It is fondly known in the Christian enclave of southern Lebanon as the "Voice of Hope." But north of the Litani River in the rest of Lebanon, they call it the "Voice of Death."
The 30,000-watt transmitters of the pirate American-financed radio station -- operating with the call letters -- WORD -- beam a syrupy mixture of country and western music, inspirational messages and Old Testament passages read in a soft west Texas drawl, and news broadcasts decidedly slanted in favor of Maj. Saad Haddad and his Israeli-supported Christian militias.
In the madcap, violent world of southern Lebanon, the Voice of Hope may be a relaxing and pleasant diversion to some of its listeners. But to others it carries a message of fear and intimidation.
From time to time Haddad himself takes the microphone to a tiny, cramped studio in a former Lebanese customs house and warns Lebanese civilians who live in areas controlled by Palestinian guerrillas that in a few minutes, his heavy artillery will open fire on their homes with high-explosive shells.
Because the Voice of Hope is financed, owned and operated by Americans, many lebanese have concluded that it broadcasts with U.S. government connivance as an extension of what they see as Washington's pro-Israeli policy.
Radio and television airwaves in Lebanon are controlled by a state monopoly, and the Voice of Hope is seen in Beirut as a flagrant violation of that authority by foreign nationals of a country with which Lebanon has formal relations.
While the monopoly has been breached before by radio stations controlled by warring factions in Beirut, including those of former president Suleiman Franjieh, as well as militia factions of the right and left, it has not been violated before by foreigners, much less Americans, Lebanese authorities point out. There are also reports that Israel's state-owned radio helped set up the Voice of Hope.
Chuck Pollak, 28, a born-again Christian who once managed gospel radio stations in Memphis and Odessa, Tex., denied that the Voice of Hope is intruding in Lebanon's civil turmoil.
"The political implications of what we are doing, rightly or wrongly, are secondary to what God has told us to do," Pollak, a station manager, said. "I'm not going to get into a political situation here. As an American and a Christian, being here is something that God wants us to do."
Pollak is one of seven Americans who live in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona and commute here with border passes issued by Haddad. The force behind the Voice of Hope is George Otis, a former general manager of Learjet Corp., who now runs a Van Nuys, Calif., evangelical mission called High Adventure Ministeries.
Otis, in an interview, also rejected the notion that Haddad is using WORD to proselytize the station's listeners, or, at worst, to spread terror and panic among Lebanese outside his enclave.
"It is not much better that we warn people [about shelling] rather than surprise them? That we give them warning and allow them to seek protection? I don't hear any warnings from the other side," he said.
Expanding from its medium-wave (AM) broadcasting, WORD has begun a shortwave service, bringing its radio investment to $2 million. The same group on March 9 launched television broadcasting at a cost Otis put at $4.5 million. The facility is designed to reach Jordan, Israel and northern Lebanon as well as Haddad's territory, he said.
The Voice of Hope broadcasts news gathered by the state-owned Voice of Israel and reportedly was set up with assistance by the Israeli radio network, although Pollak said Otis brought his own engineers.
Pollak said the station was conceived when Otis, leading a Christian tour of Metullah and Israel's border, met with Haddad and was asked by the major to finance such a project.The station began broadcasting in September 1979.
Pollak said that Haddad himself has broadcast for a total of only 122 minutes.
U.S. diplomatic sources in Israel said there appears to be nothing the U.S. government can do to halt the illicit broadcasts. "We don't like the idea of Americans being involved in the conflict, but all we can do is advise them we can't give them any protection here," a U.S. official said.
Otis said a U.S. Embassy official from Tel Aviv telephoned him the day before WORD began broadcasting and pointedly noted that the United States officially recognizes the Beirut government. Otis said he told the official, "I have no contact with the Beirut government. We are for human rights and good work."