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'Balay, Radio Azadi!': Call-In Show Gives Voice To Ordinary Afghans

Radio Azadi's call-in show "On The Waves Of Liberty" receives hundreds of calls from Afghan listeners each week.
Radio Azadi's call-in show "On The Waves Of Liberty" receives hundreds of calls from Afghan listeners each week.
RFE/RL's Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi, is the most popular radio station in Afghanistan, broadcasting in Dari and Pashto to nearly 8 million listeners weekly. Every Thursday, Radio Azadi's Jan Alekozai and Zarif Nazar host a live 2-hour call-in show, "On The Waves of Liberty," which brings together experts, high-ranking government officials, and the Afghan public for what is usually a spirited discussion on the country's current affairs.

Check out the short video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "On The Waves Of Liberty":

The show gives a unique space for its diverse audience to discuss and debate a wide range of topics ranging from national security, nation-building, the rule of law, women's issues and human rights. "On the Waves of Liberty" is extremely popular -- during the show, the lines are constantly busy as hundreds of listeners attempt to call in.

Zarif Nazar, one of the hosts of Radio Azadi's "On The Waves Of Liberty" call-in show.
Since the first broadcast in 2003, "On the Waves of Liberty" has brought important subjects such as property rights, woman's rights, corruption, and governance into the spotlight of Afghan discussion, and helped educate citizens about peaceful ways to influence their government's domestic policies.

Radio remains the most important ways for Afghans to receive information in their war-torn country, as roughly 70% of Afghanistan's population is illiterate and close to 90% have no constant source of electricity - much less a television or a computer.

Often listeners will call the show and tell the hosts of an emergency, such as an avalanche or a domestic dispute and the show, being the first to hear of the information, will relay the information to the government.

Jan Alekozai and Zarif Nazar hope to someday see the show evolve, adding an interactive television show to reach an even broader audience.

"On The Waves of Liberty" has been such a successful means of communication that according to his official spokesman, Afghan President Hamid Karzai regularly listens in and receives the written transcript of the show, closely monitoring the suggestions and opinions of its audience. Similar praise has been been echoed by many senior Afghan government officials and ministers.

Inside one of RFE/RL's Prague studio during the live broadcast of "On The Waves Of Liberty."
Alekozai and Nazar say that the show has "gained the trust of the people" by ensuring that the audience knows that its hosts are not biased by any political agenda or affiliation.

"On The Waves of Liberty" is meant to be a listening post, giving ordinary citizens of Afghanistan the chance to air their opinions and complaints, including many people who are anti-government or even Taliban sympathizers.

As long as the listeners who call in have something constructive to add to the conversation and are not attempting to use the station as a pulpit for a personal agenda or incitement to violence, the show's hosts do not restrict who can participate the discussion.

The show has regularly hosted high-ranking government officials such as Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Minster of Foreign Affairs and General Atiqullah Baryalai, Deputy minister of Defense as guests. Even U.S. Secretary of States Hillary Clinton once came into the studio to take questions submitted by Azadi listeners.

-- Taylor Smoot and Alex Mayer