Anna Community Radio passes the mic to the women of Chennai

An all-female crew records a radio show for Anna FM. Photo: Anna University.

“In 2013, a woman called Geetha came to our studio. She thanked us profusely for making her life peaceful as her husband had quit drinking thanks to the work of Anna Community Radio,” recalls Malliga Kaliappan, who was RJ at Anna FM for 22 years. “Geetha’s husband had learned about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption through the anti-alcohol awareness programs we were running,” the RJ added.

Broadcasting at 90.4 MHz, Anna FM is a social initiative taken over by the Educational and Multimedia Research Center (EMRC) of Anna University since 2004. Community radio has touched the lives of many people, especially women in communities low income. It was the brainchild of Dr. R. Sreedhar, then head of the media science department, who was also a radio mainstay. Currently, Dr. I Arul Aram is the head of the department and FM.

Establishment and reach of Anna Community Radio

anna community radio entrance
Entrance to the Anna Community Radio office. Photo: Padmaja Jayaraman

With a 50 watt transmitter and a 30 meter high antenna, Anna FM reaches areas within a 15 kilometer radius. When setting up the station, the digital studio cost around Rs 8 lakh and the antenna Rs 4.5 lakh as shown in this study. The station began its first broadcast in February 2004. It serves as an example of collaboration between the community, students and staff.

“We reach around 4,000 to 5,000 people from the areas we cover,” says an administrative employee on the station’s coverage. Coverage areas include Mayilai Balajinagar, Venkatapuram, Nehru Nagar, Velachery Checkpost, Chitra Nagar, Kapali Thottam, Canal at Kotturpuram and Vannandurai.

“We get a grant of Rs 5 lakh from the university to run the radio every year,” says Dr Arul. In addition to this subsidy, the Union government pays them to run advertising campaigns throughout the year. Employees and students working on the radio are paid from these funds. In addition, they also pay honoraria to presenters and presenters.

Anna Community Radio has been certified as one of the top 24 community radios by the Ministry of Information and BroadcastingGovernment of India, valid until 2025. Currently, there are 364 community radio stations in India, with six stations in Chennai, including Anna FM. It also has the distinction of being the first campus community radio station in India.

Anna Community Radio ticks all the boxes mandated by the government, including a 50% reservation for community members on the station’s management committee. Today, four community members and two university representatives form the management committee, under the current head of the Department of Media Science.

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Engage and empower the community

When community members join the radio, they are usually trained by the media science students before running programs independently, Malliga says, recounting his formative period. “I was taught how to speak to the public and how to interview experts, how to avoid background noise and many other techniques,” she explains.

“Without Anna Community Radio, women like me would never have left our neighborhoods. I joined the radio station without my family’s knowledge in 2007. I walked in and out of Anna University fearing that someone would recognize me,” says S Selvakumari, an administrative employee at Velachery.

After three months, his family joined us, courtesy of Anna University media science students. “They came to neighborhoods like mine to convince families to encourage women to get involved in community radio,” she adds.

A few others have not encountered so many obstacles. “My family was happy and encouraged me to work at Anna FM. However, I was skeptical about speaking on the radio at first. But when my husband liked me after hearing me on air, my confidence was restored,” Malliga shares.

“Nowadays it’s a matter of surprise if women in the community don’t come forward to get involved in radio,” Selvakumari said, reflecting on the changing times.

live program recorded by women
Live programming in a listener’s home. Photo: Anna University.

Radio presentation skills aren’t the only skills these women learn on the job. “I have developed a lot of self-confidence, in addition to other basic skills that I can pass on to my family,” says Selvakumari.

For example, in an expert lecture, a nutritionist explained that vegetables should not be pressure-cooked, as this will strip out all the nutrients. Selvakumari says she has unlearned the method of cooking greens, among other things.

Not only the people who are on the production side of the radio, the listeners are also satisfied with Anna FM. “Many listeners give positive feedback by phone and email,” says another administrative employee. When Citizen Matters contacted S Dhilip Kumar, a West Mambalam listener, he said that every community radio show contains useful information for everyone. He has been listening to Anna FM since 2012.

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An overview of Anna FM’s programs

“Initially, it was four hours of programming back then. Today, our radio operates 12 hours, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” says Dr. Arul. The programs are usually in Tamil so that they can meet the needs of local communities.However, instruction and education programs for schoolchildren are in English.

“There are no movie-based programs including song playback on our FM,” confirms Surendran, an employee, adding that they would have to pay extra to get the license to play movie songs.

Some of the main focus areas of the programs include women empowerment, social issues, health, environment, science awareness and education and personality development.

“I usually do programs on women’s empowerment and education. For example, I suggest how parents should create a conducive environment for children to study. If they are studying, parents should sit with them and not be hung up on their phones because children tend to imitate their elders,” explained Dr Aruna Sankara Velayutham, an educationist who gives lectures on the radio. She’s been part of programs like ‘Nalam Peruvai Thozhi‘, which covers topics related to women’s health and nutrition; and ‘Shakti Arivaayadi‘, which emphasizes the empowerment of women.

Other programs include Siruvar Neram, which encourages children’s talents and teaches them values. The station also hosts special daytime programs. “If today is National Yoga Day, we will have a program on the importance of the day,” Selvakumari added.

Anna FM responds to disasters

“When there is no other way to know what is happening around you during natural disasters, the only medium that helps you is radio,” says Dr Arul. During the 2006 tsunami and 2015 floods, Anna FM served as a trusted source for updates and developments in its coverage areas.

More recently, when people were reluctant to take the hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, the radio station hosted shows that busted myths around vaccination. “Thanks to the doctors who came and talked about the benefits of the vaccine, many people in the community were vaccinated,” says Selvakumari.

When social media spread fake news about the pandemic faster than wildfires, Anna FM became a source of authentic information for its listeners.

Today, even those beyond the 15 kilometer radius can access content broadcast on Anna FM. The station has a podcast channel on Anchor and i-RADIO LIVE where they download the broadcast programs.

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