IRBIL, Iraq — The listeners who call in to Radio Alghad are typical of talk-radio audiences around the world. It’s complain, complain. Except the callers to “Radio Tomorrow” are in the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul, and they don’t want to yak about traffic or sports.
“Shrapnel hit the tanks on the rooftop,” a caller named Hasan told FM-95.5 the other day. “We have lost all water we have saved.”
On calls made from the front lines in Mosul, Radio Alghad listeners can hear artillery rounds falling as the government battles to retake the city. They can hear windows rattling, bursts of gunfire, children crying in a backroom.
“There is a difference between hearing about the crimes and seeing them with your eyes,” another caller told one of the station’s hosts.
She begged Iraqi forces to hurry to recapture the city. Many of her neighbors still support the Islamic State, she said. “So it’s hard to tell who is a friend and who is an enemy.”
The callers often speak in rushed whispers.
A cellphone, even a SIM card found hidden in a pocket or purse, can mean a death sentence in Mosul, where Islamic State militants have ordered “collaborators and spies” to be summarily executed.
The station’s founder is a 30-something tech entrepreneur who calls himself “Mohammad of Mosul” in interviews because he does not want to be targeted by the Islamic State or its supporters. He also insists on keeping the location of his station and most of the names of its hosts secret. He is concerned about car bombs. He will allow a reporter to say only that the operation is in the Kurdish area of Iraq.
On a recent evening, during one of four call-in shows hosted each day, a dozen people from Mosul and surrounding towns and villages telephoned the station and went live on-air.
Callers are told to use aliases. But instead of “Sleepless in Seattle,” the callers identify themselves with monikers such as “Tear of an Oppressed,” “Prisoner of Memories” and others such as “Mother of Ali” or “Son of Mosul.”
The first call of the evening went like this:
CALLER: As-salamu alaykum!
HOST: Peace to you, Son of Mosul! Where are you calling from?
CALLER: From the left side [what Iraqis call the east side of the Tigris River in Mosul], from the liberated areas.
HOST: Inshallah, the whole of Mosul gets liberated. We want to hear soon that Mosul has completely been liberated.
CALLER: It will be liberated by the help of God. What is left for Daesh [the Arabic acronym used for the Islamic State]? Only to hide behind women? They protect themselves by women!
HOST: Inshallah, God will give revenge for you, Son of Mosul, and for all the oppressed people in Mosul. Go ahead, tell me about the situation on the left side.
CALLER: I only want to say one thing, do you know what? In Hay al-Samah [neighborhood], the people are still under the destroyed houses; the houses have collapsed on top of them.
Radio Alghad went on the air in March 2015. Mohammad said that after watching how the Islamic State operated, he decided that Mosul needed an alternative radio station.
“Their social-media skills are high. Their psychologists are impressive,” he said. “They get a lot of hits.” Islamic State videos — such as the infamous “Clash of Swords” series — instilled fear among Iraqi defenders and diminished their will to fight.
In 2014, the Islamic State took Mosul, then a city of about 2 million, in a couple of days as Iraqi security forces retreated.
“Then I realized this is a media war,” the Alghad director said.
The Islamic State has its own radio station operating in Mosul, Radio al-Bayan 92.5 FM.
“They use their transmitters to jam us — and we now use our transmitters to jam them,” Mohammad said. “We’re both on each other’s frequencies all the time.”
In the frequency wars, the anti-Islamic State station now operates seven transmitters.
Before the government’s offensive to recapture Mosul began in early October, hot topics on the call-in shows were the Islamic State’s bans on smoking, cellphones and satellite dishes. Men complained about being forced to grow beards, and women about being required to wear full-face veils. They also complained about taxes, arrests and street executions.
Now Radio Alghad includes public-service messages, warning listeners to shelter inside interior rooms during bombardments and to open windows to relieve the pressure so that glass does not implode.
On a normal day, about 80 callers go live on-air, most of them from Mosul. In recent days, many callers have said they are being pounded both by Islamic State mortars and shelling from Iraqi forces. They are pleading for the Iraqi army to be more mindful of civilians during its offensive against the city.
A caller, “Mother of Ali,” said: “Honestly, we can’t stand the bombings anymore, but we have no choice but to thank God and be more patient.”
Another caller complained that “Daesh launches one or two rockets, but the Iraqi army bombing is very intense. The area is full of civilian families and they get hurt, so through your station I would like to ask them to decrease the bombings and to be more accurate.”
The host thanks his callers — but when they begin to criticize the Iraqi army more than the Islamic State, he brings the conversation to a polite close.
On occasion, Radio Alghad has allowed suspected Islamic State supporters to speak on the air. They complain of distortions and lies.
Mohammad, the station director, recalled that one Islamic State fan said, “ The people can leave Mosul at any time,” and the host said, “Okay, let them go. If you live in Mosul, you know this is not true. You know if the gates to the city were open for an hour, Mosul would be empty.”