terms of structural and technological advancement. Typically, the early stages of developing economies have most of their production and labor force in agriculture. Later, the manufacturing and service sectors become larger. The service sector includes government, defense, construction, transport, finance, insurance, banking, and the like, as well as the work of people who do not produce physical objects such as cars or radios. Thus, accountants, lawyers, teachers, and hairdressers are considered part of the service sector. Another key feature of the development is to eradicate poverty. Entire economies can be poor, or they can grow but still leave large sections of their people in poverty. In the second half of the 20th century, development policymakers became acutely aware of the difficulties a large number of countries in the developing world are facing as most of them were former colonies of the industrialized nations. Development economics became more or less synonymous with the study of how these countries could progress out of poverty. Nowadays no one can deny the importance of media in fighting social evils, illiteracy as well as poverty. Understanding the essence of media and showing full confidence in it, our beloved first Prime Minister of India Pt. Nehru took all possible measures to make Press free from any authoritarian control. Remembering Nehru’s contribution to the Indian media noted journalist M. Chalapati Rau once said, “In the period after Independence, Nehru played a large part in shaping our thinking about the press, as Gandhi Ji has done before Independence. He was opposed by a powerful section of the Indian Press, but he stood for tolerance and accepted that a vigorous, critical press is a vital part of democracy”. Media has played a pivotal role in spreading knowledge in traditional societies where accessing education was just a dream. By regularly broadcasting programs on agricultural issues and on various social and moral evils, media has contributed a lot in bringing multifarious development in this nation.

Development in India

Before becoming independent on 15 August 194, India was merely a colony of the British who exploited our country in the best possible manner. After Independence, we achieved tremendous success in many fields, but still much is needed to be done to become a developed nation. Since Independence, our growth rate may have increased from 3 percent to 9 percent (1), but we continue to face problems like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, etc. That is because our population has multiplied at an alarming rate while the available resources more or less remain the same. For economic development, it is very necessary to facilitate social, ethical as well as community-based development to avoid chaos shortly. The government is taking many steps to step up the developmental process, but we can’t accomplish anything till the condition of the population which resides in villages has been improved. Since 72 percent of our population lives in villages, how can we think of becoming a superpower without empowering the rural population? Understanding the importance of rural uplifting, the government has considerably increased the annual rural development budget. Also, the central, as well as state governments, have devised various developmental schemes to improve the conditions of rural areas.


There can be many reasons why the government, despite spending millions of rupees in the name of rural development, is not getting the desired results. The first and foremost reason is the communication gap between the government devised policies and the masses. The policies are extremely good, but the masses remain ignorant because of a lack of information, illiteracy, proper guidance, and lack of training in this field. Thus, in the context of laymen, these policies remain irrelevant, and only a very small section of citizens is benefited from them. To bridge this gap, a firm communication policy will prove crucial. According to this policy, local community media should be promoted to enhance community development, at least at the grassroots level. For this, Community Radio will prove most effective as it can easily cover a wider range of areas as well as audience. But at the same time, firm steps should be taken to check corruption in government offices and the public sector.

Community radio

Community radio is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting content that is popular in a local audience but which may often be overlooked by commercial or mass-media broadcasters. The term has somewhat different meanings in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia. In the UK, the idea of community-based services can be traced to the original concept for the BBC local radio in the early 1960s. Thereafter, various land-based unlicensed pirate radio stations, such as East London Radio and Radio AMY (Alternative Media for You) developed the idea further. Aspirate stations proliferated during the late 1970s and early 1980s these stations were joined by those broadcasting specifically to minority immigrant communities (Afro-Caribbean and Asian etc.), particularly in cities such as London, Birmingham, Bristol, and Manchester. Although “community radio” remains synonymous with “pirate radio” for some people in the UK, most minority immigrant stations focused purely on specific musical genres and were operated (theoretically at least) on a for-profit basis. Community radio services in the UK are operated on a not-for-profit basis with community ownership and control built into their structures. Following an experiment started in 2001 by the former UK broadcast regulator The Radio Authority, since 2005 some 200 such stations have been licensed by the UK broadcasting regulator (Ofcom). Most such stations broadcast on FM, typically at a radiated power level of approximately 25 Watts (per-plane) although there are a few that operate on AM (medium wave), particularly in more rural areas.

In the U.S., community radio stations are non-profit, community-based operations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission for broadcasting in the non-commercial, public portion of the FM band. These stations differ from other public radio outlets in the U.S. by allowing community volunteers to actively participate as broadcasters. (2)Pirate radio is virtually unknown in Australia because of the strictly controlled allocation of broadcasting frequencies, and the likely application of severe, legislated penalties, including jail, for offenders.

