This study aims at drawing attention of readers interested in media and development to the remarkable experiences of internet radio in Egypt. Internet radio emerged around 2005 as an initiative of social groups and or individuals that hoped to provide the type of news that was mostly absent in the publicly and independently owned media at the time. They may also have wanted to be free from the influence of the state and businessmen, owners of the main media outlets. The rapid technological advance of internet in the country offered opportunities to bold, enterprising groups and individuals to get their voice heard to a much wider audience that had thus far been possible at relatively low costs and easy technology. A server, drive, a vision and a message was all that was needed. Since the state was not yet concerned with internet, legal permits were available nor demanded.
The development of internet radio saw a relatively steep curve; there were none around 2000, it rapidly took off a few years later, to reach a peak around 2010 after which decline gradually set in. During the booming years, internet radio saw various forms, aims and levels of quality and technological sophistication. What all had in common was a clear vision and the conviction that their voice merited to be heard as an important addition to the news of regular media. This could mean news that was seen as neglected by established media or services to ignored target groups such as youngsters; local communities, special interest groups, etc.
New, innovative formats were also experimented with: news reports made by local residents and other forms of citizen journalism, experiments with life interaction with listeners; a variety of music programs, often with ‘underground’ music, till then unheard of.
Many of these experiences are little known and may be forgotten with the disappearance of many of its pioneers of the first days. Yet internet radio has undoubtedly influenced mainstream media, in formats, programming, flexibility and even a rudimentary form of market orientation. Internet radio also proved itself as a talent incubator. Widely respected professionals developed their skills in small backrooms of private houses turned into studios.
Internet radio is at a crossroads; it faces many new challenges, maybe even partly as a result of its success. Technological development and strong competition form challenges to which an adequate response has not yet shown itself, at least not to the research team of this study.
The story of internet radio still needs to be written. At present it is scantily documented, mostly in the head of its first generation of pioneers. Even the chronology of the rise and decline is unclear and the benchmark years given here are awaiting further research. What ‘al Sawt al Hurr’ aims to achieve with this report is to show that these experiences merit to be documented and its impact on wider media development assessed. This study also aims to collect the ideas of current internet radio operators on how major achievements of these radio years can be sustained and made public to a wider audience. The research team would like to express its sincere admiration and gratitude to all radio pioneers that were willing to share their ideas with us.
This study is a first attempt to document the experiences of internet radio in the form it emerged in the first decade of this century. The study does not pretend to present a complete picture of these stations; a clear analysis of its aims and successes or a prediction of its future role and position. Available information and the scope of this report do not allow such ambitions. However the scattered information found shows that these experiences merit to be documented further and more comprehensively. This study only aims to stimulate other to continue following the path that will lead to a full description of an interesting phenomenon which also saw its peak, at least till now, during a tumultuous period in Egypt’s recent history. More specifically, this study will;
1- Document the development of internet radio in Egypt
Collect the scant information available on stations, history, aims, organization, programs, staffing and present situation.
2- Review the present situation with online stations;
Explore present activities and responses to new challenges; strengths and opportunities in the eyes of resource persons consulted; current strategies and perceptions on the likely success.
3- Assess the potential for a future role and place of ‘classical’ internet radio in the Egyptian media landscape.
Assemble the views of (ex-) practitioners and radio workers on the likely development of internet radio in the coming years in terms of potential, needs, vision and capacities.
The Methodology of the Study
For this study information was collected on internet radios that were active during the last fifteen years, resulting in a tentative and incomplete list of stations. The team tried to compose a timetable of the stations’ years in action, but was unable to do so for reasons that will be given in the study.
Background information was collected on some of the aspects that impacted on the work of these stations, such as data on stations ratings and ranking and on the growth in internet coverage during this period.
Lastly a series of interviews was made with some of the station owners, managers and workers on the basis of a practical guideline for the interviews.
1. The relatively short history of internet radio saw a rapid increase and decline in popularity. This study depicts some of the causes of this phenomenon: radios initially offered interesting and innovative services not covered by mainstream media, but gradually lost terrain when mainstream media grew in volume, program variety and technical quality. Internet radio has positively influenced mainstream media in several areas of broadcasting, such as music and entertainment offered by FM stations.
