STRUGGLE WITH RADIO | By Sumantra Mukherjee

By Sumantra Mukherjee
The author is an aspiring Assamese Internet Radio broadcaster

A one-man studio of an internet radio station

A one-man studio of an internet radio station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is radio for me? Radio for me is the old DL334 Philips 3 Band Portable Radio of my maternal grandfather which I first came across in my childhood. In those days, radio was a popular medium of mass communication. Well, I am Sumantra Mukherjee from Tinsukia, Assam (India). Tinsukia previously had Vivid Bharati but nowadays you can hardly get any FM channel on your radio. As per FM is concerned, we are habituated in staying tuned with cool RJs. But with the evolution of Community Radio, even northeast India got its first multi-language community radio named Radio Brahmaputra (in Dibrugarh) run wholly by an NGO in Assamese, Bhojpuri and Chhadri language. I had the privilege in visiting their station and it is somewhat another world for me filled with creative minds brainstorming for their next show to go on air. I too felt like to start an FM in Tinsukia. Soon I realized that I need millions in order to procure the license as well as the equipments for an FM radio station which as a typical middle class student, I can’t afford even in my wildest dreams. Well, had to throw this idea down the trash with a heavy heart.

Once another idea popped in my mind, what if I do not take any permission for FM radio license but I still can build a FM transmitter with the DIY projects & hacks from internet, then maybe I may succeed in bringing out a FM radio that may not be powerful like others but still can work in a comparatively small area. But till then I had not come across the concept of “Pirate Radio Station”, in layman terminology, “an illegally operating FM radio station” for which I may have to go to my “mamabari” also known as jail or pay huge fine. And it actually happened. A poor young man from Mansoorpur, Raghav Mahato, who set up his pirate radio station for just US$1 who was forced to sign a bond promising not to go back on air.

Related: WBRi Live Bengali Online Radio Channel - Streaming on the Internet from Washington DC

Then I came across Dabba Radio by Thane Richard from Mumbai, Maharashtra (India). Thane was an employee with Mahindra when he soon realized to showcase the diverse lives of Mumbai through radio. And maybe due to the restrictions, permissions and expensive affair of going with FM, he went online, crowd-funding and eventually rolling out Mumbai’s Dabba Radio on internet. The curiosity of a Bengali internet radio station kindled within me and that’s when I first met Washington Bangla Radio on internet. I also found that there is an Assamese internet radio station named Markin Kalpataru broadcasted from USA. Over the past few nights, I tried to accumulate knowledge on the technical aspects of internet radio and its viability in India. Then I suddenly realized that except the metropolitan and smart cities, most of the people of India have access to Kbps speed of 2G internet which they mostly use for WhatsApp or Facebook. 3G and broadband connectivity is too expensive for most while 4G LTE did not reach the rural population at all. The rural India especially in the northeast region has a crisis of internet of cellular connectivity. Most of them have not even heard of YouTube, SoundCloud, ShoutCast, Streema or GitHub. Internet radio apparently does not have any existence in rural India. For them, the world of radio ends with All India Radio.

Then how to attain our VISION?

Our vision is clear. We too want to roll out an internet radio station that can broadcast the rich socio-cultural assets of Assam to the people around the world. Assam has never got any launch-pad from where it can showcase its rich cultural diversity. The world knows Assam for Bihu. The world knows Assam for the songs of the legendary Bhupen Hazarika. The world knows Assam for the Joimoti by Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla. The world knows Assam for Kaziranga, Kamakhya Temple, Majuli, etc. The world may have seen India’s first wildlife documentary made by Uncle Robin Banerjee which on Kaziranga which featured on Berlin TV. The world knows Assam for the exotic tea and silk. You may have say Assam in Discovery, National Geographic or other travel channels but I bet you never knew the lives of the people of Assam. Did you know that Assam has one of the enlightening religions called Ekasarana Naam Dharma (meaning “all religions & gods are one”) pioneered by the great Srimanta Shankardeva and was later preached by Srimanta Madhavdeva. Majuli, also known as the world’s largest river island, happens to be the centre of Eksarana Naam Dharma. The most interesting part is that the followers of this religion use songs (Borgeet), acting (Ankiya Naata also known as Bhaona) and dance (Satriya) to converse the principles of humanity, civilization and society at large. Apart from this rich socio-cultural history of Assam, Assam is the home to many tribes and communities. Every tribes and communities have its own tradition, rituals and cultures living in harmony. They all have different cultural traditions but still they stand united always and believe in sharing of cultures and following it with collective happiness.

Undoubtedly the prime challenge of internet radio in rural northeastern India is the internet itself. But once it is surmounted, I believe it will open new horizons. The principal content will be in Assamese language or dialects of Assam but English will be used as secondary communication so that the people in India and around the world can decode the on-air enriching socio-cultural broadcast made with love in Assam by the people of Assam. The main endeavor is to preserve and conserve the beauty of Assamese society and take it to the people who were previously in the dark. The northeast India had always been an isolated zone. Many people of the world came to know Assam (especially the audience of BBC) came to know of Assam with the visit of Prince William and Kate Middleton in Kaziranga. We don’t only want people worldwide to know Assam, but we also want the people to follow Assam, its rich socio-cultural way of life that makes Assam one of the coolest places on earth with the most cordial, jolly and benign people.

Internet radio has always worked to connect the lives, sentiments and emotions of the people of various communities thereby giving a launch-pad. Since the internet users in rural Assam are much less, therefore the internet radio may not be a big thing. A person in rural Assam still prefers to sit with transistor radio or commonly the radio of their phones and tune to the AIR FM station listening the songs and news updates. And our aim is to make this internet radio station “open-source”. Any person having any knowledge can volunteer to enlighten us as well as the listeners. It is the one-place where poetry, drama, songs, dance can roll without any premium terms & condition provided it does not hurt the sentiments of any. That’s how we can nurture our beautiful ethos of Assam and bring back the golden bird in front of the world.