Doko-Motion: Doko Radio

December 2, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, 1 Comment
Doko-Motion: Doko Radio » My Dreams Mag
Imagine 4-5 people walking in a remote area carrying a transmitter, an antenna, a sound mixer, a laptop, a sound recorder, and a generator, in short, everything required to transmit radio signals. There, you have Doko radio in its earliest days. 


The concept is not totally new or unique” says Salil Subedi, team leader of Doko Radio at Antenna Foundation. “There had been something called Tuk Tuk radio in Sri Lanka, which took radios to villages on three-wheelers. The idea, in Nepal, was to take radio to areas where there was no radio.” And thus was Doko radio born, which introduced radio to many remote areas and even distributed radios with batteries for the locals to hear it.

It is called Doko radio because when we started, we were going to areas with no roads. We actually had to carry our equipments in Dokos” explains Bhojraj Bishwokarma, who has looked after the technical side of Doko radio since its inception. For every location, they take permission to transmit. And before they arrive at a location, they inform the local organizations, youth clubs, and mothers’ and women’s groups to let people know where they should tune in.

The first phase took the Doko team to Gorkha, Manang, Humla, Dhading and Makwanpur. “The response was overwhelming” remembers Salil. “People had only known radio as the voice of authority, from which they could hear government notices, or perhaps the king’s address. At Doko radio we invited people into the studio, and they realized that their voice too could go on radio.”

The second part was community mobilization” adds Bhojraj. In Myagdi, they did a story on problems at a local school. The school had a few computers, but could not run them as it had no electricity. A businessman in Pokhara heard of it on Doko, and decided to donate a 10 KV generator to the school.

Doko Radio_Manang_by Salil Subedi_2007

Similarly, in Humla, there were many local problems that needed to be discussed. Doko team initiated a social/political debate, which gave the people an opportunity to air their grievances. The result was that they arrived at a consensus. Salil and Bhojraj also fondly remember the community radios that got started in the wake of Doko radio. “People realized that we can do this by ourselves, and it could benefit us” says Salil. Kailash radio in Humla, Krishi radio in Dhading, and radio Naya Nepal in Darchula were inspired by Doko radio.

That led me to question the mushrooming radio stations in Nepal. Nepal is supposed to have one of the highest densities of radios in the world. Is this sustainable? “I doubt the long-term commercial viability of this radio bubble, but of radio itself I do not” Salil ruminated. “Radios tell stories, and history tells us that human civilizations have evolved from narratives, from stories. Radio is such a wonderful way to tell stories, it keeps the human relationship with voice intact. Radio has a value at a deep poetic level.”

His team members Yamuna Chapagain and Nisha Rai had more practical points to add. “Radio is portable. You can listen to it as you graze the cattle, or as you tend to fields. People even listen to radios from smartphones, which were expected to replace radios, but instead gave it a new lease of life. Now people listen to it as they drive. Despite all this new media, people all over the world still tune in to BBC radio when a program in their language is playing. Besides, radio does not require constant attention that a TV does, or the electricity. It can even run on batteries” they said. “And in Nepal, newspapers reach remote areas at best in the evening, and at worst, several days later. There is nothing faster than a radio to break and transmit news” Bhojraj finished listing the benefits of radio.

Doko Radio_Kavre PokhariNarayansthan_7_by Salil Subedi_2013


But what about the future of Doko radio itself? They originally started with the idea of taking radio to radio shadow areas, and there are none left of those any more. “Visual education is an important part of Doko radio” said Salil. “Even the urban population does not know what a radio looks like, so the charm and mystery is still there. And rural populace is, let’s say, very enthusiastic.” Salil and Bhoj remembered their trip to Myagdi, where they had 7,000-8,000 people coming to look at the studio every day. They were looking for a house or school to live in, but the villagers immediately constructed a temporary shelter in a field. On the edges of the field were temporary hotels in sheds. “And it became a proper mela. We planned to do three hours of live program each in the morning and evening. But ended up doing 18 hours straight of live program. Our generator got damaged.”

They all wanted to speak, and wanted to hear themselves on the radio. “Doko radio is a two-way process” said Yamuna “unlike the traditional one-way radio. We record locals’ voices and transmit it, and people are very excited to hear themselves. They go home and tune in to our station.” Hence, apart from the live program, the recordings are re-aired later on local FM stations they partner with.

Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_10_by Salil Subedi_2013


In course of time, we have shifted from our priorities” says Pramod Tandukar, Executive director of Antenna Foundation. “We started out with radio shadow areas, but since there are none of those left now, we focus on enhancing the value of radio. Now we have a videographer. We try to broadcast the video in the evening, so as to motivate others to come out and speak up. So today radio is more of a participatory tool.”

So these days, they focus on the cultural aspects. Between social/political debates, they invite people to sing, to recite poetry, or to play music. On their first trip was to Gorkha, they had gone with a pre-planned program. When they had a bit of free time, they handed over the operations to the local mothers’ group. “Later at night, we had a drunk from ‘Bau Samuha’ come in and demand time on air” laughs Salil. “We were wondering what to do, and decided to have some songs, have some fun. That’s how it started, as a by-product, but now the cultural part has taken centre-stage.” The challenge, they feel, is to make people express their talents spontaneously. Initially the cultural aspect was not even in the proposal, but they learned that if they told people they wanted to see their culture, people were excited. “We even had a Jhankri come in to examine their equipment, and end up doing fuk-fak right in the studio.” They laughed again at the memory.

Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_9_by Salil Subedi_2013


In these cases, radio becomes just the excuse to explore an issue. Their current theme is gender-based violence, in which radio became a process of healing. “Women were eager to come and vent their feelings, and I imagine what a relief it must be to finally find a platform to let it all out” Salil explained.

In rural areas, being on the media is a big deal” says Nisha. “Even a local issue becomes a national issue. We are used to seeing only famous people in the media. They are deserving, but there are so many others who are just as deserving, or perhaps have struggled more, but who have not been picked up by mainstream media. We highlight those strugglers and achievers hidden in rural areas” Nisha especially remembers the inspiring case of Strimaya Tamang, a woman who was abused at home, but pulled herself out of the cycle. She is now studying to be a Lama, despite starting school at 18 and graduating from SLC at 32. “Every house, every street has these stories, and only community radios reach out to them” they finish.


Image Source: transom.org


Doko radio is not a community radio, but a campaign that has inspired several. A community radio is owned by the community, and is not commercial. What community radios do at their best is empower the community, by reducing their dependence on the ubiquitous mass media. “People in Kathmandu don’t know whether there is rice in Humla, and people of Humla do not know whether there is rice in Kathmandu. We are disconnected, and yet the media tries to take over as a single authority. But with their own radios, people do not need to rely on the centre any more. The power centres are changing, and decentralizing. People realize that their own region is powerful. They can exchange their knowledge and ideas, but not necessarily depend on them” Salil explained.

Marshall Mclohan had famously said “the media is the message.” But mobile radio units have proved that the media is not just the message, but also a process, and one of self empowerment at that.

There are many community radios in Nepal, but they operate similar to commercial radios. At first they are supported by donors, and later cannot sustain themselves. Many community radios have had to close down. Political parties take advantage of the situation by financing struggling radios and then using them to disseminate vested viewpoints. This brings up the threat of community radios being politicized. What would be the best way to counter this threat, I asked them team. “The only thing that helps is government policies.” Bhojraj replied. “Our policies regarding community radios are not clear right now. The government should support their sustainability with low taxes and subsidised electricity.”

Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_12_by Salil Subedi_2013

Shifting gears, we got into the subject of how being on Doko radio affected the team themselves. Salil remembers a “rainbow of experiences,” both personal and professional. At the professional level, their skills were enhanced. All team members talked of “unlearning,” letting go of their previous assumptions. “Communities are more active and aware than we imagine” said Salil. “I used to believe that women in the mofussil are traditional, that they tolerate domestic violence as a fact of life. But on the contrary, I found that they had become quite bold and unwilling to tolerate domestic violence. They are better spoken that many of their urban counterparts” said Nisha. “And some cases where women had moved far ahead of violence made me wonder if it was me who was disproportionately focusing on it.” Yamuna talked about how attached rural people were to local culture. “I believed people of Nepal are not really concerned about their cultures and festivals. But now, I realize that people of every place are eager to showcase local specialities.”

Not all is rosy on their trips, however. One of their most dramatic crises came in Baglung, when they were almost chased out of the village for their association with Western donors. “Communist schooling is so strong in the villages, they could only see western donors as imperialists. It was just before the first CA election, and they believed we were there to advocate sponsored agendas” explained Bhojraj. Rajan Parajuli, program director at Antenna, believes their content is more important than their relationship with their donors. “We never even mention our sponsors in our programs. We tell people, if you agree with our editorial line, work with us. If not, don’t.” But even on less dramatic trips, the team faces a lot of adversities, including risky transportation, adverse weather, and homesickness. They often don’t know where they will stay or what they will eat.

In the beginning they went with the most basic planning, and adjusted with whatever they found. With time they learnt to handle these adversities better. Now they partner with local organizations and mobilize local communities. But the warmth of locals, wherever they went, compensated for any adversities. “We went to Darchula and did not know where to go because our workout had not been done properly. And the community just took us in” says Salil.

Doko Radio_Kavre Majhipheda_4_by Salil Subedi_2013


Salil has lately begun giving including his performance art, giving didgeridoo workshops and performances as part of his Himalayan Didgeridoo Project. He wants to take the sound and artistic possibilities of this ancient instrument to every nook and cranny of Nepal to allow for a positive self-transformation. For Salil, it is a profound achievement of knowledge exchange through arts in platforms like Doko Radio. “As a didgeridoo player, I get the purest reactions from people in rural areas. In cities, people are judgemental, but over there, they tell you if they like it, and they tell you if they don’t. It’s a blessing for a performer like me. There is so much bonding. The welcome is overwhelming and farewells are always difficult. They make you cry.” And on this sentimental note, the Doko team has just departed for new horizons again, this time to the Far West. Here is wishing the team luck, and hoping they come back with more stories of change for the better!




Text by: Sewa Bhattarai
Images: Salil Subedi

  • Doko Radio_Darchula_by Salil Subedi_2007
  • Doko Radio_Gorkha_by Salil Subedi_2007
  • Doko Radio_Kavre_3_by Nisha Rai_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_6_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_7_by Nisha Rai_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_9_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_10_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_12_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhifeda_13_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhipheda_3_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhipheda_4_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre Majhipheda_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Kavre PokhariNarayansthan_7_by Salil Subedi_2013
  • Doko Radio_Manang_by Salil Subedi_2007
  • Doko Radio_Solu_by Salil Subedi_2007
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  • Children-watching-as-women-are-interviewed-for-Doko-Radio
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One comment on “Doko-Motion: Doko Radio

  1. Udeep Ratna says:

    I wish to hear voices of these people in Kathmandu as well. It’s important to bring the news from world and cities to these people and it’s equally important to bring stories of these people to the cities and to the world. Kudos Doko Radio.

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