Shramik Bharti’s ‘Waqt ki Awaaz’ reaches out to 300,000 people in 300 villages

Digital Empowerment Foundation in conversation with Rakesh Kumar Pandey, CEO,
Shramik Bharti

What was the motivation behind the initiative?

India is a country with diversity in every aspect of life with 1.3 billion people and a large geography. But the inequality in development has deprived some sections of our society. Rural Kanpur is one such disadvantaged area where Shramik Bharti is working.

Any society will grow if it has some platforms for the participation of citizens; where information is available to everyone; where ideas, views are debated and opinion of the weakest are respected; where everyone’s voice fly without discrimination; where cultural diversity is stimulated over commercial homogeneity. Shramik Bharti found great opportunity in Community Radio due to its uniqueness of design for this purpose.

Shramik Bharti conducted a study in June 2010 in the villages of Kanpur to estimate the need for community radio. It came out very clearly from the study that the community does not have access to any social media. Due to poor infrastructure newspapers could only reach in those villages which remain well connected. TV is inaccessible due to non-availability of electricity. Commercial FM channels are heavily loaded with the agenda of promoting Bollywood, national and international news. They neither have space nor capacity to cover local art, culture, needs etc.

The challenges and opportunities motivated Shramik Bharti to promote Community Radio “Waqt Ki Awaaz” as communities own medium for communication, entertainment, learning and change.

What were the challenges you came across?

Community Radio Station can’t take foreign donations – the present guidelines of Community Radio Station issued by Ministry of Information & Broadcasting do not allow foreign donations for community radio station. Also, the erratic and insufficient electricity supply in rural areas was a major problem. Plus, the many government officials at the block and district level avoid engaging with community radio.

How are you planning to scale it up?

Due to government of India policy for community radio, the coverage area can’t be increased – Waqt Ki Awaaz reaches out to about 300 villages in a radius of about 15 kilometers covering a population of approximately 300,000 in Akabarpur, Rasoolabad and Maitha blocks of Kanpur Dehat district and Chaubepur and Shivarajpur blocks of Kanpur Nagar district. The power of the transmitter is limited to 50W so it can’t penetrate most geographical areas.

Moreover the concept of community radio does not allow it to reach to a very large area as it will create disconnect with its community and will lose its core purpose. It should be within approachable distance for the community so that they can easily engage with its activities.

Waqt Ki Awaaz would like to scale up by creating a large pool of volunteers with the capacity of producing programs for their radio.

What does winning SM4E Awards mean to you, and how will you leverage it?

This award means a lot to Waqt Ki Awaaz. It is given in the category of Community Journalism. It has ratified our approach of dealing with social issues in our communities. It will also help us in raising funds from various donors and CSR funds and also improve our credibility among the business community whom we approach for advertisement.

How did you arrive at the technology you used for the project?

I participated in a national level conference on Community Radio in 2007 where I came to know about it for the first time. There I developed relations with the people leading this movement in the country.

In 2008, Shramik Bharti decided to explore this medium and organised a two day workshop of the staff on community radio with the support of Mr. N. Ramakrishnan, Director, Ideosync Media Combine. We took technical help of Mr. N. Ramakrishnan to guide us in purchasing first set of equipments in 2008. We moved slowly in adding equipments and took support of experts in the sector and took help of “Community Radio – A User’s Guide to the Technology” by UNESCO. We purchased the transmitter from Nomad and fixed it on our own. Well, we run completely on solar power. A team within Shramik Bharti working on renewable energy installed the solar power plant of required power. Still we work on very basic but functional infrastructure.

What did you end up learning from this

The more we engage community in program production, the more listeners we enrol. We invite people to come to radio station and record their programs, for which they come with or without prior intimation. It increases their ownership. We are also part of the change our listeners want to see in their lives. Thus our belief: “What Public Broadcasters or Commercial FM can do, Waqt Ki Awaaz can also do, but what Waqt Ki Awaaz can do, others cannot do”.