How Radio Has Informed And Entertained The Remote District Of Pemagatshel In Bhutan
Since the KYD community radio went on air in 2016, it has brought about immense benefits to the remote community of Khotakpa.
By Jigme Wangchen | Business Bhutan
The story was funded by the Content Development Grant of the Department of Information and Media.
As dawn breaks in the remote community of Khotakpa in the district of Pemagatshel (Lotus Garden of Happiness), Memay Penjor turns on the radio tunes into KYD 91.1 FM.
He has borrowed it from a neighbour a few years back and 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.
Transformation of Pemagatshel Dzongkhag over the years
With recent development activities touching the remote places of Bhutan, Pemagatshel Dzongkhag (district) is one place that has developed over the years.
Map: Map of Bhutan
The once remote community now has basic amenities at their doorstep such as roads that connect almost every village to the Dzongkhag’s 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, it has also eased the life of local leaders by helping them to disseminate information to the villagers.
How the Khotakpa, Yalang and Denchi (KYD) community radio has benefitted the locals
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).
Photo: Business Bhutan
Since the KYD community radio on 91.1 FM went on air in 2016, it has brought about immense benefits to the community. It can be accessed in nine neighbouring villages and by more than 500 households.
The community radio has become a powerful medium for connecting remote villages. It has become a channel for education, a platform for sharing information and promoting public debate, and most importantly to promote the national language.
For a remote district like Pemagatshel, due to its harsh geographical terrain and scattered population, the radio plays an important role in educating, informing and entertaining the people. It also plays a big role in emergency communication and disaster relief.
On top of that, the local Radio Jockey (RJ), Ugyen Wangchuk plays 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.”
Radio as a tool for villages to discuss various social issues
According to another villager from Khotakpa, the radio airs important agriculture and health-related information and provides opportunity for people to discuss both social and local issues.
Locals have benefitted from the community radio as it helped keep the people living in rural areas updated with the latest news and information.
Moreover, the Khotakpa Tshogpa and Bopo Drukpa said the community radio can easily inform the locals about zomdus (meetings).
A short documentary on Aum Nimchu Pem, a legendary singer of traditional music from the Kingdom of Bhutan.
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 that not all the villagers are interested in tuning in to the radio. Only around 70% of them are interested and taking part actively.
The Tshogpa revealed that initially people used to tune into the FM through the radio but with the onset of modernisation and change, only a handful of people use the radio now.
Today, in the remote dzongkhags of the country like Pemagatshel, almost 90% of the people use smartphones to tune into FM and music.
How smart phones are affecting the rate of radio reception in the community
According to the 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 also 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 still 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 into the FM using phones.”
Initially, with the advent of mobile phones in the country, the Khotakpa community had two WeChat groups for sharing news, information and for the discussion of local issues.
But with the setting up of the community radio, WeChat and other social media are not used as frequently as everything can be shared easily through the radio.
Sometimes, elderly people are also invited as guests to deliver famous sayings and to sing old songs.
Lack of fund is an obstacle to sustaining the operation of the radio station
The lack of funds has not only affected the sustainable functioning of the radio station, but also the quality of the 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 today. However, plans are in the pipeline where the RJ would start charging minimal fees for the announcement of services to help fund their station.
This article first appeared in Business Bhutan and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.