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'Even silence makes sense in radio'
2 December 2013 This is a high time when Community Radio stations should start thinking innovatively and make use of sounds familiar to the community to carry messages argues Dr R Sreedher

I was one day at the Barnet library in UK surfing some local magazines. There, I came across a mail written by a citizen complaining about his local Radio channel.

It appeared that the local channel used to broadcast sounds of local birds in their morning programmes instead of the signature tune. His complaint was that he could not identify certain sounds of birds available in his locality. He said that the local station is committing a fraud on the listeners by broadcasting the sounds of migratory birds’ alien to his locality.

This reassures me that what the listener expects from community radio, is sounds which are familiar to them. This is a lesson for some of our CR stations who broadcast Bollywood music by paying hefty royalty.

Children love to listen to sounds which are unnatural. Many of the western serials bring about stock characters like Mickey Mouse to continuously attract children. I realised that even our own epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata produced with different sounds, attract listeners particularly children.

Experimenting with sound is the need of the hour. In India, with the Guru-Shiksha parampara and oral tradition, any attempt to create audio programmes will be welcome.

While talking about Sounds, an award winning programme from All India Radio Chennai comes to my mind. It was produced by R Mahadevan, who later went to BBC Tamil service. He recorded the sounds of ‘crying children’. He spent almost six months in recording noticeably different noises made by the children. He also went to the Govt children’s Hospital Egmore and recorded the sounds of the children suffering from various diseases like diphtheria etc. With the help of paediatricians and child psychologists he tried to correlate the sound with a meaning like if the child is crying for milk, crying to play or a if the child is having some illness. He named the programme ‘Vetru oli alla mazhalai oli’ ie the sound of the child is not mere sound. The programme has won the Hosa Bunka award from the Asian Broadcasting Union.

Copying this format, I also tried to record the sounds of cows, and buffaloes and tried to attach a meaning. These are examples where sound plays an important role.

The former Governor General of India and a freedom fighter, used to tell stories to children through the radio to create awareness and morals. He did it after he retired from active public life. I remember that children used to love his voice and listen to him attentively. The concept of Radio uncle and Radio Aunt was a hit in the 50s and 60s. It is time that we revive these things through Community Radio. A well respected elder from the community might start doing programmes for children and once in a while the radio station can bring them together for a party.

I also want to give an example of a radio stations misleading the public by use of some irrelevant sound effects. When the sputnik was sent to space in late 50s, radio stations throughout the world broadcast some beeps to give the listeners a feel that the satellite is revolving round the earth making the beep noise whereas satellites make no noise.

Even no sound, ie mere silence makes sense in radio programmes.

I feel that it is time for our CR stations think innovatively and make use of sounds familiar to the community to carry messages. I wish that the future training programmes for CR personnel take note of these elements into account instead of just preaching that this belong to the community and they have a right to air whatever they want.