Dozens of people now gather in the heart of Ninotsminda to listen to Georgia’s first community radio station. The station went ‘on air’ in mid-March, but not having a licensed frequency yet, it is broadcast through a loudspeaker placed in the city center and linked by cable to the radio studio. Pending licensing, the Georgian National Communications Commission approved this way of reaching the audience.

The station gives accounts of news in town and around the country in Armenian, Georgian, and Russian, including press reviews, discussions of topics of the day, interviews with studio guests on diverse issues, and entertainment. The one-hour news show is broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while on Saturday the station offers its own produced programming and summarizes the major events of the week. Other days, music is aired.

In some places, a community radio station’s offerings through a loudspeaker a few hours a week might seem hardly worth noting—but not in Ninotsminda.

Ninotsminda is a small town locked in the alpine zone of the mountains of southwest Georgia, about two kilometers above sea level and close to the border with Armenia and Turkey. The majority of its 33,000 residents are ethnic Armenians, with a tiny share of the population comprising ethnic Georgians and Dukhobors, a Russian Christian group. Frequently cut off from the rest of the country by severe weather, the townspeople live an isolated life with only one local TV station, almost no entertainment, widespread unemployment, no gas, poor water supply, and practically no knowledge of the Georgian language.

The piloting of community radio in Georgia is being undertaken through “Making Waves: A Community Radio Project for Georgia,” supported by the European Union with co-funding from the UK Global Conflict Prevention Pool through the British Embassy in Tbilisi. IREX Europe joins in implementing the project through a consortium led by the BBC World Service Trust and including Studio Re, a Georgian nonprofit organization producing TV programming. The project works as well in southern Georgia’s mainly Azeri-speaking enclave of Marneuli.

Residents of Ninotsminda were amazed to be invited to contribute to their community radio station. They could sing songs, read poetry on air, prepare programs, or be a technician. Interactive by design, community radio in Ninotsminda opens doors to the media for everybody: a doctor who produces his own programs on healthcare; a young man who stepped in to congratulate all Ninotsminda females on International Women’s Day; people who call the studio and request songs or greetings to be aired.

“If this radio had existed when I was young, I would have been famous by now,” said the grandfather of Karine Arutyunyan, a girl whose singing talent had been aired. Where once her grandfather’s voice could only be heard at a local church, now the loudspeaker carries Armenian folk songs sung by Karine and her grandfather.

Music occupies another hour of the radio’s ‘air’ time on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, mixed with the teasers announcing the subject of the next day’s ‘topic of the day’ discussions. Feedback comes immediately through phone calls and word of mouth, including requests to remove hip-hop songs from the repertoire and substitute originals and remakes of Armenian and Georgian folk music.

“It’s a pity the radio doesn’t broadcast the whole day, and we can’t listen to it at home. I’d love to follow the programs, but I am at school this time and can only hear them during the breaks and when walking home after my classes,” said one resident, Armen Mgdesyan. To cover more of the town, another loudspeaker is to be installed at the newly renovated town park.

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