2. Internet radio is still trying to adjust to the new situation. The market still leaves room for specialized (niche) programming, aimed at building listeners’ loyalty through innovative and interactive program formats. This can only be achieved if stations develop a business approach with clear strategic financial and marketing plans and effective use of social media. (‘al Sawt al Hurr’ published a study on the impact of social media on traditional and internet media and the importance of social media as a tool for marketing internet content.)
3. Many problems and obstacles facing internet radio stations are also related to the economic and political environment of the last seven years and the absence of a legislative framework for internet media generally and internet radios in particular. Local companies and advertising agencies are reluctant to invest in internet based radios while prospects remain unclear.
4. Internet radios depending on foreign funding seem to have suffered most from the political environment of the last few years. Many of such stations have halted work, such as ‘Gramophone’ and ‘Horytna’. Some of these stations hope to resume work once local sponsors can be found or when new legislation will distinguish between funding of terrorist activities, e.g. support of Muslim Brotherhood and the funding of activities where this is clearly not the case.
5. The experience of internet radio so far shows that stations were most successful as ‘talent factories’ in fostering talents and skills of radio staff, several of which moved on to great popularity at mainstream stations. They were also successful in ‘niche marketing’: finding audiences underserviced by mainstream media such as local and business communities; women’s groups; youngsters and fans of ‘underground music’, etc.
6. Their influence in innovating entertainment is illustrated by several programs of mainstream media: Kholoud Nader, presenter of “Awqat” on ‘Nagham FM’, the country’s most listened radio show, started her career at ‘Rehab FM’; Sarah Fouad and Heba Afifi have also become famous radio show presenters. Highly successful TV programs; “Maakom” (with you), presented by Mona al Shazly, and “Sahebat al Saada” (her highness), presented by famous celebrity can also be linked to internet radio experiences.
1. Development of internet radio in Egypt (2007 – 2013)
The first experiments with online radio broadcasting started around 2005 and grew in number, volume and form in the following years to reach its level of highest activities roughly coinciding with the revolutionary days of 2011, 2012. After that the decline set in. Setting a clear starting point in time for most of the online stations is a matter of definition, since most of them started with small trials and errors and only gradually grew into full-fledged stations, while some of the stations never developed beyond these initial stages. For the same reason, the completeness of this list is also arbitrary.
Table 1. List of stations, and year’s operation
The moment stations ended their activities is also hard to determine for most of them. Resource persons consulted claim that most online radios still exist, but go through phases of inactivity due to lack of funds, which is often named as the major cause of online silence/ muteness.
Ownership and affiliation
Many radio stations were set up by or in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, others were somehow linked to such organizations or strove to do so during their career: ‘Horiyitna’ is linked to “al Andalus; Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies”; ‘Sound of Sakia’ is linked to “Sawy Cultural Wheel” an organization promoting cultural activities; ‘Radio Mahrousa’ was linked to the Egyptian Democratic Academy; ‘Radio Bokra’ is part of an organization that also work on political awareness, women rights, human rights and media productions and studies.
Stations were also initiated by individuals, often driven by a clear vision. ‘Radio Hukuq’ started with the aim to promote a human rights agenda and gradually broadened its scope of news and activities. Music stations and some of the community focused stations started at the initiative of individuals, often arranging a ‘studio’ in their own house.
Journalism students also proved fertile breeding ground for radio stations: ‘Radio Ain Shams’ and ‘Radio Mubasher’ were set up former students.
A popular channel, established by a local in 2006, it provides a general radio service with some attention for human rights and related political issues. The radio continued working despite several interruptions: in April 2015 it went off air after the police section for Artistic Works accused it of copy rights infringements on songs, music and computer software. In 2016, it seized broadcasting because of financial and other problems of the station’s founder.
Aims, vision, focus
Most of the stations on the list started work with clear developmental, social or cultural aims, often directly related to the vision-mission of the parent NGO that helped to create them, simply expecting them to achieve its goals with more practical means. The majority of radio stations from this first generation comply with this profile.
Radio stations created by (former) university students, e.a. ‘Radio Ain Shams’, aimed to complement their theoretical knowledge with mastering a wide range of professional radio skills.
