On behalf of the BBG, I want to thank you very much for having me here to talk about U.S. international broadcasting and specifically our new Middle East Radio Network, which is fast becoming a key part of the U.S. public diplomacy effort in this turbulent region. I also want to thank you for giving us the resources to accomplish our mission, which is, quite simply, to promote freedom and democracy through the dissemination of accurate, reliable and credible news and information about America and the world to audiences overseas.
When I’m not working for the BBG, I’m the Chairman of Westwood One, America’s largest radio network. Westwood One owns, manages or distributes the NBC Radio Network, CBS Radio Network, CNN Radio News and Fox Radio News. We supply over 7,500 U.S. radio stations with not only news, but sports, entertainment, talk radio and informational programming.
When I was appointed to the BBG in November of 2000, I was the only radio broadcaster on the Board. Chairman Marc Nathanson asked me to serve as the Co-Chair of the Language Service Review Committee, which manages the Congressionally mandated process of determining, on an annual basis, how effectively our resources are being deployed across the over 60 languages that we broadcast worldwide. I quickly noticed that our efforts in the Middle East were almost totally ineffective. We were broadcasting seven hours a day of Arabic language programming in a one-size-fits-all approach to the entire region on shortwave and a very weak medium wave signal from Rhodes. Over 98% of the audience of the region had never listened to the Voice of America.
After reporting this back to the Board, I was asked to serve as the Chairman of the Middle East Committee. Shortly thereafter I visited the region to determine what possibilities existed for building a 21st Century Arabic language broadcast operation. During the trip I learned a number of things. First of all, there’s a media war going on and the weapons of that war include disinformation, incitement to violence, hate radio, Government censorship and journalistic self-censorship, and the United States didn’t have a horse in this race.
On the plus side, many moderate Arab governments were willing to offer FM and AM frequencies and digital audio transmission, which would be necessary to create a state-of-the-art distribution system. I felt that by using proven American broadcasting techniques that have been successful all over the world, the opportunity existed to create a radio service that would attract the largest possible audience and, ultimately, deliver that audience for our public diplomacy mission. What techniques am I talking about? Using radio the way it is most effective in today’s media environment. Radio today is a medium of formats – music, news, sports, talk, etc. – designed to reach a particular audience 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a consistent style that connects with its listeners. In the case of MERN, which we call Radio Sawa – the Arabic word for “together” – the format we’ve chosen is targeted at listeners 30 and under, representing well over 60% of the region’s population, which is music-driven with 5 and 10 minute newscasts every hour, 24 hours a day. But rather than describing to you in words what Sawa is, let me play for you a brief English presentation of what our new Arabic service sounds like.
[ PLAY CD ]
What you have just heard is an example of combining proven commercial know-how and modern broadcasting techniques, heavily researched so we know, well before we ever play our first song or broadcast our first feature or news program, who our audience is; what they like to hear; what type of news presentations, features and production values appeal to them. We also take into consideration what is already available in the marketplace and what has the best chance of delivering the largest possible target audience to hear our messa