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In the World's Rural Outposts, A Shortwave Channel to God
In addition to the spiritual, religious broadcasters stress the practical, with programs on HIV-AIDS, basic health and sanitation issues and family counseling.
On some stations, world news is delivered through a filter of faith. During last year's controversy over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper, some preachers on the Islamic radio airwaves helped stoke the global Muslim outrage that led to violent protests around the world.
Of the world's 314 radio stations licensed to broadcast across borders, 83 -- or 26 percent -- are religious stations, according to the World Radio TV Handbook. At least a dozen major international Christian radio networks operate in hundreds of countries and broadcast in at least 360 languages. Most are from the United States -- which has more than 2,000 domestic religious radio stations -- but others originate in Britain and Sweden. Scores of smaller international broadcasters work in nations from Canada to Chile to the Philippines.
U.S.-based Trans World Radio, a nondenominational Protestant network, is among the largest. It has a $40 million annual budget, raised through donations, and broadcasts in more than 200 countries. Trans World broadcasts on about 2,800 stations globally, up from 1,600 in 2001, said Bill Damick, a network official based in Britain. Damick said Christian programming -- on stations sponsored by denominations from the Seventh-day Adventists to the Vatican -- is growing fastest in Africa and Latin America, but it also is booming across Asia and Eastern Europe.
Islamic radio networks, largely funded by governments, have also grown in recent years across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, particularly in remote places. They tend to focus heavily on readings of the Koran, especially in nations such as Saudi Arabia where government and religion are deeply intertwined.
In contrast to the evangelical nature of Christian radio, Islamic radio tends to focus on people who are already Muslims. Ebrahim Moosa, associate director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center, said the radio has advanced many Muslims' knowledge of and devotion to their faith. Many Muslim stations are increasingly mixing in Islamic talk shows and pop music, especially in Jordan and other more secular societies. Stars such as British sensation Sami Yusuf, a 27-year-old Islamic pop singer known for lyrics praising Allah, are spicing up the airwaves.
Several major Hindu radio networks in the United States, Europe and India mix prayers with pop music, entertainment news from Bollywood and shows about vegetarian cooking. Buddhist radio stations beam Tibetan chants and news around the world, including clandestine broadcasts into Tibet. Government, commercial and religious broadcasters have long used shortwave to reach into closed societies such as Cuba and Burma, which recently has been convulsed by anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks.
"It is the only way that many people inside Burma get information," said Htet Aung Kyaw, an editor with the Democratic Voice of Burma, a secular radio station based in Norway that beams shortwave news into Burma.
In places such as Mozambique, which opened its airwaves to private broadcasters in the early 1990s, the FM dial is a virtual preachers' bazaar. In Maputo, listeners can choose among a Catholic station, two Protestant stations and a new Islamic station.
Community Radio of Homoine began broadcasting at the end of 2001, and last year Trans World Radio began buying airtime on the station for a new Christian program about HIV-AIDS, which is rampant in this part of Africa. "It Takes Courage" was a drama, produced by a local pastor using local actors, that stressed morals, marital fidelity and abstinence from teen sex. Many people here said the program was their first real AIDS education in their own language.
"It was better than a pamphlet that said, 'Use a condom,' " said Hussene Algy, the radio station's program director. "This reached illiterate people who knew very little about HIV-AIDS, and it taught them to fear AIDS the way they fear the devil."
Solace 9,000 Miles Away
About five miles outside Homoine, down a narrow track of deep white sand passing through a forest, Matsimbe lives in a small cluster of houses with concrete walls and palm-thatched roofs. During Mozambique's 16-year civil war, which ended in 1992, these woods were battlegrounds. A field of land mines just beyond Matsimbe's property was not cleared until two years ago.