Recognising the power of community radio stations (CRS’s) as a tool for positive social change in India, the recent study on the listenership, reach and effectiveness of CRS by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is an effort  to determine  the extent to which these stations have been delivering the desired benefits to the community.

Covering over nineteen community radios under three categories – NGO, Education and Agriculture, a total of 1844 listeners and 984 non-listeners were sampled. It was observed that most of the CRS’s run programs in regional languages. More than three-fourth of the listeners hail from rural areas (77%), with 9 CRS’s catering completely to the rural population. This is a positive indicator considering that many parts of rural India are still far from the reach of mainstream media. With respect to the type of community radio, the maximum proportion of listeners (70%) comprised CRS’s run by NGOs.

A majority of listeners rated the quality of signal strength, content and variety of programmes as good. Popular factors that were listed as contributing to listenership were good music, useful information and news provided by the radio, the RJ’s, interactive programmes/phone-ins and information about local community problems. The 45% of non-listeners for almost all the CRS’s mentioned that the prime reason for not listening was that they were not aware of the existence of community radio channels. Other important factors that emerged were preference for music channels, lack of variety, excessive commercials, poor quality of programmes and improper show timings. It was also found that all eight CRS’s managed by NGOs have a greater engagement with the community in comparison with other categories. CRS’s of educational institutions registered average performance in terms of reach and listenership, while those under the agriculture category had low performance. Considering these findings, the study suggested giving more weightage to CRS’s run by NGOs at the time of approval of licenses.

Financial sustainability and capacity building of staff members still remain major problems for all community radios in India. The study recommended innovative solutions for keeping community radio’s afloat. For example, government funds could be kept aside to award the best performing CRS’s on a yearly basis. Other ministries could be roped in to give information on all development schemes of the respective areas through the radio stations, with appropriate payments. DAVP norms for CRS’s could be liberalised. CRS’s could function like rural Knowledge Centre’s providing a variety of services such as public service telephone, fax and photo copying facilities among others. In conclusion, given the vast impact of CRS’s on the overall wellbeing of an individual as well as the society, there is immense potential for CRS’s in India which need to be nurtured and supported. Overall satisfaction levels with programmes are high – with listeners rating community radios to be highly effective for the development of the community. Therefore, community radio can be looked upon as a potent communication tool whose sustenance should be ensured by all measures.

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Compiled by
Archana K Shaji
CR News