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Feature 13 Dec 17

Online Radio Helps Serbia’s Independent Media Survive

Serbia's web radio service RadioAparat celebrated its first birthday recently, consolidating its importance as one of the country’s few independent media outlets. 

Siri Sollie

RadioAparat broadcasts 26 live programmes a week. Andrija Dinulovic to the right. Photo: Nemanja Knezevic/nk.rs

In Belgrade's Karadjordjeva street, at No 53, just over the road from where the notorious cultural hub Mikser House once stood, lies Kolektiv Gallery and Architects – a meeting point for urban architects who, this time last year, started transmitting radio programmes online alongside their usual architectural businesses.

The online radio station, www.radioaparat.com, broadcasts live and pre-recorded programmes 24/7. Initially, RadioAparat was the brainchild of just five people. But it has swiftly turned into a vibrant cultural community of more than 50 [mostly] volunteers, who are also involved with a variety of other local organisations.

“Other [Serbian] radio stations today do not have the ability to broadcast music and programs they would like to … we are the only radio station today that functions like this,” says 31-year-old Milos “Mimi” Dasic, who is one of the main show hosts at RadioAparat.

During its first year of existence, RadioAparat gained wide recognition and an international audience, as it dispersed the voices of Belgrade’s biggest music enthusiasts, as well those from the NGO sector.

According to Dasic, the station transmits 26 live programs every week. Twelve of the shows are usually musical programs, while 18 are fronted by various activists from the NGO sector, including staffers from the city magazine “Lice Ulice”. RadioAparat also covers a range of topics from cooking discussions to serious political panels.

“Belgrade really has a fantastic alternative scene – there is a very well-developed subculture. But, the fact is, not a single media [outlet] exists that acknowledges this scene,” says 42-year-old Zoran Dimitrovic, one of the driving forces behind RadioAparat, Kolektiv Gallery and Architects.

“RadioAparat is different … FM radio has turned into something – well, it is influenced by the state and under serious control,” he says.

Increasing censorship, which has constrained Serbian media outlets ever more tightly over the past couple of years, has seen many people who were working in the Belgrade media sector either fired from their positions or left their positions due to governmental influence over the content provided by various media channels.

Studio B, a Belgrade-based media outlet which is owned by Maxim Media D.O.O., serves as one example in which the whole news team essentially got replaced during 2015 and 2016.

One former radio personality from Studio B, Svetlana “Ceca” Djolovic, joined RadioAparat at its inception in November last year, and together with Dasic, she constitutes one of the only three employed radio hosts at RadioAparat.   

From East Manhattan to Savamala

Dimitrovic began to realise his passion in 2008. During his architectural studies in New York, he became an eager listener of online channel East Village Radio – a free live web programme established in East Manhattan in 2003.

Inspired by the New York radio station, Dimitrovic decided there was a niche in Belgrade for a similar idea. With the help of his urban architectural firm, Kolektiv Architects, he initiated the inception of RadioAparat – with the help of other media professionals such as Djolovic.

“It was more on the level of an experiment than some serious plan. Now we have serious programs and plans for the future – but in the beginning it was not really possible to foresee its course,” says Dimitrovic.

With only two microphones, one mixing console and two computer processors, RadioAparat still managed to get off the ground. 

“It is interesting, it is something that we made by ourselves … it was not planned, it was a trial project, and we did not expect for it to last a year,” Dimitrovic says. 

Since RadioAparat started broadcasting its shows in 2016, many people contacted the station on their own initiative, wanting to make their own shows, says one manager, 26-year-old Andrija Dinulovic.

“It has become a community,” he says.

Dasic told BIRN that the precise number of listeners is unclear due to the limited means by which to measure traffic. However, he says that they get around 1,000 online listeners daily. 

“And the number of listeners is expanding every day,” he adds.  

Although Kolektiv Gallery and RadioAparat stand firmly against commercial developments in the Savamala area, since the demolitions took place in April 2016, it has become filled with expensive nightclubs, bars and cafes.

Cultural institutions such as the former Mikser House and Stab Gallery, close to Branko’s Bidge, which represent local entrepreneurial initiatives, are no longer active. What was once Mikser House is now a nightclub called “Hype”. RadioAparat’s first birthday challenged the more recent currents, managing to stay afloat despite the atmosphere.  

Dimitrovic says they are concerned about developments in the area and he and his peers have lost vital players, such as Mikser House, when it comes to efforts to accommodate local culture.

However, he says they are not too discouraged yet.

“We will keep doing our work and we will we see in time whether we will look for a new working space,” says Dimitrovic. 

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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