Community radio in Pontianak perseveres

Hearing voices: A man in Ketapang, West Kalimantan, listens to the radio in a small hut in the forest. His transistor radio can pick up stations broadcasting from Malaysian Borneo.

The 3-square-meter room with plywood walls is not equipped with any soundproofing.

A fan, a desktop computer and a mixer of an unknown brand are the only valuable things owned by Radio Suara Melawi (RSM) 107.7 FM, which is located on the second floor of a private junior high school.

The community radio station is in Melawi’s regency capital of Nanga Pinoh, 300 kilometers from West Kalimantan’s provincial capital of Pontianak.

A sticker posted on the difficult-to-open glass door reads “Don’t make noise, on air”.

Radio station manager Bastian, 30, was there wearing only shorts one recent afternoon.

He was a preparing a talk show with a local agency head to discuss public services, without a script, story board or run-down on the broadcast table.

“We don’t care about the limitations. The most important thing is to air although we are only equipped with determination and volunteers. We have survived for seven years now,” RSM director Gabriel Salim told The Jakarta Post.

RSM was at one point in a sound financial condition thanks to earnings from social service advertisements and congratulatory messages flowing into its coffers. A number of micro-finance institutions such as credit unions have routinely benefitted from the station’s broadcast services for public announcement campaigns.
Local: An employee of Radio Suara Melawi (RSM) prepares for a talk show on Nov. 25 in Nanga Pinoh in Melawi, West Kalimantan.Local: An employee of Radio Suara Melawi (RSM) prepares for a talk show on Nov. 25 in Nanga Pinoh in Melawi, West Kalimantan.
“Ever since the arrival of private radio stations, assisted by the local administration, our finances have been affected, but we continue to relay news from news agencies and we fill our slots with entertainment programs,” said Gabriel.

“I often play songs to fill in the vacant slots until the device stops by itself due to power blackouts,” said Bastian.

“During difficult times, we could only earn a few hundred thousand rupiah, while during Idul Fitri, our earnings would reach up to Rp 3 million [US$312] from greetings from various agencies and individuals.”

Another story comes from Jelai Hulu district in remote Ketapang regency, where the name of a community figure in Tanjung village, Manjing Tarah, has become the name of a community radio station. The programs are in a local dialect and the station has been able to survive for more than 10 years.

“Most of our listeners are farmers. They own cell phones that can tune in to radio programs while they are in the fields,” said Mulyadi, 37, who has been a volunteer announcer for nine years.

Manjing Tarah only airs in the daytime, operating with its own power generator. Power from state power company PLN is only available at night and the station does not operate at night because it cannot compete with television.

Previously, when cell phones had yet to reach rural areas and texting was not yet popular, the radio station sold postcards at Rp 5,000 each through which listeners could request songs and greetings.

The broadcasts consist of discussions of customs and culture, and folklore and songs in the local dialect. The radio station is located in Tanjung village, which has less than 1,000 residents.

The transmission can reach to Tumbang Titi and Marau districts, which are between 20 and 45 kilometers apart. Besides social service ads, to survive Mulyadi sells transistor radios at a profit margin of Rp 100,000 (US$10.40) each.

A young doctor in Ketapang regency, Frans Reagan, has dedicated part of his time to leading Radio Gema Solidaritas (GS). He said the station produced 30 percent of its own content.
Not too loud: A discussion with a local government official is broadcast on Radio Suara Melawi. The station runs on very little money.Not too loud: A discussion with a local government official is broadcast on Radio Suara Melawi. The station runs on very little money.
Radio GS, supported by the Pancur Solidaritas Credit Union, earns income from ads placed by PLN and private institutions. Reagan plans to provide training to all his crew, such as program planning and news coverage.

“This is an interesting challenge, finding free time, because our entire crew has other primary work,” said Reagan.

Community radio has become an alternative means of communication in the area and is socially oriented. West Kalimantan Independent Broadcasting Commission (KPID) data shows that as of September of this year, there are 40 community radio stations operating in the province.

Of the number, only seven hold principle licenses or temporary licenses and none are equipped with permanent broadcasting permits.

“We urge the government to revise the regulation. The licensing procedures for community radio, which is socially oriented, cannot be compared with that of for-profit private radio stations,” said West Kalimantan KPID head Faisal Riza.

The establishment of community radio stations is regulated by a 2002 law on broadcasting and a 2005 government regulation, which stipulates that they must obtain a recommendation from the Communications and Information Ministry.

Riza said he was positive that community radio could have a bright future. They could earn money by accessing social and public service programs from state or private institutions, he said.

In comparison, West Kalimantan is home to 50 private radio stations mainly concentrated in urban areas. There are 17 radio stations in Pontianak and 10 in Singkawang. Not all of the spots in the 14 regencies and mayoralties in West Kalimantan have been filled, such as Kayong Utara regency, which has a quota of 15 frequency channels, but none have yet to be utilized.

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