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Broadcasting in Arabic - 2002-07-09


Usama Farag came to the United States from Egypt fourteen years ago to be a broadcaster in Voice of America’s Arabic service. Now he is the executive producer of VOA’s new program to the Middle East, Radio Sawa.

Radio Sawa program opening

“This is a new radio network that’s called Radio Sawa, which means ‘together', and it’s a different radio station. We have changed to become almost an American commercial radio station. Now we broadcast music mix, Arabic and Western music 24 hours a day, add to it newscasts twice every half-hour. And of course we are in the early stages now, we are going to add many programs, many features, Americana, political programs, it’s coming up within the next few months.”

As part of his duties as executive producer, Usama Farag selects the music for the new program. He says that, based on weekly research reports from the region, he can target Radio Sawa’s music mix for each Arab country to which it is broadcast.

“The amazing thing is that we can have different streams to different areas. We have a pan-Arab stream, we have a stream to Iraq, we have another one coming up to the Gulf and maybe another one to Egypt, so that you can modify your music according to the tastes of your listeners.”

Another new feature of the Middle East Radio Network is an emphasis on broadcasting on FM. Although the station also uses some medium wave transmitters, most of the programming is heard on leased local FM transmitters – greatly improving the quality of the sound.

Usama Faraq was born in Egypt, the oldest of four children of an Army officer and his wife. He was preparing for a career as a diplomat, but instead landed a much-sought-after job at Radio Cairo. After four years there he passed the test to join the Arabic Branch of the Voice of America, and pulled up stakes to move from Cairo to Washington.

“I was an on-air talent, an emcee and news reader. There is a great deal of specialization, you know over there you can be a news-reader, a program host, a producer. When you come to the States you have to be all of this. And if you can be a producer, translator, newsreader, news writer, then you are really an international radio broadcaster. It takes time, two-three years, but in time you excel and you become much better.”

Usama Farag says like many young Arabs, he was fascinated by American pop culture as he was growing up.

“Actually, unlike many people may think, Hollywood played a positive and very good role in drawing a picture of America in my eyes before I came here. So when I came here I did not feel a stranger, and definitely I think that the movies and the soap operas, and especially the cowboy movies that we loved there, played an important factor in understanding America. When I came here nothing really surprised me that much, I knew almost everything about the society, through what I watched on TV in Egypt."

Usama Farag, who was 28 when he came to the United States in 1988, says that he faced no difficulties and met with no discrimination on account of his Arabic background.

“Absolutely not. I got great opportunities here in the United States and I benefited from it, I worked hard, and I was rewarded very well”.

Mr. Farag is married to a pediatrician, also from Egypt. The couple has three children. Their oldest child and only son, Omar, is seven, and autistic – a term applied to children who are self-absorbed and have severe social, communication and behavioral problems.

“That’s our challenge and our struggle. After we established our careers, my wife and I, we have to really provide him with -– he’s severely autistic, and that’s why we have to provide him with a lot of assistance, and therapists, who come at home and deal with him. He is under supervision 24 hours a day… He’s my favorite kid. (I hope my daughters don’t listen.)”

Both Usama Farag and his wife, Samar Hussein, find their professions demanding and time-consuming – sometimes at the expense of their family.

“Basically I’m a workaholic, my wife is a workaholic too, and that’s too bad for the kids, but we’re trying to make up for it. We have our parents and in-laws coming to help us take care of our kids, because work is really demanding, and we have to work 12 hours a day, easy.”

For the present, Mr. Farag is absorbed in developing the sound and impact of Radio Sawa, which went on the air at the end of March. His hopes for the future concern his family.

“I would like my wife’s career to shine even more, she’s a very good physician here, and I would hope that I can help my son be able to, you know, mingle and interact within his abilities with the peers around him. And I wish I win the lottery, so that I can spend as much money on him as I want.”

English Programs Feature #7-36491 Broadcast July 8,2002