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Migrant radio helps foreigners tune in

Coming to you live in 20 languages: Radio LoRa broadcasts from downtown Zurich (LoRa)

It's Wednesday at Switzerland's oldest independent community radio, Radio LoRa, and an Albanian presenter is on air interviewing a young DJ.

This content was published on July 24, 2009 - 12:58

Situated in the heart of Zurich, the radio offers programmes in more than 20 languages. For many migrants, Radio LoRa is a valuable tool to help them integrate while remembering their roots.

It is bustling inside the bright blue building, located the city's 5th district, a former industrial area.

In the smaller of LoRa's two studios, Kadri Ismajli is presenting his one hour slot in Albanian. Today he is interviewing a young man, still clad in his Swiss Post Office uniform, who is also a DJ.

Every so often the phone buzzes as listeners ring to ask questions or air their views. In between Ismajli plays some Albanian music.

"My programme is called the voice of the Albanians and it gives different information on politics, culture and arts," Ismajli told swissinfo.ch after the show.

"I always have well known people from culture and politics for discussions and have an open phone-in. I'm not someone who does censorship. Everybody can say whatever they want and on topics that may or may not be taboo for Albanians," he added.

There is also a humorous side. On this particular Wednesday a listener who is good at imitations rang in, allowing some gentle poking of fun at Albanian politics.

Alternative radio

Radio LoRa was born at a time when political youth movements were at their height in Zurich.

As independent radio was not allowed, it began life as a pirate station for the alternative scene. It was granted an official broadcasting licence in 1983.

"We broadcast content that is alternative to what is found in the mainstream media, alternative in terms of language because we have 20 different ones and alternative in terms of culture and music," explained Nadia Bellardi, head of public relations at the radio.

Like many community stations, money is tight. LoRa receives yearly fees from its members. Around half of the budget is made up by the Federal Communications Office, based on the fact that it broadcasts in so many languages.

Around 300 volunteers help out at the radio, with women's participation being particularly encouraged. Around 100 hours of programming is made.

For those on the staff who run the radio, it can sometimes be a challenge to have so many different people and views under one roof. There is always something going on.

When swissinfo.ch visited, members of the Spanish service were painting banners in the courtyard before going off to protest about the military coup in Honduras.

Open space

But this is important, says Nicole Niedermüller, who coordinates the women's programmes.

"What we still have here is an open space where people can volunteer and broadcast from their hearts on issues that really concern them," she said, adding that migrants' points of view were often largely absent from the mainstream media.

"Everybody is talking about intercultural themes and say integration is very important, but it won't happen unless you create a space for it."

Although there are no audience figures, some programmes, such as the Spanish ones, have become institutions among expats. In addition to political themes, topics such as information on how to get a job or negotiate the health system in Switzerland are also included.

Others have a special target audience, like the one aimed at the gay, lesbian and transsexual scene that takes place in Turkish. Some, such as the programme aimed at Iranians living in exile, broadcast in both the migrant language and German.

Voice of Opposition

Called the Voice of Opposition, the Farsi programme broadcast on Wednesday gives information about what is going on back in Iran.

"It tells what the regime has done in the week in terms of death sentences and political prisoners, and we also have political music," Mehrzad Khalili, who is involved in the programme, told swissinfo.ch from the radio control room. In the adjoining studio a presenter read the news. Human rights and refugees are also a theme.

"At the beginning we thought it would only be listened to by Iranians, so we did it in Farsi," Khalili added. "But there was a lot of interest from Swiss. People telephoned and asked if we could perhaps do 15 minutes in German, and we thought it was a good idea."

Like the programmes aimed at Sri Lankan Tamils and Somalians, the station is also listened to abroad via the internet by people seeking an alternate view to the "official" one.

A voice for migrants

For the Farsi programme makers, Radio LoRa is of utmost importance, especially given the recent unrest over the disputed presidential election in Iran.

"We are almost two years with Radio LoRa. On this radio we can speak about our problems and read the news so that everybody can understand about the situation in Iran," said Arsalan, Khalili's colleague.

For his part, however, Albanian presenter Ismajli believes that, given its importance, Switzerland's oldest and largest radio for migrants should be better funded by the authorities.

"Switzerland only gives Radio LoRa such a small place and this for more than 20 years. That's such a shame," he said.

Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich, swissinfo.ch

Radio LoRa

The radio can be heard on the internet (see link), in Zurich and surrounding area on cable or in Zurich on 97.5 FM.

The project is run on a grass-roots democracy basis. Most of the work is carried out by volunteers, but there is a core staff of around seven people, who do the technical work, administration, public relations, organisation and programme coordination.

Experimental radio is also important at LoRa. Every year in July the radio takes a summer holiday and holds an experimental radio event during this time in an outside location in Zurich. This year it was held from July 13-26 and was called Electromagnetic Summer.

Non-commercial radio stations differ from mainstream programming in terms of themes, music and cultural issues. There are 14 such radios in Switzerland that belong to Unikom, the Swiss association of non-commercial, local stations.

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