August 2004

Low Power FM Radio:Indian universities jump into broadcasting

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The Union Government is accepting application forms from recognised central and state government academic institutes like universities and residential schools to operate a Low-Power (50-Watt) Frequency Modulated (FM) Radio Station (LPFMRS) (The Hindu, December 18, 2002). Eighty two universities and 233 colleges accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (February 2003) could apply for the license to operate LPFMRS. Of these, State Agriculture Universities (SAU) would benefit the most out of these radio stations in their off and in campus extension programmes for farmers and use radio as an effective communication tool. Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), responsible for training, research and demonstration of improved technologies through Farm Radio Broadcast (FRB) will have greater outreach, providing value addition to conventional method it uses, to reach out to the farmers. Government has issued 16 letters of intent as on July, 2004 and unfortunately not a single SAU or KVK is still listed, the most potential bodies with years of experience in agriculture development. Both SAUs and KVKs can team up to support and run a radio station, as on board they have subject matter specialists and scientists to spearhead the activities benefiting farmers.

About LRFMRS
The objective of the LPFMRS could be manifold, covering health, education, general awareness entertainment, infotainment services or a combination of all of these. If the main objective of the radio station is school education, then Interactive Radio Instruction approach would be ideal and in this case, the LPFMRS would serve as education radio (shiksha radio in Hindi) to a small geographical area. If agriculture related programmes are to be broadcasted, best applicable to India, it can better be known as farm radio (krishi radio in Hindi). The cost of running a 50-watt radio station is just half if it is compared with other Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that are expensive and dependent on multiple infrastructures. Radio is available with rural folks even if they do not use it. A hybrid approach of development, wherein radio station being the core technology, along with other ICTs can harmonise the overall development that may not be possible through radio alone. This article focuses on FRB as the core area of service best suited for India and gradually offering other services for personal and intellectual development.

Farm Radio Broadcast
India, being an agrarian country, for the farmer folks, nothing concerns more than crop production, fertilisers, rainfall, and bank loan to buy agri-tools or animal stock in addition to other needs. It makes sense to use radio as basic ICT tool to broadcast programmes that informs, educates, trains, and share concerns, problems, and solutions related to farm, livestock, environment, weather forecast in coastal regions, and non-agriculture related activities. FRB can pass on the information on training, opportunities, and schemes and facilitate local networking with government institutes, universities, banks, forestry departments and panchayats (body of rural governance). Farmers within 15 to 20 kms (if terrain is flat) radius around the radio station can listen to FRB by a 50-Watt transmitter. In hilly terrain, repeaters can be used to reach the last mile.

FRB can strengthen small-scale farming, rural communities, and rural communication. Of the 31 State Agriculture Universities (SAUs), Directorate of Extension of some SAU's like University of Agriculture Science, Bangalore, regularly conducts off campus field extension programmes for farmers. Radio as a means of communication and decision making tool will not only aid these universities in executing their agriculture policies, but also health and education issues. Since early 1950s agriculture policies to strengthen crop production through extension programmes by the government were started, currently Extension Services (ESs) is continuing many programmes like training, education and field trips for the farmers. LPFMRS can catalyse these efforts through radio as has been proved in the past but at very large scale through All India Radio. By virtue of close proximity of the radio station, farmer folks can directly participate or contribute towards productive farm related activities. Through its All India Co-ordinated Research Project (AICRP) of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), manpower and funding for FRB could be tapped. AICRP is a mechanism in building nation-wide co-operative, inter-disciplinary research network, linking ICAR institutes with the SAUs. ICAR, an autonomous apex national organisation, which plans, conducts and promotes research, education, training can make best use of this opportunity by funding and requesting SAUs to run a local radio station.

Basic equipment list for FRB
A small recording studio, recording room and cabinets to store audio tapes is needed to house the equipment.

Production equipment

  • Studio console (multifunctional equipment) with built a telephone hybrid ,
  • Two studio monitor speakers,
  • Two dual auto reverse cassette deck,
  • One CD changer,
  • Five headphones,
  • Five dynamic microphones with windshields,
  • Two utility mixer,
  • 3 microphone stands with flexible arms,
  • Two microphone desk stand that is flexible,
  • Five portable cassette recorders with XLR (a connecting cable) mic inputs.
  • Five dynamic microphones for the cassette recorders,
  • Automatic voltage regulators for equipment and computers,
  • Two computers, with digital editing software,
  • Digital wall clock,
  • Telephone connection.
  • One or more computers can be used if enough fund is available though not necessary.

Transmission Equipment
Two 50 Watt FM stereo transmitter, One wide band omni directional antenna, Antenna cable, One channel compressor and limiter, Antenna Mast and anchors height specified by Wireless Planning Commission (WPC).

 


Field Extension Services (off campus activities) and Extension Services (in campus activities) offer variety of agriculture activities that broadly fall in following categories: (a) Field extension work for education of farmers, (b) Training of extension workers, (c) Linkage with research and other extension organisations, (d) Extension education council, and (e) Other extension services.

