“Etoile, Etoile, what's up?” “I ate zis Town All, eet iz zo confuzing. I nevaire know vat to do viz my shapelles.”
Anybody tuning in to AurovilleRadio a few weeks ago and hearing this exchange might have wondered what on earth they'd stumbled upon. In fact it's an extract from ‘Improbable Aurovilians', a goonishly satirical look at Auroville life. Other recent AurovilleRadio programmes have featured Marco on concentration techniques and on working with the Ch'i, an Auroville choir concert, Auroville musicians jamming in someone's back room, ‘Soundscapes' (recordings of the sounds – and silences! – of Auroville), Gilles giving a Matrimandir update, and Wim talking about ‘11 Days of Global Unity'. And all this streamed in crystal-clear audio through the Internet so that it can be listened to or downloaded anywhere in the world.
In other words, AurovilleRadio has come some way from the Soviet-style programming (Auroville news followed by music followed by Auroville news followed by music) of one year ago. And it's not the only change.
“The most important thing,” explains Andrea, the project coordinator, “is that now we have 6-7 people working on the project and we have grown in professionalism because Daniel, an experienced radio journalist, has joined the team.” Another welcome boost, he adds, was receiving funds from Stichting de Zaaier. This has allowed the team to buy much-needed equipment.
AurovilleRadio describes its vision and mission as “to create better communication inside Auroville and to build a bridge between Auroville, its local surroundings and the world.” How is it doing? In terms of bridging to the outside (something like 90% of its listeners live outside Auroville) Andrea notes that in the past 7 months the AurovilleRadio website was visited 33,000 times, and that there were more than 7,000 downloads of its programmes. “The audience is not yet very big,” admits Daniel.
One of the reasons is limited scheduling: the present 12 hour programme is repeated twice a day, seven days a week. “This will change when we have a bigger team.” Another factor is language. While the Auroville News is also read in French and Tamil, and the occasional programme is made in other languages, English remains the dominant medium. “We notice,” says Daniel, “that the only continent that doesn't listen to us is South America , mainly because of the language difficulty. So now we are thinking of doing some Spanish programmes. Ultimately we should offer as many different languages as possible.”
And how many Aurovilians listen regularly? Daniel grimaces. “Many Aurovilians still don't know that AurovilleRadio exists.”
So where does AurovilleRadio position itself regarding the existing communication media in Auroville? Is it merely supplementing News and Notes, Auroville Today and the AVNet, or is it offering something completely different?
Daniel says they use 25% of News and Notes as material for their daily news broadcasts, but AurovilleRadio provides more depth and ‘actuality' by also including interviews. “We also take a longer view. For example, we are doing a programme called ‘Insight' which features interviews with Aurovilians who have been here a long time, and we will run a series called ‘Born in Auroville' to explore what being born here really means.” “AurovilleRadio does not take the place of any existing media,” explains Andrea, “it just gives the opportunity for people to listen and express themselves in another form. When we broadcast the silence of the inner Chamber or the sounds of an Auroville forest we are finding other paths to explore and express Auroville.”
“No commercial radio station could afford to run such programmes,” observes Daniel, “and that's what makes AurovilleRadio special. Another important aspect of AurovilleRadio is its archives. People like Croquette and Johnny put on many shows over the years but none were recorded. So now we record everything we can – concerts, comedies, Residents Assemblies, conferences – and archive them for the future. I think this is one of the most important aspects of our work.”
Do they take a particular stance regarding what's happening in the community? “Normally media should raise questions, provoke,” says Daniel, “but right now we are not doing this. We just show what's there. And that's already a commentary.” “We are not here to do any kind of revolution,” says Andrea. “To put it another way, the most powerful revolution is the quietest: I don't feel that screaming about problems and bad relationships is more powerful than talking about a good relationship. Also we have to keep in mind that our programmes can be listened to all over the world, so for that reason we need to be positive rather than provocative.”
So what's the next step? “We need a space, a studio,” says Daniel. At present the team and all the equipment is huddled in a corner of the Conference Room of the Town Hall. “While this is a good location because everybody comes by we need a proper place for editing and recording, particularly as we are also thinking of starting a computer-based TV channel next year.”
“My dream,” says Andrea, “is to open a dialogue with the schools. In 2007 we would like to run a course in new media and journalism for the students of the high schools here. It's very important for the future of communication in Auroville that we involve the young.”
Partly, this is self-interest. Andrea notes that running a decent radio station with a different programme schedule every day will require a team of at least 20 people, and television requires even more. Obviously he hopes that many of the students in this course will join the team.
But there are deeper issues here. One is that Andrea wants to introduce something of the Auroville spirit into the medium of radio. “We're here to learn how to make radio closer to the Auroville idea. We need professional dreamers, and students and young people can offer a lot here.”
The other point relates to a radical change in journalism. Back in the 1970s, recalls Daniel, to be a journalist was to be someone special because you had access to expensive equipment and technologies. “Now the technology is cheaper and easily available. Now everybody has the capacity to be a journalist, to do radio or write blogs. It's happening everywhere else, so it should happen here too.”
Think about it. Enthusiastic students going everywhere, asking questions, recording the answers, then broadcasting them. Could this be the beginning of Auroville's very own communication revolution?
But one moment. An acoustically-designed studio, a new television channel, a team of 20+ – these things don't come cheap (the ballpark figure for the new studio and various technical upgrades alone is U.S. $ 150,000). So where is the money coming from? “We want to be self-sustaining,” says Andrea, “The idea is to create a unit which will sell services and products both within Auroville and outside and all the money generated will be used to run AurovilleRadio and TV.”
“We can make programmes for people,” explains Daniel. “For instance, if there is a big conference or music event in Puducherry and the people involved want it recorded and broadcast, we'll do it.” Other ideas include recording and selling audio CDs and DVDs.
“We are in a moment of transition,” concludes Andrea. “We want people to come and share their ideas and requests with us – we're very open to this. But right now we can't do this as we're waiting for the right space.”
The AurovilleRadio website is www.aurovilletv.org. The World Channel can be accessed from anywhere in the world through the internet. The City Channel, which occasionally broadcasts Auroville meetings live, can only be accessed within Auroville through SkyNet.