Radio Sagarmatha is the first independent community radio in entire South Asia which is established in 1997. On air from 5 am to 11 pm every day from its studio in Lalitpur, it has evolved as a truly independent and highly credible community radio of Nepal. Radio Sagarmatha had got the license following nearly half a decade of struggle, with as many as 17 conditions which must be adhered to. The conditions included that Radio Sagarmatha cannot broadcast news and current affair programs while also refraining from taking up the economic agenda. The permit was issued allowing broadcast time of two hours a day using the 100-watt transmitter. Another condition was that government officials would vet the issues which would form the program.
But Radio Sagarmatha soon started talking the language of the people by breaking the monopoly of government-owned radio going back to 50 years. It started its mission by giving voice to the people by respecting the right of the people to information while also giving them voice so that they too can come up with their views on issues of public concern. However, it was not a joy ride for Radio Sagarmatha since it had to face a number of obstacles and hardship coming to it from both democratic and repressive regimes. But it came out successful in both expanding its mandate and area of work. Said conversely, Radio Sagarmatha is itself a social campaign and saga of continual struggle.
It really came out as a player of the big league when it played an important role during the Free Independent Radio Movement before the year 2005. That was the period which saw community broadcasting coming under the scanner of the erstwhile government with the ulterior motives of gagging the free voice of the community. True to its objectives of playing the role of defender of democracy, Radio Sagarmatha has successfully espoused the cause of freedom of the speech, rule of law, desired gender relations, human and women’s rights and role of youth in economic development throughout the past while the mission remains unchanged. What’s more, it has been setting community and public interest broadcasting standard in not only Nepal but in entire South Asia.
It is verily the defender of democracy and freedom of speech. This was substantiated by a crackdown on it during the royal regime in December 2005 when a troop of army raided out a studio and took away equipment and arrested journalists on duty for merely broadcasting an interview of CPN-Maoist Chairman Prachanda from BBC Nepal Service as part of the long-running arrangement with the BBC. A spirited fight culminated in the discomfiture of authoritarianism. It has emerged stronger than ever.
Radio Sagarmatha has a very wide reach. Broadcasting from Kathmandu Valley, its frequency is available as far away as Sindhuli. Going by the survey conducted by Equal Access in the year 2006, Radio Sagarmatha is available in districts like Makwanpur, parts of Chitwan, Dhading, Sindhuli, Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Sindupalchowk, Dolakha and Ramechhap. It is also available in parts of Solukhumbu and Okhaldhunga, Bara, Rautahat and Gorkha apart from unhindered reach in whole of Kathmandu Valley without relaying programs in cooperation with any other radios. This ensures over 2.5 million regular listeners for Radio Sagarmatha. But it is available to 10 million listeners at times when its programs are relayed and re-broadcast by local community radio stations throughout the country.
Radio Sagarmatha had graduated to digital broadcasting technology in the year 1999 after making a departure from analogue to spool in pursuit of quality broadcasts. It was only after this that other radio stations turned to digital mode. Meanwhile, prestigious agencies like the UNESCO, SDC, DANIDA, Eco Himal, Community Radio Support Center (CRSC)/ Free Voice, the Netherlands, Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal (ACORAB), among others, have supported initiatives to upgrade the technological capacity of Radio Sagarmatha.
Radio Sagarmatha has a team of highly trained technical and engineering personnel. Their job is to ensure quality sound. True to the technological age, Radio Sagarmatha has been improving the quality of its broadcasts. While Radio Sagarmatha had started with the 100-watt transmitter, today it boasts of the 1000 watt transmitter after trying out 500-watt capacity in the interim. What’s more, it is also available on the Internet. Now anyone who has access to the Internet can listen to Radio Sagarmatha at www.radiosagarmatha.org.
Radio Sagarmatha has built a network of community radio stations with the objective of revolutionizing community broadcasting. Through its network radio stations which add up to over 50 now, it has incomparable reach down to the grassroots level. It is a member of Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal (ACORAB), Kathmandu Valley FM Broadcasters’ Forum and World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC).
Radio Sagarmatha has a very wide listenership that cuts across urban, semi-urban and rural outback. Professionally, they cut across members of the political establishment, bureaucrats, members of the civil society, intelligentsia and those belonging to the working class, and farmers. Moreover, since its frequency is available in diverse ethnic regions and geographical areas, its listeners comprise those belonging to both diverse ethnic and dominant communities.
Listeners of Radio Sagarmatha can take part in the process of program production and broadcast in very many ways. Under this arrangement, they can walk in and interact with radio producers and share their ideas and issues which they would like to be covered. They can also do the same by calling up or sending emails or even by writing letters. They can also be roped in to go live by taking part in different programs. Listeners are also welcome to talk to reporters while he or she may be researching or producing a program in the field. What’s more, programs are designed and repackaged based on the suggestions from listeners. This reinforces the relationship between listeners and broadcasters.
Radio Sagarmatha was founded by Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ) in 1997. Apart from constituting the Board of Directors of Radio Sagarmatha, NEFEJ appoints its Station Manager and formulates its broad policy in sync with its long-standing objectives while the incumbent Station Manager serves as a chief executive of the radio station.
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