How a Fisherman-Run Radio Station in South India is Changing Lives

Kadal Osai FM, run by the community, has helped to educate the people of Pamban, a small island in Tamil Nadu, and to raise social and environmental awareness.

On Pamban, a small island inhabited by over 100,000 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Kadal Osai 90.4 FM is not just a radio station. It is a lifeline.

Run by a dozen fishermen to empower their community – one that represents 80% of the island’s population – the radio station is the first community media initiative in India exclusively for fishermen by fishermen.

Started by a fisherman, Armstrong Fernando, about five years ago, Radio Kadal Osai (Sound of the Sea) is now a 12-member team, researching, presenting and broadcasting news to islanders.

On Pamban, people are highly dependent on the sea. They engage in fishing or tend to the tourism sector by running small hotels and driving taxis.

The 24/7 channel provides timely weather updates for those who brave the deep waters to fish the sea, warns them of inclement weather and also helps them identify potential fishing spots.

The community radio station has also helped create alternative livelihoods and raise awareness of societal issues and marine conservation.

“Our job is to protect the sea for people,” says Lenin, who works as the station’s programming coordinator.

“People here are very simple and hardworking. At first when we started the radio there was a lot of resistance to the idea. People apprehended us. But now that they have started to reap the benefits of a community media, they come to our radio station themselves and want to share their experiences,” he said. World TRT.

Prior to the establishment of Kadal Osai, the people of Pamban could only listen to the low frequencies of Ceylon Radio based in Sri Lanka, due to its proximity. India’s national public broadcaster All India Radio also lacked sufficient reach.

Kadal Osai Radio Jockey (RJ) interviews a native of Pamban Island. The 24/7 channel provides timely weather updates for anglers. ()

Sabeer, 40, who has worked as a fisherman for two decades, believes the introduction of Kadal Osai has transformed the lives of islanders.

“They share the latest information relevant to us (fishermen). We didn’t know about these things before. Important government projects and vacancies are shared, along with other information such as the location of local vaccination camps,” said said Sabeer. World TRT.

Initially, the radio station broadcast for a few hours a day, but as its popularity grew, programs had to be broadcast around the clock.

Lenin believed that people experience a sense of authenticity when information is broadcast over the airwaves.

“The radio has a great influence in the lives of the people who listen to it [compared to] Television, social networks or word of mouth. People recognize that there is little possibility of being misinformed about this medium.”

Help with marine conservation

In addition to announcements related to the welfare of fishermen and the broadcast of traditional music, the community radio also shares useful information to protect and conserve ocean resources, reporting endangered species such as sea turtles and asking fishermen to save them if they are caught in their nets.

When the Pamban fishermen deployed their nets, the turtles often got tangled with the fish. Turtle meat was commonly eaten, thus endangering rare species.

As part of a special initiative, Radio Kadal Osai has started offering fishermen INR 1,000 ($13.35) if they release trapped turtles into the ocean while capturing the moment on their phone.

“It has become a huge success. Many fishermen have sent us videos of them releasing turtles into the sea. We give them cash rewards and also announce their names on the radio. It has also helped raise awareness of the conservation of sea turtles,” said Gayathri Usman, Kadal Osai’s station manager.

The station and its awareness campaigns have also helped to curb open defecation on the island, provided sustainable fishing practices and educated fishermen about environmental pollution.

“People are no longer taking plastic bags to the sea. They are cautious and aware that sea pollution would directly affect their livelihoods,” Usman adds.

Programs on climate change, women’s empowerment, and loans and grants available to fishers were also popular.

Children on the island attend an awareness program on the radio station.

Children on the island attend an awareness program on the radio station. (Kadal Osai FM)

During the current coronavirus pandemic, the radio is also working hard to educate people on pressing issues such as vaccine hesitancy, testing and physical distancing.

“Before, people would discriminate if someone was infected with the virus. It was like a taboo. A lot of fake news had crept into people’s minds and we had to work a lot on fact-checking for them. In the end, we were successful in giving people the correct perspective,” Usman says.

The struggle for a sustainable model

While a host of such community media initiatives have been undertaken in the country, very few have matched the success of Kadal Osai.

This is largely thanks to the sustainable business model adopted by radio.

“Our trust has a building that has about 12 stores. We [are sustained by] rental income and donations from members of our trust and various male fisher associations,” says Usman.

“We also receive projects from various international organizations like UNICEF and the Ministry of Culture and the Commonwealth Educational Media Center for Asia (CEMCA) which helps us to develop continuously with the aim of continuing to work” , she adds.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case with many such local radio stations in the country.

Experts say license fraud has hampered prospects for a thriving community radio ecosystem in India.

“Ideally, a community radio should be owned by a community,” says Danish Iqbal, a radio expert and professor at the Mass Communication Research Center (MCRC) in Delhi.

“Unfortunately, in India, most community radio stations are sanctioned by government-owned educational institutions. Many licenses have also been contributed by private educational institutions on behalf of educational NGOs.”

Source: World TRT

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