MOSUL: During the Daesh group’s rule in Mosul, radio stations were banned and replaced with broadcasts of militant propaganda. Today, young Iraqis are filling the city’s airwaves.
One budding presenter is Nour Tai, who at 16 years old faces the microphone with a confident tone and a professional style.
She hosts a weekly program on One FM, a Mosul station launched in February that broadcasts a mix of music, entertainment, and current affairs debates.
Her career began a year ago thanks to a talent show organized by Al-Ghad, a station in the Kurdish city of Irbil which hosted many of those displaced from Iraq’s second city.
She said at the time that she was passionate about radio because “it touches everyone.”
“I want to be part of it,” she said.
She now sits in the One FM studio, accompanied by her father, as a degenerative illness left her blind three years ago.
She says her aim is to “give people hope, especially those who suffer from a handicap.”
“I want to tell everyone that we can all contribute something and that we can realize our dreams,” she says from the cramped studio.
The launch of One FM came six months after Iraqi forces declared victory over Daesh following three years of brutal militant rule in Iraq’s second city.
Daesh had shut down independent radio stations and anyone caught tuning in could expect severe physical punishment.
The emergence of stations such as One FM is a step in the city’s transformation since Daesh was ousted following a vast, months-long operation.
Young presenters are busy 24 hours a day, producing and broadcasting shows which are also filmed for broadcast on the radio’s website and social media accounts.
The channel is run by volunteers who bought the necessary equipment by pooling their savings, some selling their own belongings to fund the station.
Yassir Al-Qaissi, One FM’s head of communications, says their aim is to “denounce violence and extremism and broaden people’s minds.”
There is a need to “erase the terrorist ideology and end the sickness of our society, such as sectarianism and racism,” the 28-year-old says.
Ahmad Al-Jaffal, 30, says the militant occupation “created a vacuum of thought.”
“With my program, I try to promote ideas of coexistence, of mutual understanding, and of acceptance of the other,” says Jaffal, who worked as a journalist prior to the Daesh takeover in 2014.
One FM is not the only ambitious new station on the local airwaves.
Mosul residents who took refuge in Irbil after the Daesh takeover of their city launched two stations: Al-Ghad and Start FM.
After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk.
That means it has more radio stations than the two state-run channels it had under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
All currently broadcast analog signals and can only reach Mosul and its surroundings.
The US invasion in 2003 brought a multitude of new options for listeners, although these were co-opted by American occupying forces or political parties.
The period before the Daesh offensive was risky for journalists and presenters in Mosul, who were regularly targeted by Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
Mohammad Salem, a sociologist, says the new stations will need government supervision to ensure that this time they are not misused for political or religious purposes — “especially as some of their funding sources are unknown.”
On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city.
Taxi driver Mohammad Qassem, 27, says the music and entertainment shows are a welcome addition to his long days.
“We can finally listen to all the songs that are deprived us of for three years,” he says happily, before pushing the volume up to maximum on his car radio.