Concept of community

Communities are complex entities and so what constitutes “community” in community radio is often a contentious and tricky debate and will vary from country to country. The community may also often be replaced by a range of terms like “alternative”, “radical”, or “citizen” radio. Traditionally in sociology, a “community” has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. Community radio is often built around concepts of access and participation and so the term community may be thought of as often referring to geographical communities based around the possible reach of the radio’s signal, i.e. the people who can receive the message, and their potential to participate in the creation of such messages. This is of course problematized by the fact that many radio stations now broadcast over the internet as well, thereby reaching potentially global audiences and communities.

Community radio models

Philosophically, two distinct approaches to community radio can be discerned, though the models are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One stresses service or community-mindedness, a focus on what the station can do for the community. The other stresses involvement and participation by the listener. Within the service, model localism is often prized, as community radio, as a third-tier, can provide content focused on a more local or particular community than larger operations. Sometimes, though, the provision of syndicated content that is not already available within the station’s service area is seen as a desirable form of service. Within the UnitedStates, for example, many stations syndicate content such as Democracy Now! from groups such as Pacifica Radio on the basis that it provides a form of content not otherwise available because of such a program’s lack of appeal to advertisers or (especially in Pacifica’s case) politically controversial nature. Within the access or participatory model, the participation of community members in producing content is seen as a good in itself. While this model does not necessarily exclude a service approach, there is tension between the two, as outlined, for example, in Jon Bekken’s Community Radio at the Crossroads.

Vision, philosophy, and status

Modern-day community radio stations often serve their listeners by offering a variety of content that is not necessarily provided by the larger commercial radio stations. Community radio outlets may carry news and information programming geared toward the local area, particularly immigrant or minority groups that are poorly served by other major media outlets. More specialized musical shows are also often a feature of many community radio stations. Community stations and pirate stations (where they are tolerated) can be valuable assets for a region. Community radio stations typically avoid content found on commercial outlets, such as Top 40 music, sports, and “drive-time” personalities.

Community radio in India

In India, the campaign to legitimize community radio began in the mid-1990s, soon after the Supreme Court of India ruled in its judgment of February 1995 that “airwaves are public property”.(3)This came as an inspiration to groups across the country, but to begin with, only educational (campus) radio stations were allowed under somewhat stringent conditions.

Anna FM is India’s first campus ‘community’ radio, launched on 1 February 2004, which is run by Education and Multimedia Research Centre (EM²RC), and all programs are produced by the students of Media Sciences at Anna UniversityOn 16 November 2006, the government of India notified new Community RadioGuidelines which permit NGOs and other civil society organizations to own and operate community radio stations. About 4,000 community radio licenses are on offer acrossIndia, according to government sources. By 30 November 2008, the Indian Ministry of information &Broadcasting had received 297 applications for community radio licenses, including 141 from NGOs and other civil society organizations, 105 from educational institutions, and 51 for ‘farm radio’ stations to be run by agricultural universities and agricultural extension centers (‘Krishi Vigyan Kendras’). Of these, 107 community radio stations have been cleared for licensing through the issue of Letters of Intent. 13 Grant of Permission Agreements (GOPA) have been signed with license applicants under the new scheme. By 30 November 2008, there were 38 operational community radio stations in the country. Of these, two are run by NGOs and the rest by educational institutions. The first community-based radio station, licensed to an NGO (as distinct from campus-based radio) was launched on 15 October 2008, when ‘Sangham Radio’ in Pastapur village, Medak district, Andhra Pradesh state, was switched on at 11.00am. Sangham Radio, which broadcasts on 90.4 MHz, is licensed to Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO that works with women’s groups in about 75 villages of Andhra Pradesh. The community radio station is managed by ‘General’ Narsamma and AlgoleNarsamma. The second NGO-led community radio station in India was launched on 23 October 2008 at ‘TARAgram’ in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh state. Named ‘Radio Bundelkhand’ after the Bundelkhand region of central India where it is located, the radio station is licensed to theSociety for Development Alternatives (DA), a Delhi-based NGO. Radio Bundelkhand also broadcasts on 90.4 MHz for four hours a day, including two hours of repeat broadcast. By 9 July 2009, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting had issued the ‘Grant of Permission Agreements’ (GOPA) for 51 community radio stations. Most of the GOPAs was issued to educational institutions. Among the community radio stations started in2009 SARANG 107.8 is the only one in Karnataka, though there are few more that have received SACFA (Standing Committee Clearance for Frequency Allocation). Under the new community radio policy, any not-for-profit ‘legal entity’ – except individuals, political parties, and their affiliates, criminal and banned organizations – can apply for a CR license. Central funding is not available for such stations, and there are stringent restrictions on fundraising from other sources. Only organizations that are registered for a minimum of three years and with a ‘proven’ track record of local community service can apply. License conditions implicitly favor well-funded stations as against inexpensive low power operations, several of which (e.g. Mana Radio in Andhra Pradesh and Raghav FM in Bihar) ran successfully on shoe-string budgets before the imposition of any community radio policy. The license entitles them to operate a 100 watt (ERP) radio station, with a coverage radius of approximately 12 kilometers. A maximum antenna height of 30 meters is allowed. Community radio stations are expected to produce at least 50 percent of their programs locally, as far as possible in the local language or dialect. The stress is on developmental programming, though there is no explicit ban on entertainment. News programs are banned on community radio in India, as also on commercial FM radio. However, the government recently clarified that certain categories of news are permitted on radio, including sports news and commentaries, information on traffic and weather conditions, coverage of cultural events and festivals, information on academic events, public announcements about utilities like electricity and water supply, disaster warnings and health alerts. Five minutes of advertising per hour is allowed on community radio. Sponsored programs are not allowed except when the program is sponsored by the government at the Centre or the State. Activists and community workers from across the country have banded together under the aegis of the ‘Community Radio Forum’ to coordinate training and support for community radio stations, as well as to continue to petition for a more proactive community radio policy. The Community Radio Forum, India, was registered as a ‘Society’ and ‘Trust’ on 26 February 2008. In the meantime, mobile telephone operators have begun to offer commercial broadcast services over GSM, evading completely government restrictions built around traditional concepts of broadcasting technology.

