Turn on the radio in Lebanon and most likely you’ll hear either some political bickering or an American man screaming at you to attend a trance night at BO18. As of Tuesday, there will be an alternative option: Radio Beirut.
At once cafe space, performance venue and studio, Radio Beirut will feature live performances from non-commercial bands and DJs from Lebanon and around the region, all streamed online.
Listeners can also head to the “first radio cafe in the Middle East,” Radio Beirut’s bar/venue in Mar Mikhail, to watch the sessions live.
The website itself will seek to provide a platform where artists can upload their own material and create their own page, to which they can also add music from other artists on the site.
The agenda for the radio channel is not yet set in stone.
“We decided to build it with time and not to set limits too soon,” says Menna Maassarani, project manager at Radio Beirut. The broadcasts will be streamed online 24/7, with playlists from every genre – except house music and commercial pop – interspersed throughout the live performances.
Though Radio Beirut’s raison d’etre is to support independent artists from the region, the team is interpreting that mandate liberally. If a “DJ is playing Western music or pop music,” she explains, “then we are still promoting the local talent, as they are a local DJ.”
Its fluid nature means Radio Beirut is very open to suggestions. Together, Maassarani says, the venue, the website and the radio stream constitute “an open platform for everybody ... we offer the space basically, it’s not, like, ‘We want this and we don’t want that.’ If someone has an idea that matches with the direction of the radio, we can accommodate them.”
The station is not limiting itself to music and will also host debates, seminars, workshops and exhibitions.
“It will include everything from programs to awareness campaigns ... We’re tackling not only the music aspect, but the cultural, the social and education as well,” says Maassarani.
“We’re open to anything, just to maintain the variety: We’re going to have live interviews to talk shows to sketches, to radio dramas. People will be surrounded by the radio.”
With some audio and online advertising, the managers want to keep Radio Beirut as accessible as possible, with entrance costs to performances and exhibitions nonexistent or minimal, and bar profits covering costs.
One topic which will not receive much attention, however, is politics. “There is too much emphasis on politics as it is,” she adds. “We are trying to highlight other things.”
If the topic is tackled, she continues, it will be from the perspective of critics discussing how other media outlets deal with specific issues, rather than a politicized take on the news.
Maassarani says there are three partners behind Radio Beirut and several volunteers. The range of languages spoken by the team means the project will feature programs in Arabic, English and French, with a possible view to adding more languages in the future.
Maassarani and her colleagues had good reasons for launching an online channel, rather than a traditional radio station. Not only are FM stations expensive to register, she says, their reach was too small for Radio Beirut’s citywide philosophy, hoping to reach a much wider audience. “With online,” she adds, “you can reach the world.”
Still, you have to wonder whether online is the wisest model in a country with the world’s slowest, and among the most expensive, Internet. “I think people will mostly tune in either at work,” Maassarani says, “which is unlimited, or at night, when the quota is free.”
Radio Beirut could prove to be the perfect soundtrack to those hot, sleepless nights of summer.
Radio Beirut is located on Al-Nahr Street, Mar Mikhail (200 meters past Electricite du Liban), http://www.radiobeirut.net/. The station’s launch event, “Fiche Technique,” begins July 3 at 9 a.m. Live performances from MC Edd Abbas and special guests and Scrambled Eggs begin at 8 p.m. followed by DJ sets from Baba G, Christelle Franca, Dub Snakker and Brother Jackson.