FCX: Indie Radio Gives Chiang Mai's Village Tribes A Voice

Published on 21 Dec 2015 4:22:53 PM

In the heart of Dong Dam, a Karen community in the Hot District of southern Chiang Mai, a local radio station has been sending out their voices, messages and songs since 2004. It’s one of the few independent broadcasting networks in Thailand, and its transmission reaches a distance of 50km, covering nine districts. The station aims to empower the tribes people by keeping their culture alive while educating the over 1,500 villagers listening in every day. Though the townsfolk from a nearby settlement support the station financially, it was set up in Dong Dam because 40% of Karen folk live there, says Thapat Maneerat, who presents a weekly show on the radio.

Seven villagers currently volunteer as radio announcers, handling broadcasts from 8am to 5pm, Mondays to Saturdays. The station operates out of an edifice that’s half the size of a normal classroom, and just outside its entrance are two satellite dishes and a transmitter tower, all within a 1,000sqm compound. Its studio works on the most basic equipment – one computer, a mixing board, a few microphones and a phone line. But the door is always is open so that anyone can walk in and get on the airwaves. Soundproofing is the least of their concerns here and no one’s complaining.

Duang Kampar, a 36-year-old local, says the radio provides a vital link to what’s happening in the neighbourhood and events across the country. “Weddings, funerals, even cases of missing cows are aired,” says Duang, who owns a provisions store. “Since many of us do not have televisions, our radio makes a good companion.”

The station’s programming covers a range of subjects including health, climate change and the environment. It also plays a wide selection of folk music. “My programme focuses on gender equality, human rights and cultural heritage,” says 53-year-old Kab Keo, who has hosted the 8am-10am slot since 2004. She adds that the station not only engages the younger generation but also provides them with knowledge of the heritage borne by the Karen tribe, the largest minority group in Thailand. “The radio is our voice to educate the youth on their culture, language and traditional songs,” says the grandmother of two.

Meanwhile, Thapat travels to Dong Dam once a month for a live edition of his show, On The Trail Of Climate Change. As a representative of the Indigenous People’s Foundation For Education And Environment NGO, his weekly recordings focus on environmental concerns like carbon emissions and sustainable development. “There’s always a sense of reward when villagers show an interest in climate change and how to contribute towards sustainable development,” he says.

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