A group of radio stations was set up with a regional or local focus, such as ‘Radio Karmouz’; ‘Radio Benha’ and Radio Rehab’. ‘Radio Tram’ was set up by a group of youths in Alexandria.
‘Radio Banat we Bas’ was set up with a motive of defending women rights; ‘Radio Blanco’ in support of a sports club.Few stations were found that were set up with a clear commercial motive, ‘Radio Rehab’ is an example.
Activities and Programming
Aims and focus of the stations stimulated many of them to develop news reports for specific groups, such as youngsters, businessmen, and groups interested in community, environmental, health or women’s groups. Since part of their agendas was to mobilize such groups, new formats were tested, a lot of them using tools and techniques to stimulate interaction. Listeners were invited to share their opinion and experiences or to participate in actual news production. In addition to these new formats, some stations also programmed more traditional formats, such as interviews with VIP’s and news celebrities.
Table 2: Type of news and services experimented with
– Various music programs, targeting different audiences
– Programs with plain news and information on developmental issues
– Phone in and on the spot reporting
– Creation of opportunities for the youth to become active
– Business information for entrepreneurs and owners of companies.
– Experiments with rudimentary forms of advertorials and infotainment
– Interviews with public figures and celebrities
Broadcasting hours depended on a radio’s targets and action plan and on how to attract listeners to the station and make them tune in on a regular basis. This endeavor stimulated the interest in listeners’ profiles and lifestyles. Broadcasting would mostly commence around 12 o’clock and continue till 10 pm to suit the visitor lifestyle. Pre-recorded programs can be aired at times most suitable to listeners and special programs and events are announced ahead of time.
Market and competition
Many stations were set up to complement the media activities (not) provided by state media. They often strive to provide music, news, reports commentary, etc. that can /could not be found on public radio stations. Stations usually started with ideas about the target groups they want to reach: they focus on creating new groups of listeners: pop music for urban youngsters; local news sometimes involving local communities and organizations; regions of the country that were underserved by regular audio media, etc.
Many internet radio stations were successful in profiling the target groups they wanted to reach and in making programs appreciated by such groups. However, no knowledge was available or sought about the scope of such groups or their willingness to reward the radio programs in term of financial or other support.
Concerning publicity, many station relied on Facebook to announce program hours, so followers and fans could tune in in time.
Organization and staffing
Internet radio started as a new activity and the pioneers had to develop from shoestring. Its workers followed the motto learning by doing and developed themselves in a wide range of skills: journalism, planning, management, marketing, business development, etc. peer to peer learning was common and many trainees completed their basic training in less than three months. Station managers often started their career on the basis of vision and motivation rather than professional skills with nurturing of staff an economic necessity. Working hours are often not fixed, so commitment is a necessity. Staff is usually limited – each worker had to master multiple skills and become as versatile as possible.
The number of staff varies from one radio to another, based on financial capacity, but multiskilling is a necessity. Reporters often double up as sound technicians. There usually is a core staff of experienced workers and a station manager, assisted by volunteers, who are trained on-the-job and quickly participate in the presentation of pre-recorded programs at first to reduce the risk of beginner mistakes. A big music library is a must for any station.
Creating a station is relatively inexpensive, an internet server being the most costly investment. Many, of not most stations depend on external funding for (part of the) running costs. Money often came from international donor support, such as charities, developmental or human rights organizations, often in the form of program or project support with fairly clear timeframes. Most stations were aware of this and tried to use funds prudently by limiting expenditure on equipment and staff. Stations often started in home of the owner/ initiator, who also volunteered his labor. Some stations also sought to diversify funding by trying to find financial support from local NGO’s and companies. There was a growing market of advertisements when these stations started but the limited volume of listeners kept it out of reach when these stations started to explore this option.
Legal status of the stations
During the time these radios started, there was no legal basis, so licenses could not be obtained. The legal status of the radio depended on the legal status of the founding organization, individual or sponsors.
Radio Tram Established in 2012, by group of youth from Alexandria for music programs on The Alexandrian underground music scene in both Arabic and English. The radio station runs a profit from advertisements and obtained its license from a n advertisement agency. Broadcasts were interrupted for some time in February 2014 after the Attorney General accused it of working without proper licenses. Broadcasting resumed after founders managed to disprove the Attorney General’s office claims.
