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Community radio and the Worldwide Web complement each other very well indeed. Though in many ways the two media are opposites, they share a similar ethos: access to information, informality, and rapid response. Combine the two, and see how well they can work together:
|A radio station...||A website...|
|gives only one chance to hear a program||is always available|
|only has sound||has text and pictures too|
|serves the local area||serves the world|
|conveys emotion well||conveys facts well|
|gives broad impressions||gives detail|
In most countries, only a small proportion of the population has Web access, but this figure is rapidly growing. In most OECD countries, close to 50% of the population in 2001 had internet access at home or at work (according to the International Telecommunications Union website, www.itu.int).
A web site can be very expensive to create: multinational corporations often spend a million dollars or more, to produce boring corporate self-congratulation. But a web site can also be very cheap: a few dollars a month for hosting - not counting whatever it costs to create the content.
Surveys of Web users (e.g. a major 1999 survey by Forrester Research) have discovered what they most want from a web site:
All this is not very difficult to achieve for a radio station, but most other types of organization can't handle it: they don't have journalists, and their webmasters can't resist the temptation to show off their advanced skills, making their sites needlessly complex.
A good way to produce a competent web site is to commission a graphic designer to create a professional looking template. This can be used on every page on a site, and only the words need to vary. After a few days' training in the use of web-production software, a journalist's skills are all that's needed to keep a website up to date. And for community radio, being up to date is far more important than the glossy features you see on many corporate websites - animated pictures, and the like. These are designed to impress people with new computers - but at the same time they make it more difficult for users with older computers and slow connections.
Almost anything is possible, but here are some common items that radio stations include on their websites. They fall into six main groups: information about the station and its programs, program content, other local material, feedback from listeners, links to other websites, and web space for other local organizations.
Websites cry out for interactivity, but many websites are boring because their philosophy is "we tell you, you don't tell us." For a site to be more interesting, it should welcome feedback from listeners and visitors, and display this feedback for everybody else to see. Methods include...
If the locality your station serves doesn't already have its own website, maybe you could create one for it - and your station's content could be one part of this larger website. As disk space is very cheap these days, but skilled labour is expensive, you would need to sort out who would maintain the other sections of the site. Perhaps some volunteers could be trained specially for this purpose.
If your station mostly plays music, there's probably not much point in having a lot of words on your website, and streaming audio will be important for you. If your station is mostly a spoken-word one, your website will reflect this, with a lot of interesting reading.
For some examples of community radio websites, I suggest you look up the Google Directory or Open Directory on the web and type "community radio" in the search box. When I tried this in February 2002, it displayed a list of over 100 community radio websites. If you look through such a list - and perhaps contact the ones that interest you most - this will help you work out what will be possible for your own website.
To set up a simple website is less than a week's work, for somebody who knows what they're doing. Updating it every day, with local news, weather, and other changes, can be done in less than an hour.
Here's what you'll need. It falls into four categories: hardware, software, trained people, and hosting.
You (or somebody) will need to develop the skills to use the web development software. Don't panic: it's not much harder to learn than word processing software. After a two day course, somebody who already has basic computer skills can learn to use a program such as Claris Home Page or Dreamweaver. I suggest that several people should learn to use the software. One should be in charge of the overall site design, and the others can contribute content.
The reliability of your telephone lines is crucial: if the line to the server is not available, nobody can access your website. If you have competent technical staff, they should be able to manage the server for you without much extra learning.
It's important to update a website often - at least once a day, for a radio station. People have little reason to revisit a site that never seems to change, but if you show current news, weather forecasts, and details of music broadcast, that's a big incentive for people to return to your website. As with radio programs, the more interactive a website, the more popular it becomes.
An important principle of participative marketing is that interaction creates more interaction. Another way to express this: "one and one make three." This means that marketing messages, like living things, breed. One message is just an ad. Two messages (from different senders) are a dialogue - and when other people join a dialogue, you soon have a third voice, and a fourth. So if a radio station is to be a community's voice, it needs to develop a wide range of ways for people to participate. A telephone makes this possible, but a place makes it easy.
In many developing countries - but specially the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Europe - telecentres are now becoming popular. A telecentre (also called a telecottage, or Community Media Centre, or CMC) is a place where people meet to communicate. A telecentre often combines a community radio station with an internet access centre, public telephone facilities, fax machines, printing and photocopying facilities, and reference material. All of this is together in one building.
All these activities benefit from being near one another. Wiring costs are reduced, technical help is at hand, and the radio station has a source of revenue, from people using the equipment. The users are helped by each other, and the technicians, and with all that communication happening, the radio station has a steady flow of news.
The CMC model has many advantages for a radio station, though of course it requires more capital expenditure, and more management.
The Unesco website has a section on telecentres, at www.unesco.org/webworld/cmc - this provides more information on how telecentres work, and how they have been integrated with radio.
In countries such as Bhutan, the telecentre principle has been extended into radio browsing. This is a way of enabling poor people to access the internet. They contact the radio station with a question. The radio station has somebody trained in internet searching, who answers the question by using the internet, and broadcasts the answer. This form of interactive program works very well at a telecentre.
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