After years of radio silence, Asian stations delight Qatar expats

Listeners laud four new channels in Hindi and Malayalam after years of tuning in to UAE-based channels with bad signal.

South Asian Radio Stations
Four new stations in Indian languages cater to Qatar's large South Asian population [Ayilah Chaudhary/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – Sitting in his pristine white Honda City for 16 hours a day in Doha, Deloware Saijud keeps himself entertained by listening to Radio Olive 106.3 FM.

The 33-year-old driver from Bangladesh, who recently arrived in the Qatari capital is reminded of his home when familiar tunes are played. 

“Radio is very important for me. This station opening is especially good for me because I am new in Qatar,” Saijud told Al Jazeera. 

Radio Olive is one of four new South Asian radio stations in Qatar.

Along with One FM, it broadcasts in Hindi. Radio Suno and Radio Malayalam cater to listeners who speak Malayalam, a southern Indian language native to the state of Kerala.

It is the first time Asian subcontinent channels are being broadcast from Qatar, where 650,000 of the country’s 2.7 million residents can speak these two languages, according to the Indian Embassy.

“These people were waiting for us actually,” said Noufal Abdul Rahman, marketing manager at Radio Malayalam, “someone to start a radio station, someone to entertain them, to give them this energy.”

Radio Olive is one of four new South Asian radio stations in Qatar [Ayilah Chaudhury/Al Jazeera]
Radio Olive is one of four new South Asian radio stations in Qatar [Ayilah Chaudhury/Al Jazeera]

Before the stations were launched in the autumn of 2017 in partnership with Qatar’s culture minister and the Indian Embassy, Doha residents would tune into South Asian radio channels which were broadcast from the UAE.

Asianet, which is based in Dubai, was the only Malayalam station that could be heard in Qatar. The AM station is still available today in the peninsula. 

But the South Asian community has long complained of a poor listening experience.

“With the UAE channels, if there was a bad signal we couldn’t even listen to them,” said Fitah Ansari, 31, a Malayali system administrator at Ooredoo, a local mobile phone network.

“The local news was only about Dubai, the exchange rates and prayer times were all about Dubai,” said Mubeena Majeed, a Malayali software engineer who has spent her entire life in Doha.

A large number of listeners work as taxi or limousine drivers, manual labourers, office administrators and domestic workers, and can listen on the job. 

Radio also transcends illiteracy, which is high among some of Qatar’s South Asian population, according to Ameer Ali, managing director at Radio Suno.

“Why the radio? Not many people from the subcontinent are literate, but even though they can’t read or write, they can still understand,” he said. 

More than 600,000 people in Qatar speak Indian languages such as Hindi and Malayalam [Ayilah Chaudhury/Al Jazeera]
More than 600,000 people in Qatar speak Indian languages such as Hindi and Malayalam [Ayilah Chaudhury/Al Jazeera]

Radio frequencies are not affected under a blockade on Doha, led by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, which began in 2017. 

But the licenses for the Qatari stations were granted around two months after the group announced the blockade, according to Asiya Shafi, head of finance at One FM.

“I think the radio industry itself is going to take some time to mature,” she said. “It’s been in Dubai and India for ages, but here it’s only been a few months since the licenses have been given out.”

She believes Qatar opened these stations to give back to South Asian expatriates. 

“Qatar wants to make the expats feel at home,” she said. “I think after the blockade people could have left, but they appreciate that these expats stayed back.”

Many South Asian expatriates leave their families behind when working in Qatar.

Krish Aiyapan, director at Radio Olive, told Al Jazeera: “People from the subcontinent are really attached the radio medium back in their hometown. Not all the people here are living with their families, so they find a companion in the radio.” 

Radio Olive has a drive time show and several lifestyle programmes which include subjects such as cooking and health.

“Whenever I start my household work, the first thing I do is switch on the radio station,” said Febin Kunhabdulla, a Malayali mother.

Radio stations bridge the gap between our home countries and Qatar.

by Krish Aiyapan, Radio Olive director

For Nasumudheen, a mother of two, she uses the radio to teach her children Malayalam.

“Most of the time they sing and speak in English because they study it,” she said. “But now I can see them sometimes standing in front of the mirror and telling stories in Malayalam.” 

Until recently, there was one main radio station in the country. Fifty years ago, Qatar Radio aired its first broadcast in Arabic. By 1975, the public service broadcaster had an English programme, and in later years, a programme in Urdu. 

“Radio stations bridge the gap between our home countries and Qatar,” said Aiyapan, the Radio Olive director. “When Qatar goes towards the World Cup, these type of mediums are essential.”

Qatar’s culture ministry has said it has plans for more radio stations in languages including English, French, Spanish and Filipino.

Saijud, the driver from Bangladesh, said he will continue to play the radio whether his clients like it or not. 

“This is not a personal car for me,” he said of his pearl white Honda. “I pick up customers and some don’t like Hindi music, but I will still play Olive radio on a low volume for myself. I love classic Bollywood songs from the 90s.”

Source: Al Jazeera