Results of the first years
The clear aims and focus with which online radio started gave these stations a clear profile and a place next to public media from which they initially faced only moderate competition. Most stations were successful in finding target groups that were interested in the new topics provided by internet radios. With their rudimentary form of ‘marketing research’ they were innovative, although it was built on thin ground in the absence of hard data.
Online radio was also groundbreaking in its efforts to promote ‘client loyalty’ with interactive formats and other forms of active involvement of listeners, fan-clubs and the use of Facebook.
It also served as an effective ‘talent incubator’ by giving creative and young people, without any professional background, the chance to rapidly develop a variety of skills. Peer to peer learning was common and
The experiences of online radio during this period are similar in many ways: continuity and sustainability posed huge problems. The strong orientation on developmental goals and target groups made finding viable markets seem less important and online radios suffered from frequent turnover of staff.
Donors often pursued project based and short-term goals, without specific targets, strategies and action plans. They took less responsibility for building framework for long term sustainability or lost interest when projects were ended. Station staff was not recruited on the basis of commercial talent and business plans were not made.
Stations that were initiated by inspired individuals also suffered from continuity problems, because insufficient vision and capacity was attracted or developed for a new generation to take over.
Finding viable markets required a new way of thinking; market research technology still in its infancy. Maybe it was also not given duly attention. Information on internet access was also difficult to obtain. Some attempts at cost recovery were made, but attracting advertisements proved difficult and a commercial approach and business plans were absent.
2. Present situation with online stations
Internet radio is still active, but the media landscape has changed since the first pioneers vacated a small corner in their house to accommodate a ’studio’ only ten years ago. Internet has further spread, first over the urban centers but is now increasingly covering the countryside as well. It has certainly spurred competition: state radio has modernized and made use of some of the accomplishments of their distant online relatives. In addition to AM frequencies, FM radio stations have come up and are now strong competitors. News sites now also have audio features and even satellite TV channels have a presence on internet.
The last five years have witnessed profound social and political changes.
Whereas during the days of turbulence many people turned to internet stations to complement news of state media with other sources of news, this was much less the case when revolutionary fervor and social action calmed down. International donor support saw an upswing in 2011 -2012, but then gradually came to a halt a few years later
Resource persons interviewed seem to agree that internet radio is struggling to cope with these changes and has not found a clear response to it yet.
To the extent that online radios have a clear starting point, a clear end point is less clear. Most stations have developed a semi-dormant survival mode, whereby activities follow the money.
Many stations have become inactive for prolonged periods of time.
Some stations have given signs not to be present on internet anymore.
The spread of internet
Started around 2000 and was actively stimulated by then Minister of Telecommunications Ahmed Nazif, who later became prime minister during Mubarak’s last government.
Table 3. Spread of internet in Egypt
The spread of internet broadened the market for online radios, but other media also saw its potential and news sites, blogs, social media, U-Tube, Sound Cloud, etc. all developed at great speed.
The Egyptian Radio and Television Union runs a huge network of radio stations with an impressive variety of channels with national, regional and local reach. It has maintained its all powerful position on the radio waves and is still serving the population at large with news, entertainment and educational programs. Its ‘Radio Sawa’ is reaching new and young audiences with popular music.
Table 4. State owned radio stations, managed by ERTU
State owned Radio Network of
The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU)
1-Main Radio Network
2-Voice of the Arabs Network
3-Cultural Program Network
4-Commercial Radio Network
5-The Qur’an Network
6-Local Radio Network
8-Youth & Sports service
9-Public private partnerships
The ‘Voice of the Arab Network’ includes the ‘Palestinian Radio service’ and the ‘Wady al Nil’ channel; the ‘’Cultural Programs Network’ includes the ‘European Service’; the ‘Second Service’ and a ‘Music channel’; the’ Commercial Radio Network’ includes ‘Radio Sawa’ a channel for popular music; the ‘Local Radio Network’ includes and educational service and local stations in ten governorates including: Middle Delta; Upper Egypt, North Sinai, South Sinai, Canal zone, Red Sea and the Greater Cairo and Alexandria areas. The ‘International Service’ offers programs in a multitude of languages. ERTU also participates in the creation of FM channels under its ‘Public-Private Partnerships’ program. At least ten of the channels belonging to these networks are also available on FM frequencies, with ‘Radio Egypt FM’ (2009) as one of the most popular stations.
