Radio station entertains and informs remote local community

As dawn breaks in the remote community of Khotakpa in Pemagatshel, Memay Penjor turns on the radio which he borrowed from a neighbor a few years back and tunes into KYD 91.1 FM. He is hooked onto the broadcast that includes songs, local beliefs, customs and traditions.

Since the villagers hardly get to listen to old traditional songs and local content, the community radio which keeps folklore alive has been a blessing for them.

According to Memay Penjor, they are both entertained and informed by the community radio.

“I can’t imagine my life without the radio; for now it is my only companion. Had there been no radio, I would have lost my mind,” says Memay Penjor.

With the recent development activities touching the remote places of the country, Pemagatshel Dzongkhag is one place that has developed over the years.

The once remote community now has basic amenities at their doorstep like roads that connect almost every village to the Dzongkhag headquarter.

Meanwhile, the fields are also getting fallow and most of the unique traditions and culture are on the verge of vanishing while some have already become extinct.

However, the community radio in Khotakpa is not only helping the village to keep their unique cultures and traditions alive, but has also eased the life of local leaders by helping them disseminate information to the villagers.

The first community radio in Pemagatshel known as Khotakpa, Yalang and Denchi (KYD) community radio was established in 2016 and stationed at the Khotakpa community library and resource center (READ Center). 

Since the KYD community radio on 91.1 FM went on air in 2016, it has brought about immense benefits in the community and the community radio can be accessed in nine neighboring villages and by more than 500 households.

Radio Jockey (RJ) Ugyen Wangchuk plays the recorded ingenious famous songs followed by old sayings in the morning program.

A villager, Dawa Gyaltshen, 45, said the community has reaped a lot of benefits from the community radio. “With the help of the radio, we are able to get information on various issues and important messages immediately.”

He added that the community radio has helped the community in preserving their unique songs which otherwise would have disappeared with time. “We are concerned about the impending risks of losing our songs forever as the younger generation is not keen on learning.”

Another villager from Khotakpa said the radio airs important agriculture and health-related information and provides opportunity for people to discuss both social and local issues.

He said the people have received a lot of benefits from the community radio and setting up of the community radio has helped keep the rural people updated with the latest news and information.

Additionally, Khotakpa Tshogpa, Bopo Drukpa, said the community radio has benefited the community because when there are zomdus (meetings) the information can be easily passed through the radio.

Meanwhile, interested individuals can be seen dedicating messages and songs, while famous old songs and sayings of the community can also be heard through the radio.

However, the hitch is not all the villagers are interested in tuning to the radio. Only around 70% of them are interested and take part actively.

The Tshogpa said initially people used to tune onto FM through radio but with modernization and change, only a handful of people use radio.

Today, in remote Dzongkhags of the country like Pemagatshel, almost 90% of the people use smartphones to tune onto FM and music. “Some of them are not interested to listen as they face difficulty in usingsmart phones.”

According to Bhutan Information and Media Impact Study (BIMIS) 2013, the number of radio sets has decreased from 77,800 in 2008 to 46,641 in 2012. The decrease in radio sets has been largely compensated for/by the rapid increase in mobile phone coverage, given that most mobile phones have radio reception functionality besides its standard voice communication utility. 

“Though the community radio has eased the life of messengers (Chipoens) in the villages, we disseminate messages through both radio and messengers as there are people who do not listen to the radio on mobile phones,” Bopo Drukpa said. “We disseminate messages through messengers for those people who cannot tune onto FM using phones.”

Initially, with the advent of mobile phones in the country Khotakpa community had two WeChat groups for sharing news, information and for discussion on local issues.

But with the coming up of the community radio, the community no more uses WeChat and other social media as the people can easily share everything through the radio.

However, RJ Ugyen Wangchuk said people are not actively participating in the community radio as expected. “Though, there are people who are interested, there are also a few of them, especially those who are not used to mobile phones and do not participate.”

And sometimes elderly people are also invited as guests to deliver famous sayings and to sing old songs.

However, the lack of funds, not only has affected the sustainable functioning of the radio station, but also the quality of programs. “It is difficult to make good programs since we hardly get funds,” the RJ added.

Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges confronting the community radio station in Pemagatshel. Plans are in the pipeline where the RJ would start charging minimal fees for announcement services to help fund their station.

Apart from the challenges, community radio has become a powerful medium here in connecting remote villages and especially as a channel for education, platform for sharing information and promoting public debate, and most importantly to promote the national language.

For a Dzongkhag like Pemagatshel, because of harsh geographical terrain and scattered population, radio plays an important role in educating, informing and entertaining the people. It also plays a big role in emergency communication and disaster relief.

Shumar Gup Sangay Chophel said the number of radio listeners has decreased over the years as most of the villagers rely on live broadcasting from Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) now.  The Gup said that there was a time when almost every villager relied on radio to keep themselves updated and that the trend is changing with the coverage of BBS in every village.

But he feels that in the case of the community radio in Khotakpa, it has benefited the community immensely.

“If they can provide live broadcast like BBS, then more people will be interested and would take part actively,” said the Gup.

According to the BIMIS 2013 report, the number of TV users has almost doubled in the past five years, increasing from 47,125 in 2008 to 78,846 in 2012, which shows enhanced access to TV services among the population.

Radio in Bhutan has come a long way and the first radio station of Bhutan was formed by a voluntary group of youths known as the National Youth Association of Bhutan (NYAB) on  November 11, 1973 with just a table, chairs and a transmitter, according to Media Baseline Study June 2012.

The initial broadcast was news and music for an hour each Sunday under the name ‘Radio NYAB’. In 1986, the small radio broadcast studio was renamed Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS).

In 1991, BBS acquired a permanent place in Chubachu, Thimphu with FM radio service across the country with 24 hours broadcast in four languages- Dzongkha, English, Lhotsamkha and in Sharchopkha.

Meanwhile, the community radio in Khotakpa was established by READ Bhutan in 2016 with Swiss Development Cooperation Bhutan’s funding and in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communications.

The story was funded by the Content Development Grant of the Department of Information and Media.

Jigme Wangchen from Khotakpa, P/Gatshel