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Hilal English

On the Same Wavelength: Suno FM's Impact on Community Empowerment, Diversity, and Social Progress in Pakistan

February 2024

Suno FM's native language programs serve the local communities in remote parts of Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including newly merged districts. This initiative stands out as a prime example of a community radio service that listeners engage with because it closely resonates with their lives.

Of late, community radio has played a vital role in broadcasting the promotion of indigenous native languages and cultures in parts of Pakistan. Various studies conducted in different parts of the world reveal that community radio stations can positively affect the local population. Research studies also discovered that the establishment of community radio stations centered on local community aspirations has the potential to create community-based public spheres for the promotion of languages and cultures, as aired on local areas’ radio stations. Thus, using native languages simplifies the understanding of information and encourages the participation of listeners who might otherwise be excluded due to language difficulties. Most importantly, radio personalizes listeners' experiences, driving them to use their imagination while decoding what’s unfolding. Hence, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the radio's death are greatly exaggerated.
In Pakistan alone, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), approximately 200 commercial FM radios are covering the country. It is important that radios are in close contact with their listeners and constantly examine the needs and desires of various target groups. Multiple genres of community-based radio formats cater to respond directly to a community’s needs, with information about livelihoods and the local economy, health, education, political scenarios, cultural interactions, scientific developments, etc., that have the power to change communities and individual lives radically. Community radio is an opportunity for discussing and deciding how we can make radio an even more powerful tool in promoting sustainable development and the well-being of our countrymen.

In Pakistan alone, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), approximately 200 commercial FM radios are covering the country.

Following the establishment of FM 96, the Voice of Peace Radio in Swat in the year 2008, the dominant paradigm of extremism was challenged. The Voice of Peace Radio played a significant role in changing the mindset of the people in the area, enabling them to reject Maulvi Fazlullah's radio propaganda. This was achieved through the dissemination of counter-violence messages, audience engagements using an inclusive approach, and widespread mass engagement through radio programs.
Suno FM, being a community radio station, always tries to stand as a lifeline for information and communication to the remote, marginalized, and disadvantaged during the most challenging times of Pakistan's recent history, whether it was the War on Terror, natural disasters like the floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, information, updates and travel plans regarding roadblocks in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Kashmir due to landsliding, earthquakes, heavy snowfall or the ongoing rehabilitation and development processes in the newly merged districts of KP. In those challenging times of 2008 and onwards, the then Suno FM communicated crisis information during military operations against miscreants in Swat, Dir, Buner, Waziristan, Kuram, Orakzai, Mohmand, Khyber districts and devastating floods of 2010 and 2022. After going through the profile of the listeners, feedback received from different strata of society, and influential factors of the listenership of Suno FM Radio Network, the psycho-social impact created includes issue mediation, countering of militants’ propaganda, knowledge empowerment, awareness, and role in community development. 
Suno FM, a community radio broadcasting station, promotes indigenous native languages, traditions, local talent, issues, and cultures in different parts of Pakistan. Using and availing of the latest trends in broadcast journalism, the recent expansion of Suno FM radio stations, centered on local community development, has created an opportunity for highlighting our diversity, issues, and strengths in our native villages, towns, and cities surrounding the radio stations.

Today, Suno FM is airing its transmission in regional and local dialects of Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi, Sindhi, Brahvi, Saraiki, Pahari, Gujari, Kashmiri, Yousafzai, Waziri, Shina, Balti, Burushaski and Khuwar dialects—most of the tongues that typically find little or no space on television or other mainstream media.

