Marrying radio with Internet in Nepal
Author : Gaurab Raj Upadhaya
Date added : 2002-04-13
Brief Project Background
Radio Sagarmatha is the first community FM radio in the entire south Asia. Radio Sagarmatha is broadcast on FM 102.4 in the Kathmandu valley.
Nepal was connected to the Internet only in 1995. Yet, the majority of population cannot benefit from this new medium due to higher cost, low availability and lack of exposure. It also requires a minimum working knowledge of English.
But at the same time, there is no question that in urban and rural Nepal radio is the ubiquitous media. A radio is available at as low as Rs. 60.00 (less than US$ 1), and literacy is not a barrier. Taking the information resource of the Internet to people through radio was an idea that originated over cups of coffee and the need of IT related program at the Radio Sagarmatha.
With aim of providing newer means of information to the public at large, the Internet radio programme was designed to act as an interface between the users and the Internet. In early March 2000, a senior producer at the radio station, sat down and drew the sketch of the program. The first broadcast of the program was made on the 17th of March 2000. Since then, in the last two years, we have increased the duration of the program from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, done live transmissions from ICT events, done interviews, live internet browsing and a lot of other things that were not conceivable before. The 113th episode was broadcast on 10th April, 2002.
The senior producer left the station in July, 2000 to pursue further career at BBC, and since then the program has gone through ups-and downs, but has been continuing through my efforts. I now am the producer, presenter as well as writer. There are a few friends who help in producing periodic contents. The efforts have been entirely voluntary on my part, for the larger public good.
In Nepal, people like to talk over cups of tea. In the shadows of the mighty Himalayas, the village folks like to gather at the village centre to chat and discuss everything under the sky. A step further in this is community radio. Success of community radio in the Americas and Canada is well known, and in Nepal too this revolution began when Radio Sagarmatha became the first community radio station to be established in the entire South Asia. Radio Sagarmatha is run by group of environmental journalists, and the success has spawned more than five community stations in different part of Nepal. Sagarmatha itself means Mount Everest in Nepali, and continues to be on top of the world for its unique bearing in the field of community radio.
The open nature of Sagarmatha, as it is fondly referred to, meant constant discussion over continuous cups of teas over new program ideas. Over many cups of the light brown liquid, in March 2000, we started thinking about doing an Information Communications Technology (ICT) show on the radio. Public radio was a new concept and there were no rules. Jitendra Raut, senior producer at Sagarmatha at that time, liked the idea and immediately found a 15 minutes slot on Fridays. We named it "Sagarmatha Site." It was a recorded programme, consisting three segments.
The first part consisted of what we call "browsing on the radio" where we talk about a web-site. Initially, when we started, we tried to talk to the web-site creators about the site. But soon, we discovered that it is not possible, as there simply is much more information in web-sites created elsewhere, than sites created from Nepal. The abundance and appropriateness of the information found in international web sites like apc.org, oneworld.net, and ELDIS were something we wanted to share about. Thus in later episodes, we started browsing the Internet over the radio. We recorded the program in front of the computer, as we browsed the Internet.
In the second part, "Sabdartha" which stands for "meaning" in Nepali, one technical jargon related with the Internet was explained. This was the most popular section, which received more requests for information in specific topics then any other. We covered topics like Domain Name Service (DNS), web server, Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), streaming audio etc.
In the third part of the program, we talked with an experienced Internet user to explore tried and tested ways to get valuable information from the internet and ways to get practical benefits from the information acquired. We have tried to bring diverse and people from various fronts in this segment of the program. We already have had students, journalists, businessmen, engineers and professional from other fields share their ideas with us on the radio.
After five months, in July, fortunately for Jitendra, he got selected for the BBC's Nepali Service and unfortunately, there was a question of how the program would continue. So, when he left for London, I decided to take over. In five months I had enough experience to become a producer. I continued with the old format of broadcasting recorded programs.
Then suddenly someone at the Computer Association listened to the program and they decided to provide a grant. The grant meant that the Sagarmatha could afford to increase the airtime. We got the prime time slot on Wednesdays. Support from the association meant that the program got popular, and got renamed to "Suchana Prabidhi dot com" which literally means "Information technology dot com"
At this time, I became confident enough to change the program format, and also conduct live shows. I adopted what is called "open-format" in radio parlance. There was no fixed way in which the program was conducted. This was necessitated because people requested detailed information on topics rather then snippets of information that we were feeding on air. Thus, after the change, if I invited an expert for an interview, he would get the full half hour, and if it was a web site I was browsing, it too got full emphasis.
New experiments followed, and we did live browsing of the Internet from the studio. People would call in with their specific request of information, and we'd use the internet access in the studio to answers questions on air. We also did live broadcast of big IT events taking place in Kathmandu, through use of telephones, and at least in one case the use of mobile phones.
The live browsing experiment, though successful, could not be continued. First, the studio was not designed to have a telephone line or any form of internet access point. It was actually the friendly technician who hacked the sound cables running into the studio to connect the telephone lines. Also, there was loss of air-time, as web-sites took time to load, and a few times, we were disconnected abruptly.
