Since the introduction of radio to Egypt in the beginning of the 20th century, a strong radio culture was insistently cultivated, growing in prominence and popularity over time. From the widely broadcasted monthly concerts of the legendary Om Kolthoum that saw people from different social backgrounds gathering round a radio to listen to the late singer’s latest gems to the abrasively loud melody of Arabic pop music pumping from the stereos of taxis across the country today.
It may not be as popular as it used to be 50 or 60 years ago but radio, nonetheless, remains a fixture in daily Egyptian life, and that includes the English-language commercial station 104.2 Nile FM, which has found a niche for itself in Cairo.
Recently, the station changed its sound. Its new motto: “The Sound of Now,” an appropriate title for a station that acted quickly after the revolution to meet the needs and demands of an audience that, in the words of the station’s programming manager Safi, wanted the changes “now,” immediately.
Eight years since going on air, 104.2 Nile FM has evolved from an English-language station with a predominantly British staff to a uniquely Egyptian radio station. Today, six out of the nine presenters are Egyptian and anyone listening can clearly identify a particular personality of the station.
Simon Ramsden, a consultant and current host of the “Sunday Night Project” show, helped launch the station back in 2003.
“Nile FM has become very much an Egyptian brand,” Ramsden told Daily News Egypt. “When I was at the station, it had an Egyptian flavor that was very much westernized, whereas now it has become a local brand. It has evolved into a station with a loyal listenership that Egyptians hold close to their heart. In the past, they used to admire it but it had a foreign feel.”
Both Ramsden and his colleague Tom Green — who has returned to the station after a four-year hiatus — speak of putting “a sparkle” back into the station, a sparkle that was lost to a number of factors before the revolution. Censorship by the Ministry of Information banned discussions of religion, sex, politics and anything that might come across as critical of the former regime, and with it the music sounded tired and irrelevant.
“The job of a radio presenter is to be an entertainer, more than anything, essentially the link man,” Green explained. “You’re there to give information out that’s important and pertinent to the person listening to you but you also have to be a friendly familiar voice and in some ways an anchor point for the listener in the midst of a listener’s perhaps crazy day.”
Though 104.2 Nile FM is a Top 40 music station, readers listening during long commutes did wish to be engaged, becoming intensely vocal about current events along with Safi on the “The Big Drive Home” show when the station returned on air. “It was previously out of our hands,” Safi explained.
“That month and a half after the revolution was hands down the most difficult radio I’ve ever done. It was tough because I had to learn on the spot what it meant to be objective media, you had to literally just present the situation as it was and wait for people’s feedback,” Safi said.
“Our listenership is the people that prompted this revolution, they are people who use Facebook and social media and we want to become part of that process. We want the youth of Egypt to see us as a vehicle to get their message out and to have someone to listen to them and help to make the situation better. Most of the problems that happened in this country are because people didn’t listen to the youth,” Ramsden added.
Although Safi now hosts the “Flashback” show, which plays classic hits, Green has injected a new life into the “Big Drive Home” and this reshuffle of the program grid has given Nile FM a necessary revival.
The success of “The Sound of Now” derives from the new music programming. Playlists are arranged in a more orderly manner, there’s a greater variety of artists being played and most importantly, local home grown talent are given air time.
The enthusiasm for the station’s new plans is shared by all their presenters.
“Part of our strategy in the upcoming period is to empower the listener to a level I don’t think many stations in the world have done,” Safi said. “User-generated content is going to be massive for us, as with the revolution and as with the shift our product is not just going to be an audio product, we’re looking to transform it to an audio digital product across the board.
“We want to maximize the use and effect of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube because anybody who’s been looking at media, especially post-revolution, knows that’s the way to go.
“We’re much more a station for the people now then we’ve ever been. The station is working on developing an active CSR platform, and we’re constantly seeking to support young talent be it in music, production, art or presenting.”
Ramsden said, “I want to reestablish the radio scene in this country, which has to be improved, and I want Egypt to become what it was years ago.
“When Nile FM launched stations in Lebanon and elsewhere, they were mimicking what we were doing and we were a success story and I want to reposition the Egyptian radio scene regionally again.
“We set the trend and we’ll do that by keeping the closeness of the people and listening to what they want and being their vehicle and showing regionally that we are a station to be taken seriously. That Egypt is a great country to look out for. We’re all in that position to make a difference now.”