Raghav Mahto is 24 and hails from Vaishali district of Bihar. He is better known as the barefoot innovator who got inspired by a cordless microphone and later created an FM Radio transmitter. He used the transmitter to broadcast as far away as 15km, and his station achieved overnight fame as “Raghav FM”. Mahto broadcast for five years till 2006, when authorities realized he didn’t have a licence and shut the station down. In 2006, his efforts won him a Manthan Award, and generated a public debate on the need for community radio and cheap broadcast equipment.
In 2006, I visited Mahto in Vaishali to see how he used radio as an empowering tool for rural masses. Mahto’s electronics repair shop had seen a slump in business, especially because his FM station had been a great advertisement for his services. The Digital Empowerment Foundation brought Mahto to its Delhi office and put him through an ICT (information and communication technologies) and computer training programme, and also donated three computers, one printer, and a couple of sewing machines, besides scanners and a digital camera—all this to help Mahto run a community information resource centre. Although, only a second grade pass, Mahto managed to run the centre for about a year and attract around 500 local youth to the centre’s various activities. Yet, he still yearned to go back to radio.
By then, in 2008, community radio was picking up, and Barefoot College (BFC), based in Tilonia village of Ajmer district, was planning to set up its rural community radio with our assistance. We immediately connected Mahto to BFC, and it was an instant fit. He took charge of setting up a low-cost studio, making cheap FM radios, and putting together the digital infrastructure to run a station.
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Here, Mahto’s experience with computers came in handy and he easily produced programmes on a computer using open source editing applications.
There has always been a lot for Mahto to do at BFC, including digitizing thousands of hours of BFC recordings of folk music, art and culture.
Over the second half of 2009, ever since BFC got its community radio licence, Mahto has been able to put together six hours of programming.
The recordings include issues of local relevance, Right To Information Act, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act discussions and, of course, local culture and folk music.
While the Barefoot Radio Tilonia was just launched formally on 9 November by the ministry of information and broadcasting, Mahto’s question to everyone was this: “When will I get legal permission to manufacture FM transmitters costing Rs50? So that every 10-20km there can be community radio stations helping us grow into a true information society?”
Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chairman of Manthan Award. He has recently released his third title Digital Inclusion for Development—Cases from India and South Asia. He can be reached at email@example.com