So what is happening with radio in Bahrain?  The score so far:
Lebanese 4 – The Rest 0.
Well,  what can I say? As predicted in these columns over the past few months – but when I first said it, some laughed me out of the room as not possible.
As I reported, a representative claiming to be from Rotana along with his Saudi investor descended on Bahrain last week  (mid November 09) allegedly boasting their claim that they have the concession to open up FM channels in Bahrain.  Of course, implicitely trust me to ‘hold my peace’ and never say a word, I immediately told anyone prepared to listen. Most I told didn’t believe me and immediately dug deeper into their religion, praying that I got it wrong – but if I got it right are dumfounded and just can’t believe it.

As the months passed from the announcement early summer (09) that new licenses would be issued to ‘reputed media’ companies within the following month,  not a lot seemed to have happened or consultations taken place other than an assumed red herring that Parliament would first have to approve any deregulation.  Well, what do I know, other than there is no hope and there really never was, which is an outcome that was pretty much wholey predictable. I too hope that all this is bravado and someone high-up has the foresight to see things differently and better for standards and image.

I like so very many no longer listen to or support radio in Bahrain!  In fact during a shouting match with ‘Group Plus’ – the current operators  – we were told that  ‘ADmaze Media’ – the company I work for –  is banned’ because we take them to task over their constant underhand business ethics. Not that being banned makes any difference as we would still not support it and instead direct any clients we have to other platforms. Truly and without silly vindictiveness, I can safely say that so very few now actually tune to the ‘supposed to be’ English language channel which has become a national embarrassment with its zero content, presentation and gruesome advertising standards: ‘The time is brought to you by… ‘ – ‘The weather is brought to you by…’ – ‘The news is brought to you by…’. It is absolutely ridiculous and so very tacky amateur with nothing but greed the motive.  Perhaps all a little too advanced for me and not that I would want to create animosity anywhere (Moi??) and auto suggest  the ‘where is God’ mine field in all this?  Can you imagine the potential viper’s pit reaction if someone got petty and niggled away telling tales?  Didn’t they just sentence a Lebanese man to death in Saudi for ‘witchcraft’ for broadcasting predictions?  No no no, please forget I said that as it will open a real can of worms if someone does pick on that angle and would bold very bad for future artistic or creative license. Oh! But then – there isn’t going to be any is there?

I really love the on-air guys, they are personal friends in some cases;  I adore the boss and regularly keep in touch and we talk, but none of this is their fault really as the whole shebang has been hijacked.  Yet and yes, with such conviction, the current operators spin the lines; ‘500,000 listeners covering Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.A.E’ to anyone that will listen. Like the ludicrously transparent, ridiculously incredulous Nigerian scams, some unsuspecting lambs still fall for it. The reality is starkly different of course.  For a start,  Radio Bahrain has mismatched power transfer for many years with all sorts of refraction going on as they pile antenna on top of anntenna up single masts –  all radiating different frequencies. The result is a very obscure and rather a tiny footprint nowadays, plus plenty of other stations have sprung up everywhere, so all in all there are very few actual listeners to Radio Bahrain as I said. Of course there is NEVER going to be an real audit and besides you have to believe me when I say that the majority of listners to these stations have no idea what they are actually listening to or from where the station broadcasts from.  Aramco’s Studio One out of the Eastern Province has a large audience in Bahrain but more than half those tuned in think it is Radio Bahrain as they do Emirates and in parfticular Radio Sawah.  That perception in itself really does say something about the interest folk around here show.

