“A hub of limitless imagination”, “Tackling unforeseen issues”, “Uncovering my life goal”...
We are discussing one of the most vibrant projects initiated on Campus three years ago, and these are just some of the thoughts emerging from the minds of our student-founders.
The year was 2020. For a group of four students, the Foundation Programme of their Undergraduate education at Ahmedabad University would become the foundation for an idea that would contribute to community building in the future. BBA student in Operations Management at the Amrut Mody School of Management Kashmira Oswal says, “Professor Chandra (Pankaj Chandra, Vice Chancellor, Ahmedabad University), Professor Chaudhary (Sanjay Chaudhary, Assistant Dean, Ahmedabad University) and Professor French (Patrick French, then Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences) had offered a course on ‘Archiving the Times’. We were studying the impact of Covid-19 on small business with Professor Chandra and we used to interact with him closely. In one of our interactions, Professor Chandra mentioned how building community was vital during such times. On Campus too. He suggested that a Community Radio on Campus would be an excellent proposition. The idea that we could connect with the entire community harnessing just the power of the voice across boundaries thrilled us.” That thought triggered a spark in four students, Kashmira being one of them. On February 6, 2021, coinciding with World Radio Day, Ahmedabad University aired the first show of Stepwell Radio.
For the co-founders, Kashmira and her batchmates, Nandini Panchal, Pranav Kumar Sah, and Samkit Kundalia, the eight months leading to the pilot episode were fraught with intense work and research around how internet radio works. They had to keep a long-term vision while micro-managing everything: recording without a proper studio, understanding the royalties involved, and getting young listeners on Campus to tune in. They had moved from being a skeletal four-member team to a crew of 20. Kashmira says, “The listenership was the last thing on our minds. What was significant was the how. We cold-emailed several international university radio teams. Some of them responded with guidance. We learnt through internet tutorials. We were heavily invested in this project.”
Two years there-on, the entirely student-run entity has completed over 50 successful shows on-air. It plays music as diverse as jazz and Kashmiri folk music to Marathi folk songs and Spanish music. It offers a safe space for conversations on everything from gender and politics to relationships and mental health within the community. Stepwell Radio has given rise to an unparalleled democratic ecosystem where students can come together to celebrate the diversity of their community and to create something meaningful and impactful together. Samkit Kundalia, pursuing a BTech in Computer Science and Engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, says, “Stepwell Radio is unique in that it is a reflection of the student body and the community it serves. It showcases the diverse perspectives and interests of its audience.” Each co-founder feels that the university radio station provided a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in radio broadcasting, audio production, and other related fields. Samkit adds, “We learnt the technical and creative aspects of radio production and gained valuable experience in leadership and project management. But my biggest takeaway has been the unique sense of community and belonging it provides. It allows students to connect and share their common interests.”
Stepwell Radio primarily works towards bringing the University and students together and strengthening the bond between the two. Much of this is done by interviewing professors and archiving their achievements and journey, getting students to contribute to the playlists, and having student RJs host the shows. While the emphasis remains on bringing voices from the community of students and faculty to the fore, Stepwell Radio has also created some unique properties, such as the Entrepreneurial Series which engages with thought leaders, and the Shoorveer Series, a tribute to real heroes such as doctors, soldiers, and police officers. “We have had inspiring shows such as the one on Indian poet, writer, freedom fighter, and social reformer Jhaverchand Meghani which we aired in collaboration with the band Infinity, and the one we aired on Independence Day 2021 in collaboration with all the Student Clubs at the University,” says Kashmira.
The going could have been smoother, but it has not been without learning. The team peaked between April and September 2022 at 42 students and then collapsed. “Maybe it was because we had grown too large. But we needed to trim ourselves and look for better structure,” says Kashmira. The team that emerged was leaner and more robust. Pranav Kumar Sah, pursuing a BA (Hons) majoring in History, says, “Ups and downs are a part of life, and someone who never falls, never learns. We made mistakes, and that motivated us to work again and get the radio up and running. The appreciation and achievements from the past helped us to work again.”
As the founding batch of students graduates in 2023, they are looking at passing the baton to their younger counterparts. Kashmira says, “I wish to see Stepwell Radio being run successfully when I come back 10 years from now. I wish the next leaders are better than us and take Stepwell Radio to a new level. I wish many people would be a part of it, keep sharing their stories, and keep building the Ahmedabad community transcending geographical boundaries.”