Community radio success in India:

(1)   Sarang107.8 FM

SARANG 107.8 is run by St Aloysius College (Autonomous), Mangalore, a coastal town in the southern part of Karnataka. SARANG107.8 FM means ‘all colors’ of Mangalore, signifying various social, religious, linguistic communities and their harmonious existence – which is a requirement now after the disturbance in the context of an attack on churches (post 14 September 2008) by radical Saffronists, and later assault on women in a pub in the name of moral policing by similar groups. The local communities of farmers, fisherfolk, medical/ legal experts, students, workers contribute regularly to this radio. The radio also spreads messages of peace and harmony among people through programs based on the need for the same. Health and hygiene, agricultural messages, fisherfolk issues, road safety, water conservation, rainwater harvesting, folk culture and life, original entertainment by locals, and students are the hallmarks of this radio. Currently (as on the last day of July 2009), SARANG 107.8broadcasts in Konkani, Kannada, Tulu, and English languages regularly, besides occasionally broadcasting in Malayalam and Beary languages. (4)

(2)   Kunjal Panchhi Kutch Ji

This community radio station is administered by Kach Women Development Corporation and is immensely popular among the rural womenfolk. This corporation is working in this area for the last two decades. This radio station mostly focuses on the issues relating to women and tries to find a solution to the problems under discussion. The topic for discussion mostly consists of issues like female feticide, dowry, and female education. (5)

(3)   Chala Ho Gaon Mein

The importance of this community radio lies in the fact that the programs broadcast are prepared by the people of rural background. The programs basically cover issues like dowry, violence against women, corruption, social evils, etc. Needless to say that ‘Chalo Ho Gao Mein’ has really proved to be a landmark in providing a common platform to the residents of Palamu district of Jharkhand who can communicate their thoughts without any restriction.

(4)   Mandakini Ki Awaaz

‘Mandakini ki Awaaz’ Community Radio is located in the Mandakini river valley at Pauri in Garhwal, supported by a group of people from a tiny village called Bhanaj. Located at a five-hour drive from the nearest town of Rudraprayag, this group of people aims at creating an open and transparent administrative and governance information system. The radio group mediates between the people and the governing bodies (panchayats) of these villages to create an open platform where policies, schemes, and financial budgets can be made available for public discussion and scrutiny. It was established with required technical support and training from Ideosync Media Combine and Equal Access, the two NGOs working in the field of development communication and long-standing partners of community radio. (6)


In a real sense, community radio plays a pivotal role in making the masses aware of their basic rights and duties. Not only limited to solving problems that a common man faces in his day-to-day life, but community radio also provides him a strong platform from where he can freely disseminate his ideas among his community members in the best possible manner. Thus, community radio becomes one of the important instruments in strengthening our ‘Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’. Besides solving social problems as well as entertaining local people, the community radio also acts as an intermediary between the government and the local people. This is the place where local people can air their grievances to the government as well as get the solutions to their problems. Needless to say, community radio has played a major role in bridging the communication gap between the government and the local people. As the community radio is still evolving it might be possible that shortly we will see it in various new forms which will be technologically more superior as well as user-friendly. Whatever the case may be, community radio has proved to be one of the best media of communication at the grassroots level.


  2. Dunaway, Ph.D., David (2002). Jankowski, Nicholas W.; Prehn, Ole.eds.
    “Community Radio at the beginning of the 21st Century: Commercialism
    Community Power” (pdf). Community Media in the Information Age:
    Perspectives and Prospects (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press).
    Retrieved 2009-02-15

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