Kabul Cosmopolitan? Radio Broadcasting and Afghan Connectivity to the World, 1960-1979

By Mejgan Massoumi
Submitted to Session P4949 (Networks of Circulation and the Exchange of Ideas in Modern Afghanistan, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Inspired by dynamic flows of people and ideas through Afghanistan and the rich history of its capital city, Kabul, as an important site of cultural production and intercultural exchange, my research brings attention to the history of the radio as a medium that connected Afghans to a wider transnational network in the latter half of the 20th century. In so doing, it highlights ways in which popular culture functioned as a site where significant patterns of contemporary movement, regional exchange and connectivity intersect.

Although radio broadcasting in Afghanistan began in the early 1920’s with the purchase of two broadcasting systems that functioned out of Kabul and Qandahar, it was not until the acquisition of German transmitters in the early 1960’s that a national radio station was established. For the first time, local broadcasters could offer their listeners programming on politics, daily news including world events, society, arts and culture, and music featuring artists in and beyond Afghanistan. The study of the radio allows insight into the diverse forms of content material as well as the broad range of participants that transcended gender, ethnic and age divisions. I argue that the radio provided a space, in which Afghans showcased their cosmopolitan sensibilities and actively engaged in global currents as well as the changing social and political dynamics within the country throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.  

In addition to investigating the transnational flow of cultural ideas through the radio, this paper deliberates on how this technology allowed for expressions of social and cultural resistance and encouraged processes of radical deliberation. Music played a significant role in allowing for these acts of implicit defiance to be projected to the wider Afghan public. As the shifting landscapes of revolution and counterrevolution continued to impact the country throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, these expressions serve as important frameworks for understanding how Afghans both experienced and understood themselves as well as others. Sources for this paper are drawn from sound recordings, newspapers and other print media, memoirs, historical photographs and a collection of interviews with employees of Radio Afghanistan.