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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 11:10 GMT
Kabul radio tops the charts

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News Online, Kabul

It is approaching midday in the Afghan capital Kabul, and Massood Sanjar is preparing for his guest on his daily talk show.

Massood Sanjar
Good morning Kabul: Mr Sanjar enjoys the freedom to joke on air

Mr Sanjar is a producer and host on Radio Arman, Afghanistan's first ever privately owned independent FM radio station.

It's a long way from his previous job - as an English newsreader on the Taleban-run Radio Sharia.

Now he can afford the odd glitch or fumble on air, even crack a joke at the expense of his guest.

Back then a mistake led to a unique, Taleban-style punishment.

"Under the Taleban, if you made a mistake you'd be locked up in a container for at least three days," Mr Sanjar says, grinning - "for a single mistake."

The sound of hope

From a high-walled compound in an upmarket Kabul neighbourhood, Radio Arman (Radio Hope) - broadcasts for 24 hours, seven days a week.

I don't really listen to what people say. But it's fun - I like being on air and the music is good
Farzana Samini, presenter

It breaks the mould of traditional Afghan radio, broadcasting a diet of Indian, Western, Arabic as well as Afghan music.

It also hosts chat shows, traffic updates and even a travel show with tips on where to go for a safe weekend break, in a country still dominated by warlords and facing a resurgent Taleban.

Across the city, Radio Arman rings out loud and clear in the busy markets, inside taxis and on street corners - a welcome sound for many after the Taleban's ban on music.

The station's menu of music and chat has proved popular

"After two decades of fighting, people were simply tired of serious reporting or news," says Arman's director, Saad Mohseni.

"It was important for us to provide Afghans with what they really wanted - to be entertained."

Arman is the brainchild of Mr Mohseni and his brothers Zaid and Jahed.

Formerly based in the Australian city of Melbourne, they are among the many successful Afghans who returned home after the fall of the Taleban.

Great business, simply great... The radio stations have helped us immensely
Naqibullah, audio-tape seller
In April 2002, Saad Mohseni was visiting Kabul for the first time in 25 years when he discovered that the government was interested in issuing radio and television licenses.

"We jumped at the opportunity. Afghanistan is very radio-centric," he says.

"A very large percentage of the population listens and has access to the radio."

Women top the charts

Radio Arman's mix of foot-tapping music and constant chat has proved a big hit with young Afghans.

But there's another reason for its popularity.

Half of its radio jockeys are women, who co-present the programmes with men.

Tapes sell like hot cakes from Naqibullah's shop

In a relaxed style, they joke about the latest Bollywood stars, talk about rising local talent and despair at Kabul's garbage collection problem.

Not surprisingly, in regular votes from the public, the women come out on top.

Outside an English-language institute in Kabul, Sayyed Naqibullah and his friends giggle as they talk about their favourite presenters.

"Farzana - she's really good," says Javed Wardak.

"Not a patch on Nilofer," counters Sayyed.

Inside the radio station, such praise is shyly greeted, sometimes with wonder, mostly with embarrassment.

"I don't really listen to what people say," says radio jockey Farzana Samimi.

Dressed in a flowing black coat under which her flared jeans peek out, she's one of the station's many young women presenters, mostly between the ages of 19 and 25.

Why are they presenting Indian and Western music? We have our own singers

"But it's fun - I like being on air and the music is good," she says, as she relaxes in front of large posters of Britney Spears and Indian movie star, Preity Zinta.

The success has also helped the local audio business.

In central Kabul, sales of music cassettes are up as shops blare out the latest hits.

"Great business, simply great," says Naqibullah as he makes his tenth sale of the morning.

"The radio stations have helped us immensely."


Not everyone is rejoicing however.

Radio Arman has been criticised for everything from poor pronunciation to being too westernised to ignoring local talent.

Jamshed is one of many Afghans who would like the station to change its tune.

"Why are they presenting Indian and Western music? We have our own singers. This is destroying our culture and customs," he says.

The criticism seems to have hit home because in September Radio Arman launched its very own awards show, aimed at unearthing local talent.

The nominees were all Afghan and in the end there were four winners.

"Our intentions is to turn these people into superstars, record their CDs and promote them on air," says Saad Mohseni.

"In effect, we want to encourage other people to come out."

For once, it appears most Afghans are listening.

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25 Jan 03  |  South Asia
Country profile: Afghanistan
08 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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