A festival for Audio lovers: an interview with TRF Founder Archana Kapoor

The Radio Festival, a one of a kind event endorsed by the United Nations and the I&B Ministry, is gearing up for its seventh installment. Each year, a myriad of radio and audio enthusiasts converge at the India International Centre on 13th February for a day filled with fun, camaraderie, and a touch of madness, […]

The Radio Festival, a one of a kind event endorsed by the United Nations and the I&B Ministry, is gearing up for its seventh installment. Each year, a myriad of radio and audio enthusiasts converge at the India International Centre on 13th February for a day filled with fun, camaraderie, and a touch of madness, drawing participants from every corner of the country, including the North East and Jammu and Kashmir. We caught up with Archana Kapoor, the driving force behind this event. As a filmmaker, broadcaster, and founder of SMART NGO, she offers insights into this year’s themes, the evolving role of radio in the digital age, and the significant challenges of operating a community radio station.

Archan Kapoor, Founder, The Radio Festival

Q: We’re all familiar with AIR and FM radio, but many of us might not be aware of Community Radio. Could you share your journey into this terrain and the insights you’ve gained from it?

Archana Kapoor: My background as a social worker, filmmaker, and now broadcaster has allowed me to engage with diverse communities, particularly rural ones. In my past roles, I often found myself tackling pressing issues based on the demands of specific projects, whether it was shedding light on the struggles of cotton farmers or documenting the stories of textile weavers. However, I realized that this project-based approach, while informative, sometimes left communities feeling disconnected once the project concluded. It was this realization that fueled my search for a medium that could foster sustained engagement and trust with communities. This quest led me to Community Radio. In 2010, we took the leap and launched our own community radio station in Nuh, formerly known as Mewat, in Haryana.

How did the idea of The Radio Festival come about?

Archana Kapoor: When I became part of this whole community radio movement as the advocates of community radio like to call it, I realized that we were all working in silos and I noticed a stark segregation. There were the government-owned AIR stations and the commercially driven FM channels, leaving community radio as the often overlooked third tier. Community Radio became those who had to change the world without much support. So, we were the poorest cousins with the largest mandate. And yet often we found ourselves relegated to the sidelines. We were tired of the narrative being centered on struggle and hardship. As community radio stations, we possessed a powerful tool—the collective voice of our communities. We intimately knew our audience because we operated within specific geographies.

There are all kinds of festivals – literary, dance, and music festivals which thrived. But there was nothing that celebrated the power of audio. It was this notion of celebration that sparked the idea of The Radio Festival —a vision to celebrate the medium of audio and unite radio enthusiasts, from private broadcasters to AIR and community radio stations, under one inclusive umbrella.

The Radio Festival commences on 13th February every year. Why did you choose this date?

Archana Kapoor: 13th February is World Radio Day. Typically, a small group of us, around 20 to 30 community radio broadcasters, would convene in a closed hall at a UN office, usually UNIC. The discussions revolved around familiar topics, with the same faces on the panels addressing a similar audience, followed by lunch. And that’s how we celebrated World Radio Day. So, when we first conceived The Radio Festival, we envisioned transforming the way we commemorate this day. Our aim was to create a multi-stakeholder platform, a joyous occasion for networking and learning from each other’s experiences. We sought to break free from the constraints of categorization and unite all radio enthusiasts on a single platform.

Why do we need to celebrate Radio as a medium?

Archana Kapoor: One of the questions which I often get asked at every radio festival is why do you do this? I say maybe you have a smartphone, maybe you have a big LED TV at home. But there are still millions and millions of people for whom the only companion, the only form of entertainment is the radio. Radio is still very powerful, especially in a country like India where there is so much gap between the haves and the have nots. The notion that radio is a dying platform is a misconception. We are actively dispelling it. Just as doubts arose with the introduction of television and later social media, traditional mediums like newspapers not only endured but also thrived. We witness the emergence of regional editions, showcasing the adaptability and resilience of these platforms. In today’s interconnected world, there’s ample room for various forms of communication to coexist and collaborate.

How does the festival benefit Community Radio representatives and Radio Jockeys?

