TROUBLE WAS breaking out at the HK clothing factory at 11 every
morning. That's when the radio call-in show "Heartbeat of the
Community" came on.
Tuesdays were especially rambunctious, because the subject was
Women callers would tell their stories of marital abuse, naming
their husbands on the air and even telling where they worked.
On the factory floor, the women workers would shout at the
loudspeaker, "Don't let him beat you like that!"
Some would rush to the phone to get on the air to denounce
The sewing machines slowed or stopped altogether.
Finally, the factory manager had had enough. He switched the
work floor radio to the insipid background music and numbing
commentaries of one of the government stations. The workers
promptly walked off the job, demanding the right to hear the
program they loved.
The cause of all the trouble - and its quick solution - was a
new community radio station, Radio Atlantis, and its general
manager, Eva Georgia, 28. She quickly got the factory manager and
the strike leaders into the studio for an on-air negotiating
They settled the two-day strike. Management agreed to switch
the factory radio back to Radio Atlantis, and the women agreed to
keep working up to speed. The radio station now even interrupts its
programming with the frequent exhortation, "Keep working! Keep your
job! But keep listening!"
At their best, such low-power new radio stations are becoming
the vibrant centers of life and hope in communities across the new
With shoestring financing and mostly volunteer staffs, the FM
stations ventilate family problems, settle disputes, fight crime,
report the news, give health advice, build local economies and
provide entertainment. Above all, they can give a community a new
Atlantis had looked like a hopeless case, a relic of the
bigotry and mismanagement of apartheid. It was founded as a
supposed model community - actually a dumping ground - for blacks
driven out of designated white areas under the old system of racial
The scheme collapsed when nearby factories, where the residents
worked, closed down and left the people jobless. Atlantis became
known as "the Lost City of Apartheid."
About the time of South Africa's peaceful revolution in 1994, a
local "development forum" managed to attract some new employers,
but Atlantis remained a failure in the Cape region and in the eyes
of its own people. …