The fourth floor of Jain University's Palace Road campus is buzzing with activity on an otherwise slow-paced Friday afternoon.
The office of Bengaluru's first community radio station, Radio Active (90.4MHz), is busy prepping for the day's shows. There will be a programme to observe World Health Day (April 7). An animal right's show is being edited. Members of Hasiru Dala, a city organisation for waste pickers, are engaged in a meeting in one of the rooms.
As Beula Anthony, the manager, welcomes me, there's someone eyeing me quite suspiciously.
She is Bonnie, the office mascot, furiously wagging her tail. Once she is convinced that the new face means no harm, she returns to her corner spot to resume resting.
For the last ten years now, this office has been operating as space for the community in the true sense of the word.
Pinky Chandran, Director of Radio Active, reminisces how they had a very uneventful start to a journey that would go on to transform them.
In 2002, the Indian government gave approval to policy guidelines allowing educational institutions to set up community radio stations in the country. Anna University in Chennai started India's first community radio station, Anna Community Radio (Anna CR), in 2004.
Pinky had just joined Jain University in 2005 when one of her now ex-colleagues told her that they should apply for a community radio license. She went "why not" and an application was made and the formalities were fulfilled. It would take two full years before they would get their license.
Pinky with Bonnie
What piqued her curiosity about community radio was when a friend of hers, who lives in Australia, introduced her to the popularity of community radio stations.
"Imagine in a country like Australia, they are actually playing Kannada songs. In fact her show became so popular that they had to increase the timings," Pinky says.
On June 23, 2007, Radio Active got its license and two days later, on June 25, it went live.
Over the years, they have had to learn and also do some unlearning, but their vision has remained the same- widen community involvement in broadcasting and let people tell their own stories rather than telling it for them.
40 Muslim women had gathered at a workshop on community radio at JJR Nagar organised by women's rights NGO Vimochana sometime after Radio Active had started.
As the women sipped tea after the event, Pinky asked them to talk.
"One of the women looked at me and said 'Are you asking me to talk?'. I could see her eyes starting to water and then very softly she said, 'All these years, nobody has asked me talk'. That was actually a defining moment. The incident made us appreciate what it means to be in this particular space. Voice is sacred, voice has a value. At times you need to be the voice and at others you need to push the (someone else's) voice to come out," she says.
Radio Active has since been giving voice to multiple groups- transgender community, domestic workers, garment workers, waste pickers, pensioners, People Living with HIV (PLHIV), auto drivers just to name just a few.
The people making the station a success
"Many of the RJs are school dropouts or have not gone to school. From discovering computers to editing their own programmes, their curve growth has been beautiful," Pinky beams.
Among the group of several dedicated and talented individuals who run the station, one is RJ Priyanka and hers has been quite an inspirational journey.
The first transgender radio jockey in the country- she hosts 'Yari Varu' (Whoâ€™s this person?)- Priyanka today also works as an activist representing sexual minorities and is a television actor.
"Before I joined as an RJ, my world was limited to my community. I had self-doubt and was under confident of venturing outside the confines of my community," she says.
Things have changed drastically for her, and for the better. "Earlier I couldn't switch on a computer. Now I am like a computer myself," she laughs.
From left: RJ Priyanka, RJ Radha, RJ Shilok and RJ Venkatesh.
RJ Auto Shiv Kumar's induction into the organisation happened by chance. Pinky hired his auto from MG Road one day and noticed that he had been awarded many times for honesty. He was invited to speak on air and ended up becoming an RJ who represents the auto driversâ€™ community in Bengaluru.
RJ Radha has been working with the PHLIV community for several years now. Her shows revolve around treatment to legal service and government schemes for people with HIV. "I am happy and proud to be a voice for my community," she smiles.
What sets Radio Active apart from other radio stations, feels Padma Priya, a senior programme coordinator, is their interactions with not just one, but several groups. "We understand the issues faced by many marginalised communities."
A fluid space open to everyone
The beauty of community radio, Pinky says, lies in its fluidity and how seamless it is.
"We don't just focus on marginalised voices but also give alternative perspective. Because when you are in an urban space, there's so much more that can be done in the community radio space."