In the 80s more than half the Island listened to Radio Bahrain English lanaguage, plus a large swathe of expatriates across the water in Dhahran and AlKhobar.  Suddenly things started to change as the station was moved into the main government Ministry complex. which instantly made it less accessible and a huge mistake for a commercial station. (It used to be there originally in portacabins, but we did not have the security issues in those days).  Politics obviously had some clout forcing the move, because the late Tariq Almoeyyed (Ex Minister of Information), warned me back in 1985 that I should get out then as things where going to change dramatically.  I don’t know what he knew but it was true.  The free sounding  ‘Emirates FM’, a pop Arabic station also came on line loud and clear and many of Radio Bahrain’s Arab listeners defected. MBC started covering the area as well, so why listen to English if you have a bit of a zing going on in Arabic? Later came Radio Sawah, with one record in English, one in Arabic, what could be better? No advertisng either! All this broadcasts legally or as a spill into Bahrain and must severely dent any audience for advertsiing. Although we do place Bahrain advertising on both MBC and Emirates and we used to get a good response when using Emirates back in its hey day. Emirates needs some serious work now though. So it doesn’t ake a rocket scientist to realise that if we could recapture those listeners with a top notch station or two, it would create a new radio culture and a potentially lucritive platform for advertising.  As it is now, it all goes elsewhere.  INCREDIBLY BIZARRE!!

Radio Bahrain did change and nasty, insideous and jealousy instigated behaviour also took its toll on expatriate presenters and the whole thing sank into oblivion really. We’ve had years of it now and those living here who used to enjoy English radio are fed up to the teeth with it and have completely lost all interest. But then, radio all over the world has been heading down a destructive track with its dumbed down, pathetically formatted profile, but Radio Bahrain has actually managed to kill the  medium as a going concern.  This pitiful state of affairs has been misinterpreted by those who are appointed to handle it, basically not really understanding what radio is all about. At least the BBC World Service has secured a frequency in Bahrain and this really has captured the English speaking audience, but of course there is no advertising.

Foreigners are actively and rightly being courted to come here and set up business. The now seemingly very professional Economic Development Board works so hard to get out there and ‘Get it on” as T-Rex said, only to be let down by media and I can assure you, it will get far worse, despite many thinking it cannot descend any lower. The media represents a country’s imagine and most visitors to a country will reach their hotel rooms and tune into a local radio channel if it is in English, hoping to get some information, entertainment, a little business incentive or a feel for the overall buzz and standard. God forbid, some might like a little bit of music as well, rather than a stream of M..F … expletives that is the constant rap we get now which is predominantly aimed at 10 year olds.  Wake up Bahrain, for years now, we have NOT cut the mustard media wise and the aim should be dynamic, to be leaders in the field, in a somewhat testing geographical area as we were back in the 80s.  Anyone opening up a new channel will have to create a completely new radio culture to bring back a sophisticated audience because right now we’ve lost it here  – not that the neighbours are any better right now.  (By the way, the EDB Bahrain sun/flag logo although apparenlty conceived by ‘Contexture’, was realised at AdmazeMedia, then Showbiz Media in 3D for their video presentations).

Oh yes, the ‘habeebee’ talk (darling in Arabic) appears to have won the day – NO CONTEST! Rotana are everywhere around the Middle East and the more platforms they can offer their potential advertisers, the more money they make and the bigger their empire. I doubt they can afford pay $50,000 a month per frequency from Bahrain revenue only, but the  MENA corporate advertising pot will now have another contributor and a selling point outlet.  One suspects they will have to pay royalties as well. It is unclear whether they do now or not, but you can subscribe to download Rotana music on most mobile phones. ‘Rotana music’? That is cheeky.  Anyway, they have no passion for Bahrain or its reputation or anyone else for that matter, they have no loyalty, they are a business as well and ruthlessly run it the way they see it works for them. The Arab world in general is not known for its loyalty to its foreign workers or contributors either and will use you for their needs while they have needs, often coming up with lame excuses to terminate you even 30 years down the line. So this is the norm and an environment prime for a Lebanese raid.

