Istanbul, Turkey – It’s not the typical information one would expect to hear coming from the sound waves of Syrian radio: health and car maintenance advice.
But its popularity in Syria continues to surpass expectations as young civilians, who played an important role early in the uprising, turn to the airwaves to maintain their voice.
“A small radio, two batteries and you’re on. Civilians can listen to us,” Obai Sukar, director of Radio al-Kul in Istanbul, told Al Jazeera. “The benefit is that we can reach Syrians when nobody else can – when there’s no electricity or television.
“Al-Kul means ‘everyone’ and this is how we think of our radio station. We try to reach everyone. It is not an easy task but we work for the Syrian people since it was the Syrian people who chose to revolt against the regime. We speak for them and what they want.”
Radio al-Kul is one of more than a dozen opposition radio stations that have popped up on Syria’s vast news media scene since the war began.
The waves can pass checkpoints and cross frontlines, making radio the best way to reach those isolated by a war that is now in its fourth year.
It began broadcasting last April and employs just 12 people, covering about 40 percent of Syrian territory.
Broadcasting from a small studio in a run-down office building in Istanbul, activists focus not just on what is happening in Syria, but remind civilians of life outside a war zone.
“We are away from danger but we are really feeling like what the people inside suffer,” Sukar said. “We are trying to get their voices heard, trying to address their problems and help them face their daily obstacles. We get them to reach us and tell us what they need.”
“We are focused on community issues,” Adnan Hadad, 29, who runs Radio Hara in Aleppo, told Al Jazeera.
“We have three newscasts every day. Our morning show consists of health issues, food prices in Aleppo, advice on avoiding checkpoints and violence. It is services that we can provide to the community to help solve people’s problems.”
Because of the danger, most of the content is produced in Gaziantep in southwest Turkey. The community-run station, which proudly labels itself as “independent”, is listened to inside Aleppo through a small ground transmitter. The transmitter enables 80 percent of the besieged city to receive a signal.
The station is also broadcast through the Internet, enabling listeners to tune in via their mobile phones.
“We are actually more popular through the website,” Hadad said.
“Our listeners interact with us by sending videos and pictures within regime and opposition-controlled areas. People are separated in Aleppo and what we aim to do is make both sides understand what is happening on the other side.”
The radio station, which collaborates with Aleppo Media Centre (AMC), has a string of correspondents inside the city.
Hadad said they faced insurmountable challenges covering the conflict from Syria’s deadliest city.
“On the regime side, correspondents’ identities are kept confidential,” he said. “They use VPN programmes to stay undetected while they speak with us. In the opposition-controlled side, we use activists with AMC or independent activists to gather news for us.
“In the regime-controlled areas, correspondents risk getting arrested or being taken to a dungeon to just disappear and never be seen again. On the other side of the city, there is the problem of shelling, getting attacked by barrel bombs and getting harassed by fraction groups.”
However, it is not only Syrians who are joining the chain of activists bringing news to civilians isolated in Syria.
Teenager Ben Allinson-Davies is a UK-based activist who helped found Radio Free Syria, an independent organisation that provides news and information on Syria through a variety of means.
The project is heavily run by Syrians on the ground but also draws Western activists too.
“We run a variety of social media outlets and websites with the aim of getting across the messages of free Syrians directly,” Allinson-Davies said.
“You can hear our reports on our website where our news and update bulletins from Syria are read out and broadcast.
“We personally think the role of radio is an essential cog in the works of the awareness campaign. We think that reaching out to Syrians and non-Syrians alike, helps to keep the message of freedom alive, and raise awareness about the horrendous genocide Assad has unleashed upon the people of Syria, is of utmost importance.”
Several radio stations have received support from private donors, NGOs and the US government, which has spent more than $20m to train and provide equipment to opposition journalists.
Radio al-Kul is supported by the Association for the Support of Free Media (ASML), a French-Syrian group based in France.
ASML also supports the activist group Syrian Revolutionary Media Action Team (SMART), which has been equipped with FM transmitters used to spread Radio al-Kul’s programmes.
Hawa SMART is another radio station that emerged at the beginning of the year and is also broadcast from Gaziantep, 50km from the Syrian border. It is also supported by ASML.
It is the only FM radio for the opposition that broadcasts in Syria’s seven main cities, including Homs, Deir Ez Zor and Hama, said Amrou al-Hamad, director of SMART.
Al-Hamad said the station broadcasts a range of programmes including a morning economic programme summarising the availability, shortages and costs of basic necessities such as gas and bread.
A second programme “Kif al-tariqq”, meaning “how are the roads”, is a daily show that provides information on travel restrictions, checkpoints and border information from reporters spread across the country, al-Hamad added.
There is also a show that provides listeners with medical advice and alerts people of disease outbreaks and how to avoid contracting infections.
“We also want to make people laugh, to be a source of entertainment for them too,” al-Hamad said.