On Air: Munadia Karaan

By Yazeed Kamaldien
Freelance Writer -- South Africa

There's a forthright tone in Munadia Karaan's voice, indicating that she wants to get to the bottom of any given matter as she presents her morning show Open Line at Nine on community radio station Voice of the Cape (VOC).

Karaan is program manager at the radio station based in Cape Town, South Africa, and has helped build the broadcast service since joining its ranks in 1997. Her current affairs show in the morning focuses on the Muslim community's concerns. It also opens the airwaves to ordinary citizens who reveal their opinions.

Making (Air) Waves

When Karaan joined VOC as a part-time radio show presenter, she hosted Money Talk, a show dealing with financial matters. She was soon co-hosting the weekend breakfast show.

By 1999, the journalism graduate resigned from the corporate world, where she had worked in communications, to head the station's newsroom as news editor. At the time, she had only one journalist and a trainee to gather news bulletins.

A salary slash was part of the move, so Karaan decided to simultaneously work with a financial investment company.

"The corporate environment was not really what I needed to do. The station took me back to news," reflects Karaan on the change.

"But I had to work in finance because it allowed me to do what I'm doing now. The reality of community radio is that it's not about the money. You need to set yourself up to do other things as well because you'll resent your job if you depend only on this salary."

The advantage of a corporate background, says Karaan, is that she learned the ropes of "dealing with deadlines and achieving goals."

"It was a sense of guidance. It has all the perks and allowed me to be comfortable in my skin."

Working in Two Spheres

Karaan, however, was not a newcomer to community media. Prior to joining corporate communications, she was the driver of a community newspaper for a local Islamic authority, the Muslim Judicial Council, which was later also a donor trustee of VOC. She had also worked on a local magazine for Muslim women, Al-Wardah.

The differences between corporate and community working spheres soon became apparent when Karaan was faced with the daily challenges of a radio station that was established about two years before she signed up.

"Community radio was new to South Africa and this was the first Muslim radio station in the country. We had to put a newsroom together the hard way. My job was to put down a structure in terms of what it needed to be. There was no template. It was all new to everyone," says Karaan.

With a newsroom structure in place, Karaan moved up to heading the production department. Again, she had to do an overhaul and ensure that effective working systems were introduced.

Facing Challenges

"It was about putting down a system. We now have formats for programs. I felt that I was doing all of the jobs from scratch and then handing it over," elaborates Karaan.

But there were other challenges too. As a woman given a public platform in a somewhat conservative but accommodating Muslim community, Karaan was running ahead of the pack.

"I was in trouble at weekly management board meetings for being too outspoken. That challenged people, also because I am a woman. I never felt discriminated against as a result of being a woman. It's just that the community has never had a woman in such a position and I was running at a faster pace," says Karaan.

"I became impatient with the structures around me. I told them that I'd quit if they didn't trust my ability. That put a stop to a lot of complaints."

Karaan has since ensured that the station has kept up with the demands of the modern media world. In 2002, she launched the station's website (www.vocfm.co.za ) and currently also works as its webmaster until "someone can be employed to take over."

"It was another one of those things where the opportunity came along and you didn't necessarily think it through. A youngster made the proposal and said he could [set up a website] cheaply. So we did it," says Karaan.

Staying in Tune

The website is a "news tool" which is updated three times daily, adds Karaan.

"If you want to know what's happening in the Muslim community in Cape Town, check out the website," she says.

The website has also led to a new audience as the South African community abroad tuned into the station via the Internet to stay in touch with home. It has up to three million hits a month, says Karaan, and has also led to a radio show that features interviews with South African Muslims in other parts of the world.

It's the local effect that the station has had in her community that intrigues Karaan.

Independent media monitors indicate that the station has up to 160,000 listeners in the Western Cape province where it broadcasts daily. Karaan says the station has "changed our community."

"We've laid a foundation for people to debate on an intellectual level and ordinary people are debating on a more informed level. We also immediately know the impact of the station. We keep the lines open and the community phones us with feedback. If they don't like something, they're quick to let you know," informs Karaan.

Looking Back, and Ahead

It's been a while since Karaan heard the first VOC broadcast and felt that she wanted to be "part of the immediacy of it." She remembers the first time she went on air she "had no idea what an advert break was and talked on for an hour."

She also remembers thinking that when she joined VOC she hadn't intended on sticking around for about a decade.

"When I joined VOC I didn't think I'd stay for so long. What's kept me there is that the job evolves. If it was boring I would quit. But there were always new challenges and you end up staying," she says.

"It's still fun. It gives me reason to get up in the morning. I feel I've earned my space. My opinion is respected and that gives you a sense of freedom but also responsibility. I'm still giving 150 percent of myself when I'm on the job."

Related Links:
Voice of the Cape

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