There is also a background buzz that someone is irked by the current MBC monopoly in Saudi and rights have now been given to another very influential and wealthy Royal to start up about 4 –  6 new ‘commercial’ channels next year, including a thumper out of Al Khobar. Of course, these claims are often bandied about by wealthy businessmen or guys who think they are well connected. I even heard from a nice but know-it-all Indian chap here in Bahrain, who claims privileged ears, that ‘no English or Arabic’ stations would be allowed, only more Indian languages, or perhaps Urdu or whatever. It was this chap who adamantly confirmed that the Ministry wanted $50,000 a month to operate and beamed a huge confident smile like that would be a piece of cake to raise. He even told me  that 6 frequencies were available. and that everything was written in stone. So good luck, because whoever went for it would have more than their work cut out trying to generate that amount from this market with the absolute putrid standards and content I suspect they will maintain, especially if Saudi is also vying for Eastern Province revenue.  If this in-the-know, long-time resident Indian chappy is right, then it is completely contradictory to what should happen or indeed what has.

If you tell a lie long enough, you start to believe it yourself I guess and I should not give operational or marketing secrets away really, but I do know that these fly-by-nights hoping to cash in, believe their own bull sh*t.  The story of so many listeners and radio range is just crap. Also, it is pure fantasy that huge advertising revenue is pouring into Bahrain from Saudi’s Easter Province, or it is a potential gold mine which the Lebanese Mafia is so attracted to.  I have heard nothing emanating from the Easter Province for years and in fact the last revenue anyone ever received from there was probably my client KLM back in the very early 90s. Dream on boys!

Back to the Bahrain Parliament; as reported, Parliament want to ask questions and that is just about Lebanese dominance and employment at the Ministry as I don’t think they have heard about the Rotana claim yet. Seriously though, the Lebanese thing has got folk worried and a lot of people are very upset at this very blasé and commercially undemocratic fiasco as it effectively continues the crucifixion and degrading of an already dire market. Currently, we have a MONOPOLY to which long time established contributors can no longer contribute or benefit from and the death knell for quality and artistic professionalism. Furthermore, there is enough evidence collected detailing corrupt ethics within the existing status quo.
I am not sure that Parliament are harking after the right angle, merely worried about some cultural influence or something when that should be the last of any concerns really. Those reading this probably remember them shouting about the Lebanese soaked ‘Spring of Sex’ two years back.  Now, when the word gets out that Rotana is rumoured to have secured one or two of the ‘gold dust’ FM frequencies (If there really are some legal ones available), there should be hell to play for a while, but trust me; I suspect not a single one of them has any idea what a frequency is or how they are distributed internationally.  Besides, parliament can shout all they like, because if the Rotana thing is true, it could be far too late already, as whispers suggest that the contracts are probably securely signed long before any announcements by any ‘smart-ass – smart ass’, bald, neatly black shadow shaven mouth piece publicly boasting his dubious appointment (as we have witnessed). After all, two years ago, Group Plus so suddenly came on the scene and overnight had a 6 year contract in their hands which virtually and totally unfairly wiped everyone else out at a stroke as far as radio is concerned and nothing anyone can do about it. Around three years prior to that, again overnight, a Lebanese company by the name of Wasila was formed, coming from nowhere mysteriously holding a 5 year contract to control every millisecond of air space in the country both radio and television. Many considered them nothing more than a bunch of bandits and they subsequently paid the price. I can now admit to moving in some seriously high circles to have them removed, sealed contractual legality or not. For the present regime, for some reason the authorities are honoring the contract. All that can be said is;  ‘Some NEVER learn’.

I am concerned more than most because radio is my life and love and I have been in Bahrain a long long time, but I am pretty much alone in my battle. There is considerable concern among the rest but they just moan in fear and call me, hoping I can do something about it or someone will at least listen to me. Although 30 years here and pretty much a Bahraini as far as supporting the cause is concerned, I am an expatriate and many will consider it none of my business. To counter that, we are a legal Bahraini company ‘uniquely’ specializing in radio and we must have some rights which have been brutally taken away from us. For me personally, it is very sad because with enormous passion, I devoted many years to the betterment of Radio Bahrain – generating millions of Dollars for them and pioneering higher quality content and advertising. Of course, many think I could improve the situation a great deal if I was given the opportunity now with this so-called de-regulation, but it is all sewn up and we all know that those given the authority will never ask me as they do not see the value or indeed have a grip on the whole picture in the first place.

