Yedimar, a fisherman living on Tamil Nadu’s Pambam island located between peninsular India and Sri Lanka, was alarmed one recent summer day to find that his favourite radio show had gone “missing.”
Puzzled and somewhat distraught, unsure whether the government had withdrawn ‘Kadal Osai FM 90.4’ from the airwaves due to Covid-19 or there was another reason for its disappearance, the 60-year-old decided to file a complaint about the missing radio show at the nearby police station.
Fortunately, before he could act on his complaint, the radio show’s station head Gayathri Usman happened to come to Chinnapalam, the small hamlet in Pamban where Yedimar lived, for some work.
“In a concerned tone, Yedimar asked me why we had shut operations. He missed listening to weather updates and marine trivia. Once I informed him we would resume service in three days, his face lit up with joy,” Gayathri told The Better India.
This is one of many instances where Pamban’s local population has shown so much love and support for a radio station that is India’s first and only FM channel by and for the fishermen community. Barring Gayathri, the other 12 employees of the station are either part-time fishermen themselves or belong to fishermen families.
The channel is known for its on-ground impact that has benefited the local community – be it students or homemakers or fishermen. It also acts as a direct link between the government and the community to solve local issues swiftly.
Called ‘Kadal Osai’ (the sound of the sea), the radio station was launched by Armstrong Fernando, a fisherman himself, in 2016.
Starting A Radio Station
Pamban Island, located off the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, is just a stone’s throw away from Sri Lanka. The island has a population of about one lakh and nearly 80 per cent of the residents make a living from fishing.
Due to government rules related to the proximity of the island to an international border, Pamban’s fishermen are allowed to remain at sea for only 24 hours at a stretch. They survive on the fish they can collect in that period of time. At times the fish collection is worth lakhs but during high tides or storms, they have to go without any income for days.
Fernando, who was well-versed with the problems the fishermen faced, started the Nesakarangal Charitable Trust in 2010 to support families whose members had died in sea accidents, by helping them get jobs or financial aid from the government.
Likewise, the radio station was started to help the community.
“The Trust had been running successfully for five years when I came across Pasumai FM in Dindigul, a community radio that is focused on empowering farmers. So, I wanted to run a similar show exclusively for the fishermen. I felt my fellow fishermen in Pamban Island were missing out on a lot due to lack of exposure. Radio is a powerful communication tool that helps spread useful information quickly and also provides entertainment to the fishermen at sea,” Fernando told The Better India.
Introduced to Gayathri by a mutual friend, Fernando invited her to take radio workshops in Pamban in 2018. She trained the staff, who had no exposure and knowledge about running a community radio station.
She fell in love with the island by the end of the training period and decided to use her skills to make an impact there. Interestingly, the radio station that is now being appreciated was once ridiculed by the locals. “I faced resistance from the locals initially because I was an outsider and it took me a month to win their trust. Now, we occasionally receive fish delicacies as a token of appreciation from them,” she said.
Insight Into the Workings of the Station
The 24×7 radio station begins with weather updates. These come in handy to the community that once used to predict the weather easily. Due to climate change, it has become increasingly difficult to interpret and identify wind patterns, water level and potential fishing zones.
The updates are followed by the ‘Kadal Osai Thandora’ segment, where the jockey announces the rates of fish and diesel, availability of power supply and other such news useful for the locals.
Job vacancies in the Indian Navy and Coast Guard are also announced.
The next segment is very popular because listeners, experts, RJs, and students discuss many topics. The three-hour show also has quizzes and trivia about Pamban and its history.
“We invite veteran fishermen to speak about topics like building alternative livelihoods and reining in spending. The success stories motivate the community to innovate and adopt different ways to earn more. In between, they sing, read poetry or share lesser-known facts about fishing to lighten the mood,” says Lenin, an RJ at the station.
Next, in the ‘Kutti Chutties’ segment, children discuss their school life and their dreams.
To support the children further, the radio conducts fisheries-related courses and announces scholarships.
‘Samudhiram Pazhagu’ (learn about the sea/ocean) is an impactful and interactive segment on marine conservation. Experts are invited to participate. For example, specialists from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), a leading fisheries research organisation, conducted a session about saving Olive Ridley turtles.
“Fishermen often bring back the turtles caught in their nets for consumption. So, the experts told them about how letting the turtles stay in the water will keep jellyfish in check as they feed on them. After the talk, some fishermen sent us videos of them releasing the turtles. It was so heartwarming to see that,” said Lenin.
Experts from M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) of Chennai are also frequent guests. They discuss safe fishing practices and preservation of coral reefs.
Likewise, other experts talk about plastic pollution, refraining from open defecation, and sustainable fish-catching practices.
Another noteworthy segment is about the use of life jackets and the maintenance of boats to prevent deaths during high storms. Daily announcements are made about how to stay alive in treacherous conditions.
Homemakers and other women like to listen to talks about caged fishing, making craft items from shells, and doing seaweed farming. This encourages them to become financially independent.
Useful for The Community
The RJs often go to the field to get reviews and feedback from their listeners and incorporate their suggestions. The response from the people has been phenomenal, say the RJs.
“The community members now demand we make programmes to address specific issues and that makes me happy. Even though I have to put in a large sum of money each month to keep the radio running, it brings me immense satisfaction to see livelihoods improve,” said Fernando.
Wilson Fernando, a local who has been in the fishing business for 35 years, said the radio station has been “very useful for the community”.
“Apart from playing music, the radio programme also gives us vital information about cyclone formations, weather updates and educates us about the loans and subsidies pertaining to fishermen. There are segments specially tailored for children and women that cover topics about general knowledge. Sometimes, they also conduct quizzes or competitions that keep us engaged,” he added.
From imparting knowledge on generating alternative livelihoods to spreading awareness on marine conservation to the latest advocacy about social distancing, Kadal Osai FM 90.4 is a special channel that is making a significant impact on the local population of Pamban island with its region-specific solutions and interaction with inhabitants.
All the images are sourced from Kadal Osai FM 90.4
Edited by Nishi Malhotra