Archana Kapoor: We’re always strapped for resources, but whatever funds we manage to drum up for the event, we make sure it goes back into our community. We prioritize getting tickets for fellow community radios to come join in because we firmly believe they stand to gain the most from the whole affair. They get to mingle with the big names, the celebrity RJs from private stations and AIR. Plus, they get invaluable insights from the AIR producers. It is like attending a masterclass in radio excellence. It’s a prime opportunity for them to refine their programming skills.

And most importantly, in the daily grind, doubts can creep in about whether we’re on the right track. But then you attend this festival, and it’s like a shot of confidence you get. You come out of it feeling invigorated, knowing you’re in the right place, doing the right thing. Also, what’s wonderful is the anticipation surrounding the festival in regions like Jammu and Kashmir and North East. They are eager to know when the next one’s happening. For them, it’s a whole new experience. They’re thrilled to finally get some exposure and to connect with other RJs. It’s like a big networking extravaganza for them.

Has the festival been successful in building more synergy across different categories of Radio? And what is your ultimate vision?

Archana Kapoor: It’s been a bit of a challenge, to be honest. While we’ve made strides, I wouldn’t say we’ve fully realized our goal of creating synergy across different radio categories. It is partly because of who we are. We lack the extensive resources and networks that larger private radio channels possess, which undoubtedly impacts the scale and scope of our efforts. Imagine if a major private radio channel spearheaded the festival—things would likely look quite different given their financial prowess, industry connections, and celebrity reach. Despite our best efforts in reaching out to various stakeholders, including private radio channels and potential sponsors, the level of collaboration hasn’t quite met our aspirations. While we’ve received support, particularly in terms of private FM channels sending top-tier RJs, it often feels like a one-off contribution rather than ongoing engagement. We do not want The Radio Festival to be reduced to mere tokenism. It hasn’t attained the status of a must-attend event akin to festivals like Kala Ghoda or Jaipur Literature Festival. Nevertheless, we remain committed to broadening our reach and inclusivity. We’ve extended invitations to podcasters, radio enthusiasts, and professionals from related fields such as theater and music. Our ultimate aim remains creating a platform where all facets of the audio realm – be it artists, RJs, script writers, programers or audio technicians – converge. Maybe this will take more time. We are in the seventh edition. Who knows where we’ll be by the 10th edition?

What kind of support does the I&B Ministry provide?

Archana Kapoor: The ministry has been very, very helpful because that’s our Nodal Agency. We get our licenses from them. They have been very supportive. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for the last three years has been supporting this event also, not only by their presence, they are always there for the inaugural, but also by giving us some little financial support.

This year’s theme is 100 years so tell us a little bit about the theme. And what should we be expecting from this edition?

Archana Kapoor: This year’s theme, commemorating 100 years of radio and 20 years of community radio, carries profound significance. It’s not just about celebrating milestones; it’s about reflecting on the journey we’ve had and the voices that have shaped it. We’re reaching out to some of the oldest and most popular voices in radio. I would have loved to have luminaries like Devaki Nandan Pandey and Amin Sayani on our panel. The whole process of putting the event together has been very emotional for me, knowing that many of these esteemed individuals are either no longer with us or are grappling with limitations due to age-related ailments like dementia or physical constraints. As we reflect on 20 years since the inception of Community Radio, it’s a poignant opportunity to assess our achievements and contemplate the path ahead. Why do we still only have 475 community radio stations nationwide? The festival serves as a celebration of the past, present, and future of this timeless medium.

How can people participate?

Archana Kapoor: To join us online, individuals can simply visit our Facebook page, where many of the panels will be streamed live. We believe in making the event accessible to everyone, reflecting the ethos of radio as an inexpensive or even no-cost platform. For those who prefer an in-person experience, our Radio Festival welcomes all enthusiasts. We have a seating capacity of approximately 250-300 people, and the event takes place at the India International Centre. This year, we’re pleased to have the India International Centre as our partner. The festival is scheduled for February 13th, starting at 9 am and concluding at 6:30 pm. We encourage radio enthusiasts of all ages to attend, and we particularly welcome students, as we believe in passing on the legacy of radio to the next generation.