Mohammed Abood profiles pioneering stations in Jordan, Turkey, Palestine and Tunisia.
But that was far from the case just a few years ago. Radio in the Middle East has primarily been focused on Arabic pop music. Alternative electronic music is often treated with suspicion—authorities are known to keep close tabs on gatherings, with undercover police hovering around to monitor music events. This is the sombre reality that most people who enjoy alternative music in the region face.
"FM radio was never for the alternative or underground artists' benefit, these corporations always functioned with their own agenda," says the Beirut-born Ernesto Chahoud, serial crate digger, and the host of the Beirut Daze show on NTS. "Online radio is the real opportunity for independent artists to be represented and heard; the message and voices of people must be put in the right context. The youth in Palestine are now ready to broadcast to all corners of the world with no restrictions or hierarchy, just pure passion and pride."
As it stands, internet problems are still abundant in the Middle East, and broadcast equipment is expensive and often unattainable. With general restrictions leading to at least one in five events being cancelled regularly, the sheer amount of red tape has left Middle Eastern countries oscillating between a healthy, somewhat-sustainable scene for alternative music, and one of regular clampdowns and extended periods of stasis. But COVID-19 has done its bit to change all of that, at least for online radio.
As the head of online community radio station boxout.fm in India, and also a former resident of the United Arab Emirates, my research into online radio in the Middle East began with Radio Nard in Jordan. Formed in 2014 in an effort to break borders, mess up the status quo and enable like-minded people to represent Arabic youth through music, Radio Nard's first official live broadcast was on March 15th, 2015. They soon went on hiatus before reappearing years later in 2018 in Bethlehem, Palestine.
Around the corner from them, I discovered Radio Al Hara راديو الحارة (The Neighbourhood Radio). A station on Yamakan (a community radio network in the Middle East) that launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, Radio Al Hara had around half of the region's most celebrated creators appearing on the station within weeks. This led me on a path to learn more about them, and in turn, learn about other radio stations in the region.