A radio service without a studio? It’s Natrinaï

What started as a short WhatsApp newsletter sent to a handful of friends is now a multi-faceted program with hundreds of subscribers.

S. Anukeerthana tries to stifle a laugh as she reads her signature line delivering the Oru Nimida Yosanai (a minute’s reflection) for the day in loop for the photographer under the gaze of much older co-presenters. Montfort school class VI student Kattur is something of a celebrity among listeners at the Natrinai Audio Gallery, an audio service that quietly dominates the airwaves.

It’s the radio, but without the studio.

Named after the classic Tamil epic of 400 poems which is part of Ettuthokai, a literary anthology of the Sangam era, Natrinai began as an experimental newsletter on May 23, 2015 in Tiruchi. It completed 500 episodes in September 2016, and with a zero holiday schedule, is quickly heading towards its 700th recording.

“I was home alone reading the newspaper when I started to wonder how many people actually took the time to read entire articles,” says Natrinai founder Gnanapriyan *.

The senior prepress engineer decided to create a short newsletter of four or five daily headlines, with a brief summary of each report. He then recorded himself reading the news highlights on his cell phone and sent it to 10 of his friends via WhatsApp.

The enthusiastic response to this first digest of audio news prompted Mr. Gnanapriyan to produce a newsletter every day.

“I would avoid crime and negative news. Slowly I started to pick five titles each related to state, national, global, business, sports and entertainment news, ”he recalls.

But it was difficult to keep up with the recording schedule, which had to be done after Mr. Gnanapriyan’s night shift. “It was difficult to balance the two,” he recalls. “So I decided to close it in August 2015.”

It was around this time that Mr. Gnanapriyan responded to a call for volunteers from the Jagajothi Readers’ Circle to help create a bank of audio learning materials for visually impaired students in Tiruchi.

A second coming

When he joined the group, Mr Gnanapriyan found that there were many Natrinai fans among its 200 members, who had received the news digest on their phones from friends.

“Visually impaired listeners said they liked Natrinai bulletins because they could be broadcast at their convenience and they could stay informed about the news. I realized then that the closure of Natrinai could affect a lot more people than I had imagined, ”he says. “Natrinai is alive today mainly thanks to our visually impaired friends.”

Deciding to stay on the air, Mr. Gnanapriyan added more sections to the newsletter, with the help of a team of volunteers, including his daughters, Anukeerthana and Subiksharathna. A daily general culture quiz, literary readings, one-minute reflection and storytelling segments were among the new features.

But success brought another set of problems. As the number of listeners surpassed 1,000, it became difficult to maintain the WhatsApp group messaging model. “So we switched to a website [www.natrinai.org], explains Mr. Gnanapriyan. “We kept our WhatsApp number [8220999799], but our archived recordings can only be found on our website.

As the audio service grew, it attracted several language enthusiasts. “Natrinai introduced me to many Tamil radio enthusiasts, many of whom later became part of our core team of presenters and programmers,” Mr. Gnanapriyan said. “We all have full-time jobs, but we always manage to devote the necessary hours to Natrinai. “

Among the first volunteers was SS Manian, a civil engineer based in Pudukottai. “I contacted Gnanapriyan via the program Ullathai Solvom [Telling it like it is]. We started talking about how to develop Natrinai and became close friends.

FM online

Today, Mr. Manian is an integral part of the 27-member production team and is responsible for posting the various sections that make up the newsletter on the website, which are first finalized by Mr. Gnanapriyan. “We were originally approached by Karaikkal-based online FM station Nesa Ganam for our recordings. As we were already thinking about diversifying into the space, we decided to give it a try with Nesa Ganam, ”said Mr. Manian.

Natrinai’s programs were broadcast by Nesa Ganam from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily. The group has now developed an Android app (available for free download from the Google Play Store) to run its own online radio service through the website, which aired on February 10.

The stream goes from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and is rebroadcast from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the same day; archived recordings are available after 9 p.m.

Rather than talking about their Wi-Fi bills or scheduling issues, Natrinai presenters say their biggest challenge is finding a quiet room for their recordings. “Since we are all managing with our cell phones and working from home, having a soundproof studio is out of the question at the moment,” Gnanapriyan said.

A diverse talent pool

The nascent Natrinai Trust, administered by Gnanapriyan’s wife, Gnanalakshmi, raises funds for good causes. “Recently, we were able to raise 20,000 yen through a call on our website to help visually impaired people take software training in Tiruchi,” Gnanapriyan said. There is a long list of potential topics to add to the lineup. “We have received requests for information on parenting, legal and health issues, which we will be reviewing this year,” said Mr. Manian.

While Mr. Gnanapriyan’s story is inspiring, his growing team reflects passion and innovation. Mr. Karupaiah from Gandharvakottai is in charge of the daily quiz Podhu Arivu Kuviyal (“General knowledge bank”). A visually impaired social science teacher, Karuppiah spends about three hours a day researching questions and verifying the answers. He then types his work on a braille typewriter and records the audio version on his cell phone.

“I find this section useful for those attempting competitive exams, so that the braille manuscript can be stored in the district central library’s database for members with disabilities,” says Karupaiah.

Resistant ads

Erode S. Senthilkumar-based music teacher likes to prepare a short list of important history events for Natrinai. “I have to keep the information concise, otherwise it becomes boring for the listeners,” he says.

“We risk losing the support of our listeners if we go commercial,” says Gnanapriyan. “If people from Malaysia, Qatar, Italy, the United States and Oman are reaching out to us today, it is because we seem to be offering them a product without advertising.

Natrinai has nearly 1,000 repeat visitors, but the actual number may be higher, says Gnanapriyan, because there are so many niche groups of people accessing it through forwarded messages. The Natrinai FM app has been downloaded almost 500 times.

P. Sami, associate professor of chemistry at VHNSN College, Virudhunagar, contributes to motivation Naalum Oru Vidhai (“A seed every day”). “From a service for the visually impaired, Natrinai has become a platform for everyone,” explains Dr Sami.

“I know of schools in small towns that use Natrinai’s summaries on the public announcement system every morning.”

*Name changed on request.

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