It attracts the ear, pleases the soul, enriches the mind, and is beloved of adults and children alike. It is the Egyptian Radio, which has developed over 75 years through the remarkable efforts of writers, presenters and artists to become the iconic voice we know today.
Watani talked to Ramzi Megahed, head of the Drama Network of the General Radio Programme, to learn about the network and its ability to stand up to the fierce competition posed by satellite channels and the Internet.
Megahed graduated from Cairo University in 1978 with a degree in mass communications. “I chose that rather than media studies because I hoped to embody people’s real lives through drama,” Megahed said.
“Ever since I was a child my favourite hobby was reading. I have read English, Russian, American and Greek literature.”
How did you come to join Egyptian Radio?
After graduation I went job hunting. Both television and radio announced vacancies for people who had studied radio or television direction or graduates from the Higher Institute for Theatre Arts and the Higher Institute for Cinema. I passed several difficult tests and was chosen, together with 15 others, from among some 7,000 applicants for the jobs. The 15 of us represented the second generation of directors in Egyptian Radio.
After you have been there for seven years, a special committee writes a report on each director mentioning his achievements and distinguishing works. If the committee writes a good report on a director, he or she is allowed to direct short dramas. To direct a long one you have to work for 15 years.
What do you think about the previous generation of directors?
These directors such as Youssef al-Hattab, Sayed Bedair, Mustafa Abu-Hatab, Ali Eissa, Mohamed Elwan, and Mohamed Mahmoud Shabaan (Baba Sharo), established the radio and set up a system for it. They had perfect experience and a lot of knowledge.
What about the current generation?
There are some people working in this field who have not studied it at all. We were a generation that had teachers and leaders, whereas the current one rejects the idea of learning from others who are more experienced. They like to reach the top very quickly; never mind proper training or experience. I can remember when we had to study every single detail in a work before proceeding to direct it, and the meetings we frequently held with the authors to exchange points of view.
What makes a successful director?
An efficient director needs to be good reader; study music; know about the general sciences; focus on reading Arabic and international literature; be must be creative, sensitive, honest, and faithful to his work and mission; and he must be a good leader.
Are the days of radio over? Is it losing out to the audiovisual media?
Modern means of communication, however developed, can never rule out radio. There has been continuous competition between radio and television since television began in Egypt in 1960, and the competition has become even harder with the advent of the Internet. Some people thought television would rule out radio, but this never happened. Every human being has two important senses: sight and hearing. Television addresses mainly with sight, whereas radio—through hearing—tackles the imagination and works on widening it. And if you think other means of mass communication can exclude radio just look at how young people use headsets these days. Lots of listeners integrate radio with satellite and the Internet.