In 1956, UNESCO selected India for a unique experiment known as ‘Radio Rural Forums Project’, which was earlier successfully implemented in Canada. Pune was the site of this experiment. Village radio forums were created and made to listen to half-an hour radio program broadcast by AIR and then discussed the content of the program. The theme of the experiment was, "listen, discuss and act". The research evaluation showed that, "the Pune radio forums helped to unify the villagers around common decisions and common acts, widening the influence of gram panchayat and broadening the scope of its action."
The radio forums continued to do some good work. In fact, credit for the success of the Green Revolution and the attaining of self-sufficiency in food production was partly given to radio. With the advent of the transistor, radio receiver sets became cheap and reach of radio was enlarged. The farmers of the Thanjavur paddy growing belt in Tamil Nadu, named the hybrid variety of paddy they grew after listening about it over transistor radio as "Transistor paddy."
UNESCO considered the Pune experiment a successful model of development communication and it was repeated in several developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, AIR failed to draw more lessons from the experiment and apply it broadly to other areas of rural development. By the 1970’s, the radio farm forums were defunct.
According to Malhan, "AIR is considered by media authorities and researchers to have proved its worth and utility both as an informational channel and a development and cultural activist. It has provided healthy entertainment through its various light and humorous programmes. Extension research and other field surveys have already given great credit to radio as a credible promoter of a suitable climate for development and progress as also for having advanced form educational and cultural renaissance0s contribution in the form of transmitting useful and timely information, motivation and suggestions for rural development is concede~ Its sponsors claim that radio is helping to create a climate of opinion in which social change can take place and people could be involved in the process" (1993 : 136).
It was pointed out at one of the seminars organized by AIR, that while AIR may have lost its primacy in metropolitan cities and big towns, it is still the main source of news and entertainment in rural areas and this position is likely to continue for many years for obvious reasons like cost considerations, unavailability of electricity and high rate of illiteracy. The large number of under privileged people in rural areas still sticks to radio. (Gupta: 1995).
Various research experiments have proved that radio is an effective medium to address adequately a particular problem of our society. Radio, if used effectively, can help agencies, governments and the people in general to solve the problem of illiteracy and ignorance in our country.
In south and South East Asia region in its several languages, extensive programming on development and environment issues, packaged as information, education or entertainment is offered on radio
Radio played a significant part in transforming the public opinion and behaviour of an entire America by defining the noble purpose of 2nd World War, and altered the lives of the people to willingly contribute to the joint effort. Radio network as an instantaneous news medium unified a divided nation in to one that saw the war as a moral cause.
In India, at present local radio stations broadcast development programmes for rural masses, called farm and home programmes. There is a move to expand local radio stations. These stations can broadcast area specific programmes keeping in mind the needs of the local people. Thus, radio can become one of the powerful medium for development.
The main problem in broadcasting developmental radio programmes is that most of the AIR stations are single channel ones so, they are not able to fit all the programmes of development in their schedule as there are demands for entertainment programmes also. Even today, the provision of radio sets in schools, adult or non formal education centres is inadequate. There is lack of co-ordination and co-operation among the AIR officials, development practitioners, educationists and other key persons for tapping the potential of radio for development
Moreover, radio programmes mostly focus on specific target groups. Such as programmes for children, women, youth, tribals, industrial workers programmes and so on. Audience research of AIR have shown that these special programmes have high listenership.
Every medium of communication has cultural identity and away from this, it tends to lose its effectiveness. Over the years radio has created for itself an image of being an important source of education and development. This has been possible because of its history of putting out programmes related to social and civic problems, agricultural programmes, health, family planning, and nutrition related programmes and on formal and non-formal education broadcast. Television, on the other hand has evolved for itself an image of being essentially an entertainment medium and even as an extended arm of the film industry. (Gupta and Aggarwal: 100).
Rao (1992) found villagers" exposure to radio was significantly high with as many as 50 percent having access to the radio and getting the benefit of exposure to broadcasts as far as reach and utilization of the media and villagers' exposure to other informational channels was concerned. It was also found that agriculture or rural programmes were high on the priority of listeners. The local radio stations are very effective in reaching the people and ensuring their participation. As far as rural development is concerned, it is possible to broadcast need based agriculture programmes. Moreover, it provides scope for the use of local expel1ise and talents.
Audience researches conducted all around the country has shown that many radio programmes have fairly high percentage of listeners. The letters received from the listeners by AIR, Vadodara eliminate firmly the wrong notion of radio being "not listened to”. These include feedback and suggestions on popular as well as special programmes such as Yuvvani, film songs, rural based programmes, farmer's programmes, expert's talks and question answer format programmes.
Many were attracted to radio and there was a time when "Chhaya Geet" on Vividh Bharati and "Binaca Geet Mala" were listened to religiously by one and all(Radio commercials have been very popular. In a country like India with different languages, commercial radio has been effectively used by the advertisers especially at local level, to carry the product messages to the prospects. The main reason for the success of radio commercial in India is high percentage of illiteracy, where print media of newspapers and magazines are not effective advertising media.
Radio has helped in creating a positive climate for growth and development. India has had a rich tradition of the use of radio for non-formal education programmes, rural development and also for providing various types of learning opportunities and information to the people) The Pune Radio Rural Forum Project in India is cited as the most 6:1ebrated use of radio in development. Although the project was subsequently discontinued, yet the experience demonstrated that the radio rural forum can be cost effective in bringing about community development.
AIR'S "Yuvvani" programme has provided a forum for the self expression of the youth between the ages of 5 to 30 years.
The evaluation of the AIR's farmers' programmes have indicated that the audience find them extremely useful. It is interesting to learn from the record projects of agricultural universities that AIR's rural programmes are not only useful to the villagers but command credibility and acceptability. The imprint of AIR is best known by the terms radio seeds and radio fertilizers. Community listening scheme was introduced by the government in Sixties. Assessment of this scheme revealed that the discussions in community listening and deliberations were excellent or good and participants learnt a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot'. Also these farmers developed rapidly in to decision making bodies capable of speeding up common pursuits of the village (Malhan : 134-135).
Other developing countries have also found using radio successfully in reaching "hard-to-reach" rural audiences quickly and quite inexpensively.
Vyas (1989) tapped the effectiveness of radio to enhance maternal and child health care in the rural areas of India, women were organized into listening groups who met regularly to listen, discuss and decide on action under the supervision of the trained personnel’s. Evaluation and review of the programme revealed that 97.19 percent of women in Haryana showed significant gain in knowledge regarding child survival and development issues. The knowledge retained on different topics ranged from 20.81 percent to 95.18 percent depending on the topic. In Tamil Nadu, more than 75 percent of the listeners indicated their strong desire to use the radio broadcast information with regard to the behavioural changes, nearly half of the listeners in Tamil Nadu had shown their willingness to add more milk and vegetables to their diet after listening to the programmes, while 16-32 percent of the respondents had consulted medical practitioners on immunization, nutritive food for children, care of children and health of pregnant women. This project was carried out with the co-operation of the Ministry of Information and broadcasting. It promoted services for maternal and child health care and fostered community participation in the child survival and development programmes.