"Shlonak Aghati!"

Since July, German and Iraq radio-makers in Berlin have been producing the youth radio program Telephone FM, which is broadcast in Baghdad on VHF. Its correspondent from the capital on the Tigris provides for a lively program. Lennert Lehmann reports

photo: AP
A moustachioed Baghdad man eagerly listening to a transistor radio

​​"Shlonak aghati!" is how radio "Telephone FM" greets its listeners. Roughly translated, this means: "What’s up, folks?!" "Telephone FM" has been on the air since July 10 as the first Iraqi youth radio program out of Berlin by Baghdadis for Iraqis.

Via e-mail to Iraq

How does it work? Computers make it possible: On the top floor of the Kulturwerkstatt "Kunstwerke" in Berlin-Mitte, the programs are pre-produced, telephone interviews from Iraq are recorded, digitalized and then sent to Baghdad via e-mail, where they are broadcast daily for 90 minutes at 9 p.m. local time from the US-American partner station "Hot FM" on VHF 104.1.

The Berlin team comprises twelve people – including three young, open-minded Iraqi moderators, flown in from Iraq exclusively for this pilot project, and the project founders, culture producers Klaas Glenewinkel and Anja Wollenberg.

The thrush from Tigris

Via mobile phone, the correspondent in Baghdad, the so-called "Telephone FM Bird," delivers radio material and voices from the capital city on the Tigris to the editorial staff: observations, interviews and daily news. Topics include mobile phones, tips and tricks in dealing with food rations, new music groups, dreams, opportunities…

Everyone "the Bird" meets in the streets of Baghdad can express an opinion. Real grassroots street press.

"Telephone FM" wants to stand out from the religion and politics-dominated radio stations crowding the Iraqi air waves with its trendy music program and humorous moderation. For this reason, the moderators typically speak the Baghdad dialect and not high Arabic.

The German Foreign Office has financed the radio program with € 83,000 within the framework of the dialogue with the Islamic world. Media partners in Germany are the Berlin radio station "Radio Multikulti," which itself broadcasts a compilation of the programs every week, and the culture agency "Superschool," which supplies the music editorial staff with hits from English and Arabic charts.

Mouthpiece for the Iraqi population

"Most of all, it is about involving listeners in Baghdad," says Anja Wollenberg. The target group are "educated people between 18 and 35 who are oriented towards modern life." The voices of listeners are to be given much space; in fact, their voices are to give the radio program its image. For it is primarily about the freedom of speech.

When Glenewinkel visited Baghdad last year, he observed an atmosphere of change that he could not articulate. "An educated, inquisitive youth scene" lacked a medium. This medium he wished to place at their disposal. In the end, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation promised support for the pilot project "Telephone FM."

It will be over by the end of August – first they want to see how youth radio fares; then they will consider the next move. Until the elections in 2005, however, Glenewinkel would like to continue, move the location to Baghdad in the long run and privatize the station.

Glenewinkel has no doubts but that "Telephone FM" will be a success – he has already applied at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for the money for a permanent local radio station in Baghdad.

Lennert Lehmann, © 2004

Translation from German: Nancy Joyce

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