Açık Radyo : Alternative voice of Turkey
If you plan to travel Turkey this year, do something other than visiting the historical palaces, churches and mosques: turn on the radio and switch to the frequency 94.9 mhz. There you will hear the country's distinct voice.
Hello Universe !
In the early hours of the day you will probably listen to the deep voice of Ömer Madra -an impassioned representative of the revolutionary '78 generation who hosts Açık Radyo's Open Paper (Açık Gazete) programme. "Hello universe!" he exclaims every morning before stating once more the motto of his beloved station: "Open Radio... open to all the sounds, colours and vibrations of the universe..." Every weekday his words are echoed in thousands of different living rooms and cars in Turkey as it has turned into a sort of ritual over the last decade to start the day by listening to Açık Radyo.
Back in the nineties private radio stations had become a craze in Turkey. When the right-wing prime minister Tansu Çiller put a ban on them following complaints concerning copyright infringements as well as others with overtly political and sexual considerations, tens of thousands of people marched to the streets in solidarity with the stations: black ribbons tied to antennas had turned into symbols against state control. It was an era in which shocking revelations about human rights violations of the security forces as well as those concerning the ongoing campaign against the country's Kurdish population marked the seemingly innocent adjective 'official' into a keyword for contempt.
On air with individual sponsorship
When Açık Radyo was established in 1995 many people were already voicing their demands for an 'unofficial' history of the country as well as unofficial channels through which their dissent could find unfettered expression. Initially Açık Radyo had ninety two individual partners. Each were given lithographs of the legendary Turkish artist Abidin Dino for proof of their partnership. These partners aimed to create a pluralistic medium that could be instrumental in opening a crack on the official discourse of the country. With a small crew of twenty seven professionals the radio managed to achieve that in less than two decades.
When we were students many of our friends wanted to be a part of the station. Musicians imagined programmes where they could share their favourite drum solos while politically informed ones dreamt of talking about Deleuze and Foucault to an increasingly intellectual audience. We visited their studios in Taksim and were informed that if we came up with a good idea and a determination to realise it in the next season, we could easily have a spot in the Açık Radyo schedule. But alas, we were meant to appreciate rather than talk. But even if we did give up our dreams of being radio hosts we never gave up our habit of listening.
If only current Turkish political atmosphere could be as varied.
This is a station where you can listen to half an hour excerpts from Tolstoy's War and Peace every morning, narrated by the wonderful actress Tilbe Saran. There are programmes focused on African music and others on the ECM type, north European jazz. On a lazy Sunday afternoon one can philosophise with the ideas of an esteemed professor of aesthetics who muses about the concept of the modern while in their weekly shows two film critics discuss latest movies. But perhaps the most colourful programmes are aired on early evenings: The Open Magazine (Açık Gazete) programme is indeed prepared like a print 'magazine', filled with various bits of interesting information and there you can listen to some traditional food recipe before enjoying the segment devoted to Jimi Hendrix.
Just like BBC's prestigious Radio Four, Açık Radyo gained an influential reputation throughout its sixteen years of programming. All of the DJs and programmers work there as volunteers (if they find sponsors for their shows it is allowed to be paid on the sponsor's account) and the enterprise takes pride in being strictly environmentalist: they broadcasted from Greenpeace's Anna ship back in 2005, using solar energy for transmission. Besides their environmentalism, Açık Radyo is uncompromising in its anti-war stance, as was evident in their airings of the culminating session of the War Tribunal on Iraq which was held in Istanbul, headed by Arundhati Roy.
Similar to good journalism,
Quality radio programming is a dying art
Although the station lacks a formal hierarchy, Ömer Madra stands out as the leading figure of the enterprise. Well-versed about contemporary issues like climate change and European politics, Madra is also an acknowledged translator (he translated Salinger's Franny and Zoey into Turkish). Madra's interest in philosophy and literature find ample expression in Açık Radyo's schedule, and yet the station is not overtly political or intellectual. In fact the multifaceted quality of their programming makes it a metonym for multiculturalism in Turkey. So you can listen to nineteenth century Armenian songs before immersing your ears with the experimental sound bites of the likes of John Zorn and Masada. There are programmes devoted to the Beat generation, not to mention those others focusing on Chopin or the traditional Ottoman musiki. If only current Turkish political atmosphere could be as varied.
One can convincingly argue that similar to good journalism, quality radio programming is a dying art. If you don't have public funds like those enjoyed by the BBC producers, you might as well end up being a pauper while trying to master the peculiar craft of radio broadcasting. Now that the internet had become much more wide-spread in Turkey, most of the mainstream radio stations lost their audiences who enjoyed easier access to favourite songs through web sites devoted to music. But mornings shows are still popular and many television stations put out live radio streams through which audiences can listen to the evening news. And yet genuine production of audio news, which is distinct from those soundtracks of television programmes, is a valuable cultural product that is best represented and preserved by this station. Açık Radyo might seem like a voice among many. But actually it plays the role of a voice for all the voices.