In addition to this, ‘ERTU’ partners up with private organizations to run stations like ‘Mega FM’; ‘Radio Hits’; ‘Nagham FM’ and ‘Shaabi FM’ under its public-private program.
‘Nile Radio Production’ holds ‘Nogoum FM’ in Arabic and ‘Nile FM’ in English. ‘Radio 9090’ is owned by ‘D Media’
Table 5. Popular FM Radio stations
These FM stations offer continuity unmatched by internet radio stations. Production and sound quality are good and there status is legally secured. Professional staff has access to news, opinion makers and celebrities that other station cannot compete with. The ERTU affiliated FM stations are run on a semi-commercial footing, offering 24 hour services. Their financial basis is broadened by advertisements, which is also beyond the reach of online stations. Since 2013 many of these stations have diversified their profile and keep on doing so. They now offer a combination of popular music, news flashes and light entertainment such as talk shows, which are particularly appreciated by the public. The programs of Amr Adib and Ahmed Younes’ (“Ala al ahwa”) on ‘Radio Nogoum’ rank among the best listened programs in the country. Some of the reporters have become celebrities in their own right. FM stations also have sufficient budgets to send reporters to make life on-the-spot reports on important accidents and events.
There are currently some 19 FM stations on air and competition between them is fierce.
Recently, some of the station branched out to internet as a new feature, where reporters can be followed during radio broadcasts.
The popularity of radio stations is measured with ‘Google Analytics’. Talk shows in which star reporters interview celebrities always score high, the type of programs that do not take an important place in program schedules of online radios.
According to station staff interviewed, it is particularly the FM stations, social media, U-tube and Sound Cloud that form the strongest competition.
Online radio stations 2017
The team faced difficulty in assessing which stations are still active and which ones have permanently closed. ‘Radio al Ghad’, probably the very first internet radio station, closed down after one year; ‘Radio Hukuq’ has also disappeared, the same with ‘Radio Mahrousa’ to name a few.
According to a provisional estimate about a third of the stations that started before 2012 has not been active for prolonged periods of time, with staff often citing financial problems as causes; security reasons are also often mentioned, since official permits to start a radio can still not be obtained. However several new station were started after that year, such as ‘Radio Tram’, ‘Radio Blanco’, ‘Radio Rehab’ and ‘Radio Hawani’ and new experiments are still launched.
It is true, internet radio stations can be established at low costs: a station just needs an internet server; recording facilities, e.g. microphones, sound insulation, mixers, etc. staff and internet broadcasting software which is mostly programmed and hosted by web solutions agencies. However, in order to cope with the tough competition, stations are tempted to invest in ever more expensive and sophisticated equipment and qualified staff. The example of ‘Radio Gramophone’ is a case in point.
Radio Gramophone Established and self-financed by group of youth in 2010, specialized in broadcasting songs, concerts, and other music programs. In 2014, with funding of the ‘Arab Digital Expression Foundation (ADEF) ’,it branched out to include a main channel with classical Arabic songs; and others for Jazz; Rock, and women’s interests. In April 2015, in a statement on ‘Shorouk’ news site, Ahmed Kamal, one of the founders, announced the radio was forced to stop after it failed to secure continued funding from the same and other organizations to cover running costs which had risen to USD 65,000 after expansion.
Table 6. Rating of internet radio stations
Reliable information on ratings of radio and television programs has been a problem in the media and continues to be so: it is also distrusted or its validity denied. Internet radios are no exception to this rule: here information is even more difficult to obtain. Standard organizations such as “Google Analytics” or “Ipsos” do not routinely include this type of radio stations in their data collection. Even if they do, internet radio stations complain about the type of purely quantitative /commercial indicators that do not consider any developmental or ideological indicators.
