A group of Saudi bloggers have launched the first Saudi Twitter Radio station under the name Radio-Twitter.
The program follows the latest news and developments, especially news relating to youth, and discusses them on the air. The two-hour show is broadcast once a week and hosts prominent figures to discuss current issues.
Essam Al-Zamil, founder of Radio-Twitter, explained that Twitter has become a key source for journalism and that it has become the best way to quickly deliver news, as well as being a place for engaging in intellectual dialogue with different people.
Twitter, he said, has enriched a sense of collective thought. The idea for the radio station emerged when Al-Zamil began to realize that many can’t keep up with everything published on Twitter. The program thus provides them with an opportunity to listen in on ongoing developments.
Al-Zamil says that a similar Kuwaiti initiative was established three years ago, known as Yamal radio, and that they are liaising with them to learn from their expertise.
Al-Zamil decided that the best plan was to summarize the most important news items of the week and discuss them during the program owing to the logistical difficulties of broadcasting throughout the day, especially since those who support and operate the channel are all volunteers who have their own businesses.
Subjects and topics of discussion are selected from Twitter by monitoring trending tweets and hashtags in order to identify the most talked about topics. Listeners are invited to engage in conversations.
“The majority of comments received tend to be from those who are active on Twitter,” says Al-Zamil.
The Radio-Twitter station transmits coverage via the Internet and people can stream the program from around the world online or via their cell phones. Technical requirements are utilized to allow for high-quality broadcasting, he revealed.
The number of followers varies between those who listen to live broadcasting and those who listen to recorded programs.
According to Al-Zamil, there were around 1,800 listening to the live broadcasting session during the first show.
The goal at the moment is to reach 10,000 listeners, he added, noting that he believes that this number can be reached in light of the increasing number of subscribers every day.
“We certainly have a higher level of freedom than traditional media, but we try to take into account a realistic ceiling for freedom of speech and our goal is not to break the barrier. However, our priority is broadcasting people’s concerns and we want followers to feel that they are part of the program and that we appreciate their interest and input. Thus, we focus especially on live debate about certain issues that we deal with.”
Ibrahim Al-Qahtani, a Saudi blogger and activist in the new media arena, agrees with Al-Zamil and adds that they have more leeway because traditional media is inextricably linked to funders, but Radio-Twitter, like other social networks, always depends on the freedom of individuals themselves.
He denied that new media is a competitor to formal or traditional media, but rather described the two as being complementary to one other.
According to Al-Zamil, new media is a complementary utility for spreading and delivering media messages and that everyone is trying to achieve the same goal of educating the community, he said.
Keeping a distance from official platforms while dealing more simply with peoples problems is what has helped them gain popularity and acceptance, he says.
He stressed that they steer clear of controversial topics such as religious affiliation and naming specific people.
They also try to control comments they receive during the program so as not to allow persistence on topics that may attract criticism.
He also says that there are certain media personalities who refuse to participate in the program as guests even though they appear on other media platforms.
Al-Qahtani indicated that Radio-Twitter is promoted spontaneously by those who tweet.
The project has seen great success because there are people who cannot express their point of view and summarize their thoughts within the 140-character limit set by Twitter.
Khaled Al-Naser, a colleague on the program and a Saudi blogger who also takes a keen interest in new media, confirmed that youth are looking for new mediums to channel their opinions, thoughts and discussions.
This is what has helped the spread of blogging, which is built around the priorities of the average citizen. The opinions and ideas of Tweeps has begun to change, he explains, as blogging has shifted from being about the bloggers themselves to about what is being reflected on them by others.
Al-Naser sees that the presence of a platform for youth to present and discuss their opinions has helped in the spreading of new ideas and the exchange of different opinions, in addition to the creation of new formulae for summarizing thoughts in ways that can be expressed to benefit individuals and the community at large.
However, he disagrees with his colleague new media complements traditional media.
He sees new media as a real competitor to traditional media and that the latter has begun trying to catch up with new media. “Traditional media can catch up by updating its modes of communication,” he says.
Additionaly, Al-Naser sees that Radio-Twitter, as well as other voice broadcasting platforms around the world, have become a source of competition for traditional media channels, as they are available through applications in many Smartphones and can be listened to at any time and at any place.
This is what has sparked a huge response from people, he says, and the fact that many people listen to these channels by streaming them on the Internet is what guarantees and expands their success. There are sometimes as many as 5,000 listeners not including people who listen to the show after the live broadcast.
Essam Al-Zamil, a blogger, says that it is hard to broadcast live due to the fact that they are responsible for costs.
“If we had a steady income for the project, things would be much easier, as we would be able to hire people.”
“We still would not be at the stage of live broadcasting even if we were to find a sponsor, but it might make us better at promoting and producing the show.”
He revealed that there are plans for advancing the channel and preparing a live broadcast for two hours every day.
There are also plans to offer different programs, in addition to their main program, he added, confirming that they do not want to offer only one point of view.
Rather, the door is open to anyone who has the ability to present a program that is beneficial and stimulating to listeners, he says.
“It is important to have alternatives to traditional radio. There is no doubt that the media has begun to draw inspiration from new media sources, such as Twitter or blogging, and this is what we aim to do in radio broadcasting in order to create a new kind of competitive media that benefits society.”