But live broadcasts through telephone lines have continued. While on field visits to ICT related project outside Kathmandu, I have done various interviews with pioneers to be broadcast from the radio station. Other colleagues at Sagarmatha also collect sound bytes on my behalf, when they see an interesting use of ICT.
As the program has progressed, we have received lots of request for specific information, and have tried to address those issues. We also tried to cover relevant web-sites on special days. On the world environment day, we covered the WWF Nepal web-site. And on the world population day, we covered the UNFPA web-site.
Increasingly, we have received computer related questions and how to fix computer hardware and software problems. While this itself doesn't fit directly with the initial objectives of the program, we have welcomed such queries, as increased number of ICT users indirectly helps in meeting the objectives.
The latest addition to the program has been the radio quiz. Since March 27, 2002 we started the radio quiz. The idea was borne in rounds of brainstorming with friends, again over cups of tea and cookies. There hadn't been any change in the program format for long, and spice was needed to generate interests. While there was a constant flow of questions, there was no way to gauge the amount of listeners' participation. With helps from friends in the IT industry, we managed to get gifts in form of free training for winners, and this probably was catalytic in increasing user feedback.
The effects of the radio quiz has been tremendous. The number of letters and e-mails has grown 200%. This week the number of letters and e-mails combined crossed fifty. And I even received faxed replies, a first in two years.
The project continues to evolve, and now a few friends have been regularly contributing indirectly through referrals and by sharing expertise. Though at times, I felt I am the only one pulling on with it, I was proved wrong. At least in one occasion, when the program couldn't be broadcast because I was stuck outside Kathmandu, there was a deluge of letters enquiring what had happened. Another case, in which a previously broadcast recording was mistakenly re-broadcast, there were immediate phone calls from people and the correction could be made.
When we started the program, we had never thought it would come so long. I was actually amazed that I alone have produced more than 100 radio programs in the past two years, and I am a network and systems administrator, who enjoys routers and Linux as much. The results from the program cannot be measured directly in terms of economic benefits or indicative measures. But, for us the measure of success has been the letters from listeners. After the incident when the program was not broadcast, there were volunteers who were willing to help with the program. At least one listener wrote "If it is financial problems, we can form a listeners' club to sustain the program."
Yet, the definite result has been the proof of concept. Taking ICT to people doesn't necessarily means that you need to put a computer into every village. What you actually need to take to is the information that can make a difference. ICT is not an end in itself, rather a tool that needs to be adapted for local use. The radio show has proven this concept.
A profiling of letters received and general indicative questions have shown that people are actually interested in use of technology, specially the young generation. The willingness of these youths to contribute can be used in greater perspective of using ICT for development.
In a more substantive, there is a collection of almost 50 hours of audio content on issues relating to ICT. More than a fifty experts have shared their experience on the radio and many budding youths have come to tell their adventures about the Internet on air. A very interesting reply from a witty young guest in the program "I like computers, because I have never won a chess game with it. I will not stop until I get it done."
One of the very visible but indirect impact of the program has been the full automation of Sagarmatha's broadcast operation. The program actually de-mystified the technology to producers and technicians at the station. When the program started, there was a single computer, but now there are almost 10 computers. Many programs are directly recorded in computers in MP3 format and played on air. The daily archives of the broadcast are also kept on CD-ROMs in MP3 format. The many experts that visited the studio for interviews and interaction also contributed by providing free consultancy. A CEO of an local ISP, ITNTI, actually provided free web hosting and e-mail service for the radio station after he came to the studio for the interview.
Other radio stations in the country have also picked up the idea and replication by at least two stations is flattering for something that had such humble beginnings over cups of tea.
While people like to chat a lot in Nepal, they seldom pick up their pens to write letters to editors or send feed-back. So, it may not always be good to expect immediate feedback from people in Nepal of what you have done. You need an excitement, like the prize in the quiz, to entice users to write. Or you may stop the work, only to receive complaints.
An important lesson for me, is to have your audience participate in the program. When we took live phone calls, there were many calls. May be people felt it easier to pick up the phone and call, or may be they liked to hear their voice on air, participation is the probably the key. The more direct participation, the better.
The need to be time adaptive and change program formats to introduce new ideas and concepts is required, and the focus should remain on information rather then on technology so that you do not loose sight of your primary objectives.
There have been lots of ups and downs for us. Only I have been a constant in the program, and when we think about taking it forward, with enough participation, the frequency can be increased, and people recruited to work on it full time and create a daily feature. May be there should be another round of tea.
Organisation : Radio Sagarmatha
Total budget in US :
US $ 0.00 (excluding operational costs)
Country of activity : Nepal
Are there any partners involved :
What is partners role?
From November 2000 to May 2001 the Computer Association of Nepal supported Radio Sagarmatha by sponsoring the program. This also helped to increase the air-time of the program from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. But the sponsorship was stopped after-wards, as money allocated was spent.
Since April, two private companies have agreed to provide gifts, in terms of computer training, to winners of the radio quiz conducted fortnightly in the program.
Gaurab Raj Upadhaya
GPO BOX 13655
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