Farm Radio International, a charitable organization that supports rural radio broadcasters in 39 African countries, describes radio as one of the best communication tools for the rural people. It is ideal for low income populations and sparsely populated areas since radios are affordable and broadcasts can reach a wide audience. In countries where access to the internet is limited, and illiteracy rates are high, radio stations play a major role in sharing news and educational information.
Today, Suno FM is airing its transmission in regional and local dialects of Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi, Sindhi, Brahvi, Saraiki, Pahari, Gujari, Kashmiri, Yousafzai, Waziri, Shina, Balti, Burushaski and Khuwar dialects—most of the tongues that typically find little or no space on television or other mainstream media.
One of the Pashto program formats is titled “Zarghoon Watan” (Green Country). Local farmers can communicate with peers, local authorities, and institutions and have access to relevant knowledge and information on new methods of farming and seeds, including technical and scientific advancement in agriculture and economic, social, and cultural information pertaining to their respective areas. However, all the information is available to the local users in native languages and formats. 
Through their daily programs, Suno FM radio jockeys (RJs), current affairs hosts, local station managers, and program coordinators always call for greater participation of audiences and communities by suggesting better and constructive radio broadcasting. 
A listener from North Waziristan shared, "The Suno FM radio staff is in regular contact and has become like friends. I actively take part in live call programs. The hosts consistently highlight the importance of girls' education, inspiring me to enroll my daughter in a local boys' school due to the absence of nearby girls' schools. We allocate a significant part of our time to the radio outside our schedule, finding it beneficial and educational in various ways."
In the case of Pakistan, radio can play a massive role in empowering our youth and lifting the downtrodden strata of our society. It can be used to spread the message of tolerance, peace, and the elimination of prejudice and stereotypes, providing an opportunity to gain more knowledge about the world. Moreover, with radio as a platform for exchange, young people may find their place and express themselves more openly and logically. There is still a lot of space for young broadcasters, program hosts, producers, and station managers to design and execute programs devoted especially to youth, uneducated, less skilled, and marginalized communities of the country. In an era that prioritizes customized content, messages that provide the perfect summation of the immense flexibility and the continued relevance of the medium will ultimately be successful in getting across to audiences.
By listening to its audiences and responding to their needs, Suno FM is providing the diversity of views and voices needed to address the challenges we face as a nation. At the same time, it is a challenge and an opportunity for all of us who are involved in radio to celebrate a dynamic, real-time medium and how this helps shape our lives. Today, Suno FM reaches a staggering 80-90 percent of Pakistan’s population. Rural parts of Pakistan, including far-flung areas of Balochistan, Southern Punjab, interior Sindh, Azad Kashmir, GB, and newly merged tribal districts of KP, overwhelmingly covered for information, entertainment, and education of the local population. More recently, Suno Digital has kept up with technological advances and is now fully computerized, meaning that all material is recorded and edited digitally. Suno Digital moved to digital broadcasting and is available online and via dedicated mobile apps. 
The Station Manager of Suno FM Turbat commented, "All our listeners are from rural communities in the southern part of Balochistan, Makran Division, creating a sense of unity among them. They value our local radio programs and actively participate through calls and text messages. Even those we haven't met in person appreciate good radio content and invite us for meetings. They openly share issues from their respective areas and inquire about any progress from the authorities. Additionally, they show great affection towards the radio staff, fostering friendships. In this way, we have built a sense of community."
Community radio offers these communities a platform to intervene in public debate, irrespective of their educational level and gender. It allows local communities to participate in policy and decision-making processes and protect and promote the diversity of our cultural manifestations. It also remains the cheapest and most portable medium. A radio set can be purchased at a nominal amount of PKR 300, which makes it more inexpensive than a mobile phone or a television.
RJs Shahnaz and Shireen Adam from Suno FM Turbat expressed, "Women-themed radio shows broadcast by Suno FM aim to inform women of their rights and empower them as civil society actors. Our Balochi language program, 'May giadaan’, from Turbat studio, engages in debates on Balochi women’s voices, their role in society, and Balochi culture. This program illustrates the significant role of radio in women's lives, contributing to addressing rural women-related issues in Balochistan. Women play a vital role as both broadcasters and listeners, influencing radio's overall development and broadcasting practices. Our show covers topics such as legal rights, female education, skills, and health practices for women. Local women actively participate through calls and text messages, sharing their experiences. Suno FM in South Balochistan is making a positive impact on women's lives, empowering them to take an active role in the area's development. We strive to provide a platform for women's empowerment in the Makran Division." 
The impact of radio is at different levels: it is an essential tool in times of disaster management as an effective medium to reach the affected people when other means of communication are disrupted; it is a way of promoting gender equality by providing women both in rural and urban areas access to knowledge, skill, and support; finally, it is inclusive, engaging youth in the media as catalysts of change. Radio has also been the last man standing in times of all types of calamities and disasters. During difficult situations like the 2010 and 2022 floods, polio campaigns, and military operations against terrorists in Swat and erstwhile FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Suno FM effectively conveyed information on relief work, aid, and recovery efforts when other mediums became inaccessible.
Certainly, Suno FM's native language programs for the local communities in remote parts of Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh, GB, Azad Kashmir, and KP, including newly merged districts, represent perhaps the finest example of community radio service that listeners engage with because it closely resonates with their lives.