A total of 21 mini FM radio stations have obtained government licenses to operate as provisional broadcasters, giving people post-disaster information in areas ravaged by last month’s earthquake and tsunami.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said it plans to support the broadcasters by giving them discounts on radio licensing fees and possibly granting subsidies to municipalities running them, as it may take much longer to rehabilitate the devastated communities than in past disasters.
The ministry is authorized to issue special licenses to municipalities to set up radio stations to provide post-disaster information to the local communities. Applicant municipalities can seek licenses without official documents.
The FM radio stations in northeastern and eastern Japan provide information, such as how evacuees are living in shelters and various lifeline services like the restoration of electricity and medical services, and do not get advertising revenues in most cases.
Local residents provide services to operate on a voluntary basis after the municipalities get the licenses.
The 21 stations are the largest number of local anti-disaster broadcasters set up following a major disaster since the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. There were seven of such in Japan before the March 11 twin disasters.
Radio Ishinomaki in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the 21 broadcasters, began notifying survivors soon after the disasters about the fate of residents and where they can get free meals, using its own power generator.
Natori Saigai (disaster) FM aired on April 10 in the Natori city government building with local housewives and city officials playing central roles in its launch.
One day, the station aired a song for the tsunami-submerged Yuriage elementary school at the request of an elderly man, who graduated from there, and later received a phone call from another listener, who said he wept listening to the song.
‘‘Our radio station is having the effect of bringing back together the members of the original community, who are now being forced to live in separate shelters as a result of the quake,’’ said Takehiro Wako, a 47-year-old staff member at the station.
The municipal government of Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture, launched a FM radio station as its original anti-disaster wireless communication network was swept away by the tsunami.
Toshiaki Yaginuma, a 52-year-old official at the planning division of the municipal government, said, ‘‘It will take considerable time for us to revive the anti-disaster wireless communication network, so this station is functioning as a useful communications tool, as electricity has not yet been restored to the community.’’