A Lebanese cabbie, in his orange-yellow cab in Falls Church, has the radio tuned to 1030-AM for hours, turning up Arab-language news and enjoying the wailing sounds of the late classic singing star Om Kalthoum.
Dina Haidar, dropping off her son Akef at preschool in Arlington, has it on too, listening for any news from Saudi Arabia, where relatives work.
And Abdul Aziz Dukheil, a Saudi businessman who lives in Potomac and is concerned about what is happening in the Middle East, sings its praises. "It's done a marvelous job covering the situation," he says of ANA, the Arab Network of America, a relative newcomer to the Washington radio scene and the first major Arab-language programmer in this country.
"With no impartial news from the Arab world, what do we have to turn to? The Arabic radio is a linking factor. It's the voice of the Arab community here," he says.
The year-old Arab Network of America broadcasts programming in Arabic daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It's all transmitted from the studios of WNTL, a small station in Waldorf that sells time to ANA.
And it has become an institution, a kind of social glue, for the 70,000 Arab Americans living in the Washington area.
Arab Americans here not only listen to it, they talk about it. The clipped delivery, the perky jingles, and the music of singers Om Kalthoum and Fairouz complete a sensibility that transports Arab Americans back to their native lands. It reminds them, in style, of the radio programming they used to listen to in the Middle East.
ANA's lineup of daily interviews with Arab officials and open phones, a feature Arabs never knew in their native lands because it is too democratic, has captivated Arab American listeners. Now, Washington area Arabs -- caterers, bakers and other small businessmen -- have bought commercial time giving ANA a real community feel.
The success of ANA is an indication of how close to their homelands and to Arab pop culture -- and how set apart from American life -- Arab Americans feel, and how much they mistrust the American media.
ANA's chairman, Saudi-born Mohammed Bedrawi, 43, couldn't have picked a better time to introduce them to his pet project: radio programs he plans to beam eventually to six U.S. metropolitan areas, which together boast 2.5 million Arab American residents. In just three weeks, Arab Americans, like everyone else, have become news junkies. But they want to hear the news packaged the way it was back home.
So Bedrawi has given them what they want. "Hoona London" ("This is London"), intones the deep-voiced announcer in Arabic, in the same way the BBC Arabic Service, worshiped in the Arab world, opens its hourly newcasts. In fact, Bedrawi has purchased exclusive U.S. rights of BBC Arabic Service's nine hours of daily news, of which he uses four.
Bedrawi, who went to high school in New Jersey and came to Washington a year ago, knew that the growing Arab American community was both underserved and undernourished by the established media's coverage of Arab culture.
"People here are in a void," he said in his office in Waldorf. "On days where there's no crisis, there's absolutely no news about the Arab world. There's a lack of information."
But he also knew that Arab Americans are a highly fractured community, a fact highlighted by the present gulf crisis. The Syrian government hates Iraq, Iraq and the Palestinians resent the Persian Gulf's oil-rich nations because of their wealth. In the current crisis, Arab Americans are generally pitted against each other in the same formation as their countries or places of origin.
So if ANA produced its own newscasts it would be vulnerable to attacks from every Arab American sub-group.
Bedrawi's out, the BBC Arabic Service, is highly respected for its perceived objectivity.
Nevertheless, ANA produces locally about one-third of its programming -- including the open phones, interviews and some commentary. Bedrawi acknowledges that "sometimes our listeners don't like what they hear."
Since the beginning of the gulf crisis, the station has received about 200 calls a day from listeners.
Atef Abdel Gawad, an Egyptian American and WNTL's general manager, said that after the first few days' coverage of the invasion, some callers were irate over what they perceived as an anti-Iraq bias. He had to announce that he had asked the Iraqi ambassador to the United States to present the Iraqi view but that the embassy had declined.
Despite the crisis, ANA continues its mix of programming that includes lighter material -- not only music, but soap operas as well as programs on health, science, the arts, business and advice for the community.
ANA purchases variety shows from the Arab world and also produces talk shows designed to promote a sense of identity and increase the self-esteem of the community by highlighting contributions of Arab Americans.
For example, Bedrawi regularly presents talks by Arab experts on a variety of subjects, and an Arab American physician and psychiatrist host their own call-in shows. He also produces a weekly program on family affairs. One examined how an Arab American girl can manage to meet a marriageable Arab American boy on the vast, alienating turf of urban America.
And during Ramadan, the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting that commemorates the writing of the Koran, ANA broadcasts nightly the Koran reading and the sheik's chant that heralds the daily end of the fast, giving Arab Americans "an hour of a real traditional Ramadan," said Gawad.
Bedrawi, a tall and portly man who attended the Royal Navy College in England and afterward became what he calls a "venture capitalist," says he had no mission in starting up the Arab Network of America.
"My mission is to make money," he said. "This is a major market. It's a good business investment if you can be number one."
To get there, Bedrawi first commissioned a market survey. He needed figures on how many Arab Americans there are, where they live and what they want. After he signed the BBC Arabic Service, he started hiring a staff.
Today, with seven ANA staffers, he produces a lineup of shows that he recently began to transmit to Detroit and parts of Canada as well. He says he's signed agreements to begin broadcasting in Houston, San Francisco and Chicago. And, he adds, "if tomorrow there's an opening in New York, we're there."
For the moment, Bedrawi admits he's still in the red -- he won't divulge figures for fear of leaking information to potential competitors -- but he says that with the addition of new cities he is nearing the break-even point.
People listen to ANA, he says, "because it is reliable. It doesn't have a dogma it's trying to sell. And it's complete. You can listen to it and stop listening to everything else."
Gawad, more emotional, puts it this way: "One of our most important achievements has been to stress a sense of identity. We are the ultimate unifier."