Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

A new radio service for a new capital

In momentous times, the spoken word can often better express the ambitions and psyche of the nation than the fleeting image, writes Samir Sobhi

Al-Ahram Weekly

I am thinking of a new radio service, one that goes with our new capital, with the opening of the Suez Canal’s second branch and the long urban march east that may have just begun.

Allow me to elaborate. I know that these days everyone is glued to their television screens, computer screens and the excitement of the visual world. But in moments of dreams, days of imagination, seasons of change, the spoken word reigns supreme.

The New Capital World, or NCR, may be just such a dream, one that I now entertain in public, but it could also be more than that. It could be the sound of our nation looking eastward, reclaiming the cultural land on our flank that cities such as Port Said, Ismailia and Suez once commanded.

I can even hear it starting each day with a signature tune taken from the mysteriously Oriental songs of our talented composer Omar Khairat.

Not to say that the current radio channels cannot perform that task, but for each new beginning you need to reconstruct reality, alter it somehow to suit your spirit. This is why I am proposing an addition to the dozens of radio services we already have.

This new addition would bring us news of the progress of the Suez Canal zone, the communities that live there, the new energy of the cities that will be created and those that will be revived.

You may have noticed that during Ramadan, although many spend hours watching television, radio always comes back to life in this season, like a spring of youth overflowing with water. This is because television can be overwhelming, but not radio, which inspires, lures and captivates.

Who of us, people born in the first half of the 20th century, hasn’t been captivated by the unearthly tales of Alf Leila Wa Leila, or “The Arabian Nights”, produced by the legendary Baba Sharo, or Mohamed Mahmoud Shaaban?

Let’s replay some of that on the new station, and even better, let’s commission someone like Sherif Munir to make a modern version of it, or other glorious tales.

I recently heard a programme presented by the talented Inji Barakat on the Birnameg Urubbi, or the European Programme. Barakat played some lovely modern Egyptian music, fusions mostly that combine Western and Oriental beats. That’s the kind of thing I see a progressive NCR playing for us.

Work may soon start on the new capital. Somewhere on the Cairo-Suez Road a city will emerge out of the desert, with wide boulevards and impressive buildings, green spaces and amenities.

Our engineers, now working on the initial drawings, believe it can be completed in seven years. This means seven years of jobs and investment opportunities there. Then, when the ministries are moved to the new capital, I imagine more jobs and investment will be created in Cairo, as the vacated sites are used for commercial purposes.

Egypt’s first official radio transmission took place on 31 May 1934, crowning a cooperation agreement between the government and the Marconi Company. But unofficial private broadcasts had already come to town, with names such as Radio Farouq, Radio Fouad and Radio Fawziya.

Ahmed Salem, one of the brilliant broadcasters of the time, coined the signature words “Hona Al-Qahira,” or “This is Cairo,” as the trademark announcement of the Cairo official radio.

Among the prominent broadcasters of the 1930s and 1940s, I recall Said Pasha Lotfi, Mohamed Bey Hashem, Mohamed Hosni Bey Naguim, Mohamed Kamel Al-Rahmani and Mohamed Amin.

Then, in the 1950s, and 1960s, I remember Ahmed Said, a presenter with a confident voice whose patriotic programmes were popular across the Arab world.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the radio service expanded, adding more specialised stations, including a Quran station and another for drama shows.

I recall listening to interviews by major intellectuals in the 1950s, including conversations with Taha Hussein, Abbas Al-Aqqad, Fikri Abaza, Ahmed Amin and Soheir Al-Qalamawi.

Since then, the radio service has changed hands several times. On 15 February 1958, Egyptian radio was brought under the supervision of the Ministry of National Guidance. In the 1970s, radio and television were brought together in one institution named the Radio and Television Union (RTU).

Since its creation, radio has been an integral part of the nation’s psyche, bringing it news of momentous changes and consoling it in moments of national anguish. One such moment came on 8 October 1951, when Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Nahhas made his famous announcement, “For Egypt, I signed the 1936 Agreement, and for Egypt I now abrogate the 1936 Treaty.”

On 23 July 1952, Colonel Anwar Al-Sadat went to the radio studios on Elwi Street, off Sherif Street in Downtown Cairo, to read the first communiqué of the revolution.

On 28 September 1961, Gamal Abdel-Nasser went to the radio studios on Sherifein Street, close to today’s Stock Exchange Building, to order the Egyptian army to withdraw from Syria after a coup had ended a three-year merger between Egypt and Syria, during which the two countries were called the United Arab Republic (UAR). In that speech, Nasser ordered paratroopers stationed in Syria to lay down their arms, and told navy units heading to Latakia to turn back.

Sadat’s assassination, on 6 October 1981, took place during a live broadcast by television and radio. And the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak, on 11 February 2011, announced in a speech by then-Vice President Omar Suleiman, was also aired live on both television and radio. So was the ouster of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013.

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