The online radio stations keep tracks of listeners on their servers, but do not share this information or enable independent verification. ‘Radio Bokra’ is one of the view stations that shares information on its website: “We have 100,000 listeners and viewers of our website”)
Some other stations refer to the number of likes on their Facebook accounts, which they often see as their main ‘traffic hook, but this indicator reveals sympathy or appreciation, rather than the number of listeners.
It needs further study to determine how internet radio influenced mainstream radio and the other competitors mentioned.
As a ‘talent factory’, internet radio has already proven its point. Several radio workers, who started their career at online radios have found their way to positions in the audio-visual media; some even have become celebrities: Kholoud Nader, who started her career at ‘Rehab FM’, was chosen by ‘Ipsos’ as the most listened to announcer of the years 2015 and 2016 for several shows on ‘Nagham FM’, including her current show ‘Awqat”. Mahmoud al Wogody, now works as writer on “Abu Hafezah”, a famous comic show on ‘MBC’ satellite company; Sarah Fouad, now works as presenter; Heba Afifi is now the presenter of the popular program “Basi to Afifi” and Tareq Yahya now presents well watched Vodafone advertisements. Two of the most successful TV programs; “Maakom” (with you), presented by famous announcer Mona al Shazly, and “Sahebat al Saada” (her highness), presented by celebrity /cinema producer Isaad Younes can also be linked to internet radio stations.
3. Future Outlook
For this research, a small sample of internet radio staff was interviewed. Resource persons were asked to share their opinions on the future of internet radio and although the sample was too small to be representative, most respondents admitted that they had not found an adequate response to the news challenges posed. FM stations have proven to be strong competitors and social media, such as YouTube and Sound Cloud just as well. Even Facebook. Yet the outlook also seems to depend on the type of radio station.
Internet radio stations dependent on foreign funding are most in danger following the new legislation on foreign funding. The same applies to online radios with an overtly political focus.
Stations that have successfully found a small specialized ‘niche market’ seem to be more optimistic in their views. The example of ‘Radio Blanco’, linked to Zamalek football club, was cited as a success: on air 24 hrs a day, it gained high ratings, although it seems to be facing some problems lately.
‘Radio Motallaqat’ which provides help and advice to divorced women and ‘Radio Banat wa Bas’ are also doing well, so are ‘Radio Resalah’ and ‘Radio Rehab’ to mention just a few.
So far, ‘Radio Rehab’ seems the only one that managed to re-invent itself as an FM station
It was a privately owned internet radio station, established in January 2008, with music and entertainment for residents of the al Rehab compound. Broadcasting was later transferred to ‘Nilesat’ so that it could reach all of Egypt. A news website was added in October 2014, specialized in arts, entertainment and social news. Rehab FM stopped most of its programs as of February 2016 because of financial problems but its news server is still broadcasting songs and the owners hope to overcome the problems and bring the station back on air.
Radio stations with some kind of link to universities, such as ‘Radio Ain Shams’ and ‘Radio Mubasher’ that provide practice for some Mass Com students.
Stations that have found an ‘embedded place’ in local communities, such as ‘Radio Benha’ and ‘Radio Rehab’ will also likely continue as long as they complement the work of local AM stations rather than compete with them. Examples of radio stations servicing local business communities may also have chances to continue and the same applies to stations with specialized or ‘underground’ music.
Some of the older stations, such as ‘Radio Horyitna’ and ‘Teet Radio’ have gained loyal audiences because of the quality of their work.
Social media offer new opportunities for internet based stations: marketing activities can be made more effective with the use of social media tools. The rapidly increased participation in social networks makes reaching massive audiences easier, quicker, and cheaper than traditional advertisements and traditional tools of marketing
For most stations the lessons drawn from experiences seem as follows:
1. Finding a narrow focus, for which a loyal group of listeners can be found
2. Building ‘customer loyalty’ through active involvement of listeners in programming
and interactive features and effective use of social media.
3. Fostering an environment of permanent capacity building to compensate for frequent
turnover of staff.
4. Systematic investment in experimentation and innovation, ea. social media, radio
podcasts, mobile, video and other internet applications, etc.
5. Build a commercial footing, business plans, marketing and marketing research.
The future, however modest will also depend on the chance that some kind of legal framework in will be accepted or tolerated in which such stations can operate
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