By way of 'radio ecosystem', FRB would provide a new dimension to view the dynamic flow of agriculture dependent, socio-economic and cultural activities of people in an annual agriculture and culture cycle. It would open new frontiers in agriculture, education, training, and sharing of old and new ideas. Local folk songs, stories, festivals can be recorded and broadcast that will help in preserving the culture and identity of that region. Along with FRB, entertainment programme should also be considered to make the LPFMRS popular among the local people. It is fun for the people of all age groups to participate and contribute in programmes like songs, drama, documentary and other types.

Programme contents and format
FRB can include a variety of programmes like local agriculture news, crop production, food processing and storage, livestock and beekeeping, pest management, rainwater harvesting, soil conservation, soil fertilisation, trees and forestry, water management, environment, community development, gender and development, global issues, social issues and biodiversity, community development. Of course, entertainment programmes should never be ruled out.

The programme format consists of documentary (covering any topic with a broad approach, with facts and experiences of people), drama (combining education and entertainment of a specific topic), features(short programmes with an approach to factual themes like health or nutrition, pest control or fertilisation in a creative, artistic way), interviews (a dialogue between the host and a guest expert), panels and discussions (programmes demonstrating different perspectives on an issue or question).

License
  SAUs need to apply in the prescribed form to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in triplicate, through the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India or the state government concerned. The form can be downloaded from the Internet from the following sites: http://mib.nic.in/information&b/CODES/CRS-application.doc, http://mib.nic.in/information&b/CODES/licenradio.pdf Within one year from the date of signing of the license agreement, the applicant must complete all necessary formalities. These include obtaining Standing Advisory Committee on Radio Frequency Allocations (SACFA) clearance and so forth, to set up the necessary broadcast facilities and obtain a Wireless Operating License from the Wireless Planning Commission, Wing of Ministry of Communications and IT.


Planning and organisation
In order to begin FRB, ESs should adopt the following model: (i) introducing the concept of radio station to the farmers, (ii) selecting location for the radio station, apply for license, (iii) constructing production studio, purchase equipment, (iv) selecting and training trainees, (v) shortlisting those interested in becoming community broadcasters and finally going on air.

All the physical (infrastructure need) and non-physical (training, decision, motivation, interest) activities will depend upon the trust between the ESs workers, leaders and managers on one hand, and farmer communities, community based organisation or NGOs at the other. The radio station can also have a local name so that people are able to connect to it. A short list of stakeholders that could form the core of the FRB consists of centres/department of agriculture sciences or universities, local people from diverse background, members of radio clubs, youth clubs, trusts, and cooperatives etc.

Expenses

Equipment cost and recurring cost:

Based on the equipment list, rough guestimate of a radio station costs could be between 8 to 10 lakhs (US $ 18,000 to 21,000). Of course, part of the fund can be generated from the community. Training costs include travel allowance of the trainees, food and lodging.

License and spectrum fee:
There is no license fee, but licensee will have to pay some spectrum usage fee. A bank security of Rs 50,000 (US$1000) is to be deposited to ensure timely performance of the license agreement.

Technical:
Audio equipment of three different types comprise a typical LPFMRS with recording equipment is the microphone, portable field recorders and studio recorder, editing equipment called studio console/mixer and or multimedia computers, transmission equipment, comprising two 50-Watts FM transmitters.

The transmitters and audio equipments could be purchased from agencies within India, or imported from abroad. There are lots of information available on the Internet for audio equipment. Computer software for editing and mixing can be used too and is recommended, as the quality of programme produced is excellent. From the Internet free to download editing software is available. From http://www.pctip.ch/downloads/dl/14320.asp one would be able to download very basic software for editing radio programmes that can be used during training.

Select Cool Edit 96 and start downloading. Cool Edit 2000 does not have the facility for saving the edited program so preferably it should not be downloaded. For advance use free multi track (ability to record more than single sound track) can be downloaded from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/beta.ph. During unavailability of electricity, back up should last for few hours. The radio station can best rely on solar powered battery charger.

Training
Training generally for 2 to 3 weeks is important to gain skills of programme production and equipment handling. Women, farmers, youth and students need to be encouraged to take part in the training. Training in recording, audio production and broadcast should be achieved through workshops.

Sustenance of the CRS
Long-term sustenance of the radio station is very important. As per the guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the station cannot generate revenue by sponsoring programmes or through advertisements like All India Radio. SAUs can request grants from ICAR, and other UN organisations, UNESCO funds radio projects and Food and Agriculture Organisation could also be approached.

Non-government organisations and personal donations can meet some of the expenses of the radio station. Farmers and self-help groups can contribute in radio resource fund. Producing audio programmes for cooperatives, banks, schools, NGOs, panchayats and charging them are excellent ways of raising funds. There are many government and autonomous bodies that have many development schemes for development.

The radio station can and should charge a fee to make people aware through interesting radio programmes on agriculture, health and education.

Specific information from the Internet can be made available to the people on request. It could then be broadcast over radio like email messages. People frequently travel for all sorts of personal jobs to Tehsil/Block/Mandal/Zilla Parishad/Taluk offices located in towns.

Through e-Governance, facility provided at the radio FRB, people could use the services at minimal cost for application forms of all sorts. Such models of e-Governance are popular in places like Dhar and Mellur.

 

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