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Iranian Expatriates Find Their Voice in Radio Broadcasts

Los Angeles Times
November 11, 2000

In a rustic, soundproof room in Santa Monica, Alireza Meybodi fanned the flames of wounded Iranian pride as he recounted the latest assault upon his homeland's 2,500-year-old history.

Five ancient mummies--including one believed to be that of Mandana, mother of the founder of the Persian Empire--have turned up in a merchant's home in Pakistan, the talk show host said during a recent broadcast from KSMI, or National Voice of Iran. At least one of the Persian artifacts had been sawed in half, he added.

"This is Mandana, so beautiful, our love," Meybodi said in Persian, his voice heavy with emotion as expatriate Iranian callers lit up his producer's phone lines. "Send them [the Pakistani authorities] a message. Order that they return this princess home."

Using Iran's rich culture and history to draw listeners into political activism is a staple of Iranian-operated talk radio in Southern California. Free from the censorship that has controlled the mass media in their homeland, these broadcasters often engage in thinly veiled advocacy--all of it against the Islamic Republic.

In the last 12 years, such programming was largely limited to a single closed-circuit station--KRSI, or Voice of Iran, which recently moved to Beverly Hills. (The lone Persian-language AM radio station, KIRN in Los Angeles, avoids political stances.)

But in late September, KSMI launched a rival closed-circuit version with several former KRSI employees, including Meybodi and Fereidon Tofighi, all vying for the ear of nostalgic expatriate Iranians who oppose clerical rule back home. Their fans include thousands of Iranians living elsewhere in the United States and abroad--Houston, Toronto and London, for example, to whom the

Persian-language programs are transmitted via satellite.

KRSI has even started broadcasting to Iran via shortwave radio for two hours a day. KSMI is also starting an Iran broadcast, via satellite for two hours a day, said station President Behrouz Nazer.

But how much appetite there is among advertisers and listeners for two local Iranian stations with talk radio formats is unclear. The two all-talk stations have jabbed at each other over the air, revealing an uneasiness at an increasingly crowded Iranian radio market.

Adding to the uncertainty are the limitations of the two stations, whose broadcasts can be picked up only on radios fitted with different special adapters. To tune in to both stations, listeners need two radios.

Expatriates who favor establishing ties with the Islamic Republic insist that the programming appeals only to pro-shah and fringe groups, who are a small number among the hundreds of thousands of Iranian Americans who are believed to live in Southern California.

Those opposed to resuming ties with Iran, however, say the format resonates with a wider audience. Meybodi's show, for example, focuses on culture and literature in addition to politics, they explain.

Hunger among Iranian expatriates for news from home is growing, said Afshin Gorgin, program director at American-owned KIRN, the AM station in Los Angeles.

While avoiding the advocacy of the closed-circuit stations, KIRN has increased its news and talk shows to 70% of its broadcast time, from an all-music format at its inception in August 1999. Gorgin has also hired veteran newsman Parviz Shahnavaz Khan to do interviews with top newsmakers.

"The most important department is the news department for the Iranian community," Khan said. "People don't trust some of the news centers and news involved. They want to see direct news from inside Iran."

That's the sentiment Nazer conveys when asked about why he, an Iranian American who has been a businessman for two decades, launched the new talk radio station six weeks ago.

"I've always thought something new is needed," said Nazer, who, with his wife, Haddia, also runs an employment agency in Santa Monica. "It wasn't money that really motivated me. It was need."

Both Nazer and KRSI President Alireza Morovati say they wish each other the best, although they acknowledge that they are rivals.

KRSI has started using fund-raising drives similar to those held by American public radio stations to meet costs, including what Morovati describes as a $30,000 monthly bill to broadcast to Iran.

Nazer conceded that he, too, needs to break even, which will happen if he can retain 60 to 70 advertisers on a regular basis.

If he makes money, he'll be happy, he added, but the main thing is to keep the station afloat. "People need radio they can depend on," he said. "You need a source that is being honest."

Still, a pro-monarchist bias among many of his station's listeners is evident.

One recent caller to Meybodi's show reminded the host that the late shah's birthday was in October. "Let God make his spirit happy," she added.

Meybodi agreed, then launched into a dialogue on tolerance.

"We have to remember what days are important for all Iranians, whether Jews, Zoroastrian, Bahai or Muslim," he urged. "We should celebrate with them. Not even for one moment should we leave each other alone."

Such inclusive messages are what Nader Sadighi and his wife, Shahla Aresteh, say drew them to the KSMI team.

"That's the beauty of our station. Whether communist, capitalist, monarchist, they can be on the air," said Sadighi, who is in the process of signing with the station as news director. "People are tired of listening to one faction.

"We're talking about promoting a decent life for everybody in Iran."


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