January 26, 2006
WSIU-FM news director shares expertise in India
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Jeff Williams had never seen anything like it.
After almost 20 hours aboard a jet flying to the other side of the globe, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale public radio broadcaster stumbled off at 1 a.m. in Chennai, India, a surging metropolis of more than 6 million people on the Bay of Bengal in the southeast part of the country.
His mood was an odd mix of jet lag, disorientation and excitement. And to him, it appeared most of the city's population had come to the airport at that very early hour of the morning.
"Family is a very important thing in India," said Williams, news and public affairs director at WSIU-FM public radio. "When they pick someone up at the airport, they don't send just one person. Everybody comes.
"It was a sea of people lining the sidewalks and streets around the airport terminal waiting to pick up friends and family. I'll never forget that," he said.
His students likely won't forget Williams, whose recent efforts in India will help them better inform those many millions through radio news broadcasts.
Williams returned Jan. 15 following a two-week stint at the Asian College of Journalism, where he taught a crash course in radio newsgathering and production to the best media students in India. It's likely the 30 students in his course will have a major impact on the emerging field of radio news in India.
India has a free press and many independent television news stations. But only government-sanctioned broadcasts currently flood the radio airwaves. Although the government recently began licensing a few privately owned music-format stations, independent radio news remains non-existent.
But those in the India media believe that is about to change. The students in Williams' course will be in position to launch what many believe will be the country's first independent radio news stations.
The students are looking heavily to the West for clues on how to make it work, Williams said. The Asian College of Journalism is where many come to learn from their fellow Asians and Western professionals who rotate through the sequences.
The college offers a full array of mass communication studies, from print to Internet to broadcast. The Hindu, a major national newspaper, heavily funds the private institution, which accepts only 100 students a year.
"The school is one of the few broadcast programs in India, so it tends to attract the best and brightest students," Williams said. "They were so hungry for information. They were like sponges."
Williams said Manjunath Pendakur, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at SIUC, helped arrange for him to teach the course after another instructor dropped out. Pendakur at one time studied in Chennai and has many contacts there, Williams said.
Another tie between SIUC and the college is Asad Ahmed, a graduate student at SIUC in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts who works alongside Williams at WSIU. Ahmed's father, Hishat Ahmed, is head of the broadcast program at the Asian College of Journalism.
For two weeks, at eight hours a day, Williams strove to convey a heavily condensed semester-long introductory radio news class. The first week the class concentrated on fundamental concepts. Part of that involved listening to taped broadcasts from Midwest radio stalwarts such as WBBM-AM in Chicago and KMOX-AM, St. Louis, as well as WSIU.
"The students were amazed at how rich the broadcasts were in terms of diversity of opinion and perspective," he said.
They ventured into the field the following week, armed with field recording units and ideas for radio feature news stories on various aspects of life, politics and culture in India.
Williams, an SIUC graduate who has worked at the University for nine years, plans to present the students' efforts in a 60-minute program broadcast on WSIU in the future.
The trip, he said, opened his eyes on freedoms taken for granted by many Americans.
"I realized how valuable our freedom of (speech) is here," he said. "It was a realization that in the West we've had that freedom for years and it's easy to lose sight of it."
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