By Producer
NBC News
updated 7/8/2004 11:42:52 AM ET 2004-07-08T15:42:52

In the streets of Baghdad, many Iraqis are keeping up with world events through international radio stations, such as the BBC, Iranian Radio or Radio Sawa, a U.S.-funded pan-Arab station. As of Saturday, a new channel will be available on the radio tuners when "Telephone FM" -- with seed funding from the German government -- comes on the air.

A group of young Germans are spearheading the launch of the new radio program, which will be produced with Iraqi moderators in the German capital.

For starters, a 90-minute program will be broadcast daily on the FM dial. The target audience is young, educated, middle-class Iraqis who are believed to be open to dialogue with the West and actively participating in the nation's transformation.

Ripe for new media outlets
When Klaas Glenewinkel, a 33-year-old media manager from Berlin, visited a colleague in Iraq several months ago, he was full of ideas for media projects.

Despite security concerns for any business in Baghdad, Glenewinkel met with Iraqi media representatives, U.N., and coalition officials to discuss the possibilities of adding to Iraq's media mix.

"I was looking for an authentic community approach and did part of my extensive research at the Baghdad University and in places where young Iraqis meet," Glenewinkel said.

"I was surprised to see that many people among the young Iraqi generation are very dynamic and open to new, often Western approaches," he said.

The German spent some time with the so-called Iraqi Media Network, an organization consisting of British, Americans and exiled Iraqis, which produces radio shows in Baghdad. Glenewinkel appreciated the experience and insight, but he rejected any type of cooperation, because he feared that it could put his plans for an independent radio program into question.

"Before the war, radio was the number one medium in Iraq and I decided for myself that it promised the best chances for success," Glenewinkel said.

German government support
After Glenewinkel and his business partner Anja Wollenberg, 35, offered their idea to several German media outlets in search of sponsors for "Telephone FM" and did not receive any positive responses, the two approached the German foreign ministry.

They reached a young and receptive diplomat who questioned them about their ideas and background for nearly three hours, before promising government support.

Despite Glenewinkel's doubts that the German government would invest any money in his project, the young entrepreneurs managed to secure approximately $70,500, in subsidies.

The pilot radio broadcasts will receive the money for a trial period of four months after its launch date on July 10.

It's part of a bigger German government project.

"Nearly two years ago, Foreign Minister [Joschka] Fischer launched an initiative called 'Dialogue with the Islamic World' with which we support projects throughout the Arab world," said Sonja Kreibich from the foreign ministry.

Projects in Afghanistan, Iraq and other developing nations have received nearly $4.3 million from the group’s 2004 budget.

Young Iraqis will be 'deejays'
The money from the German government pays the rent for a Berlin studio, salaries for the 15-member team, an office, as well as room and board for the station's three Iraqi moderators.

It took four months of casting among local reporters and radio employees in Baghdad before two Iraqi men, Ahmed and Newer, as well as Hibe, the only female presenter, were successfully recruited. (For security reasons, the station doesn't want to disclose their full names.)

"We were looking for professionals, under the age of 30, who were willing to support our concept," said Glenewinkel. Advertisement for the job was done via e-mails sent to people who had worked in Iraqi radio before and had English language skills.

According to the Berlin team, the program hopes to resemble a portrait of the young Iraqi generation. It will focus on a mix of Arab and western music, a local journalist will report on Baghdad’s scene, presenting new developments, events and happenings. And, as the organizers point out, it will include interviews and reactions from the people who are experiencing the change in Iraq at first hand.

"Our program will not be directed at the general public in Iraq and has no political background, but it will leave room for political discussions, should they evolve," Glenewinkel said.

Telephone FM will be sent as a 190 kilobyte MP3 file via the Internet to a partner station in Iraq, where it then will be broadcast on VHF range. Even though the Berlin team fears resistance from conservative groups in Iraq, it is planning to advertise with posters and stickers throughout the city in the first week.

"We do not know what to expect, but we hope to play our part in a new Iraq and eventually will receive more funds after the test trial," Glenewinkel said.

Should the program be successful, then the two Germans will approach private investors again and could begin to include advertising in their short program.

But, the two also follow a higher goal: if this project kicks off, then they want to broaden their scope and continue similar projects in other underdeveloped countries. 

Andy Eckardt is a NBC News producer based in Mainz, Germany .


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