This apparent Lebanese love fest which manifested itself in the Gulf a few years back and now in Bahrain annoys many. As I have stated here before; let me remind you what the Bahrainis say about the Lebanese in general; “The Lebanese are not a nationality, they are an occupation’.  The word ‘occupation’ takes on a different meaning in the Arab world the second it is spoken, but that is not what it means in this case. The Lebanese media goons are not actually to blame for this mess; they are merely locust like opportunists who swoop in filling what those in authority very wrongly considers to be a void.  As it stands and has always stood, it is the blind leading the blind that allows it to happen. This void is a psychological void created by an extremely condescending and deep routed assumption that nobody locally is capable of much.  Ala 9-11. How many times did you hear and still hear from Arabs themselves that; ‘Arabs were not capable of that’. It is not a joke, from top to bottom, this is still a very strong view as ridiculous as it is, but you cannot change a mindset. So it is a similar thing with the intangible arts – something you cannot touch or feel as such is not really recognized as having any value unless political or religious. The Lebanese know this and ‘market’ themselves to Arabs so well without intimidation because they speak the language. Arabs who hire them actually feel superior and in control of them because they can communicate ‘safely’ without fear of misunderstanding or embarrassment of not understanding someone blathering to them in English say.   The Lebanese just go along with it, taking all that is thrown at them and cash in and more to the point have the act down to a fine art in itself.  I would not even say that the Lebanese media goons are so greedy; it is all to do with ‘prowess’ and the ability to deal. They just have to have it all and by any means; hence the ‘mafia’.
With that sort of reputation, maybe deafness is a genetic Lebanese quirk, because it must be quite embarrassing for many of the very good Cedars to weather the constant derogatory comments from ‘almost’ everyone else, especially Gulf Arabs. To ‘generalize’ as such in this politically incorrect these days for it immediately lumps an entire nation together and one would have thought; generate bad vibes, but somehow it doesn’t. As I said, all this criticism seems the to be water off a duck’s back as the Lebanese either don’t hear it, chose not to, or just don’t care because their egos absorb these slings as compliments. Many I know ‘adore’ this confrontation and are proud of it and actually enjoy my banter with them on the subject.  Bottom line; no matter how much the locals complain about them, anything Lebanese and they flock to it, some great and some a potentially corruptive cesspits and they get caught every time – eventually – but eventually is often a very long time and a lot of damage has been done and money collected.

If the media was a tangible product, all hell would break lose within the community, but since you cannot touch or feel it, few give it value. Those that do get a little jiggy are generally very wealthy already and only see the virtual platform as a money spinner with content being totally irrelevant. Human nature dictates war and conflict and predominantly involves wealth, greed or simply having none of it. Take the subject of oil for example; it is incredibly hard to convince any Arab and so many others that oil has nothing to do with the current conflicts around the Middle East. I believe it is far more complex than that so I personally don’t buy that theory as Arab trading mentality would ensure that oil was sold to whoever wanted it; if the oil was still under their control, which it is.  This same mentality is ever present regarding any physical trading here which ‘must’ be owned by a Bahraini. Now, something which the majority gives no value to such as the quality of media, then it is largely ignored!
The job of enhancing media is forever going nowhere fast as it will always be assumed that a BAHRAINI ONLY UNDERSTANDS A BAHRAINI. Misunderstood might be more accurate hence, if most Bahrainis don’t really perceive any value to the art, then how can it change?  Enter the perception that the Lebanese can enrich it. They enrich ok, but not in any way beneficial to the community and its progress. That does not mean that they should not be allowed to compete fairly, but somehow this never happens as they want it all, every single aspect of it!



  1. business daily on June 27th, 2011 3:01 pm

    Radio Bahraaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiin! F*ck off with that ancient f*cking jingle I m f*cking sick of it!

  2. Geg Hopkins on July 5th, 2011 3:13 pm

    Although spam – it was a log on and someone actually took the trouble to type this – unlike all the other bot stuff… so deservedly so, it gets a comment.

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