Cairo: “Good morning. Welcome to Kemet Radio: A station at the station.”
So rings a refreshing voice across the platform buzzing with chugging trains and a throng of commuters in the morning rush of the Cairo Underground Metro service.
The greeting launches the daily programming of the radio service that runs for 18 hours starting from 7 in the morning.
The broadcasting hit the airwaves of the metro service, which links the sprawling Egyptian capital, three months ago with a specific mission statement.
“The aim is to use the metro public address system to spread culture among the passengers and make them aware of their country’s history and traditions,” said Ahmad Meshal, the executive officer of the radio service told Gulf News.
The name of the radio station was deliberately chosen.
“Kemet is a hieroglyphic word meaning the black land, referring to the Nile soil,” he explained.
“Up to five million people use the Cairo metro every day, making it an important platform for spreading awareness through short programmes that do not exceed six minutes each, which is the usual interval between trains,” Meshal added.
The listings feature comical, cultural and historical programmes presented in simple terms and the Egyptian dialect.
They include items highlighting Egypt’s folk arts, cinema, cuisine, mini-dramas and economic development.
“The programmes are worked out in a way that takes into consideration the fact that metro riders belong to different classes with various educational backgrounds. Our programmes also suit different age groups.”
Meshal added that the radio also provides instructions on the proper use of the metro service, Cairo’s main means of public transport.
Since launched last October, broadcasting has been limited to the metro stations.
“We plan to make the transmission also available inside the trains,” Meshal said.
Kemet producers tend to avoid certain topics. “There is a triangle of taboos: sex, religion and politics,” he said.
“Our editorial policy excludes divisive issues,” said Tamer Shaalan, the co-founder of the radio.
“Our focus is on things that unite people. Our programmes celebrate Egypt’s identity, its rich diversity and history with the aim of boosting common sense and disseminating knowledge,” Shaalan told private newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“Given that millions use the metro every day, Kemet is not a mere radio. It is a national project.”
The service is currently available at stations on the second and third lines of the underground metro, built in 2005 and 2012, respectively.
Commuters of the older first line, stretching from Helwan in south Cairo to Al Marj in the suburban north, have yet to get access to the radio programmes due to technical problems.
The metro operator has cited efforts to overcome these problems.
“The agreement with Kemet Radio is good for two main reasons,” said Essam Munir, an official in the government company that operates the metro.
“First, the radio presents a contest that is amusing and educating to the metro riders. Second, it provides the possibility of making money through advertising,” he said without giving details.
The Underground service is the cheapest public transport in Egypt.
The journey costs one Egyptian pound (Dh0.2) compared to two on a public bus. Privately operated buses charge higher fares. Each metro train has two women-only carriages.
The government has recently disclosed a plan to increase the metro ticket price, saying that the service incurs an annual loss of around LE350 million.
It is not clear yet when the new fare will take effect or how much it will be.
For Sawsan, a schoolteacher, the subway station is not an ideal place to absorb educational information.
“You can’t listen to it amid noise that overwhelms most stations of the metro,” she told Gulf News.
“It has just added to the noise pollution.”
While balking at any suggestion for an increase in the metro ticket price, Hesham Ali, a regular commuter, is an admirer of the radio service.
“It presents useful information in an amusing way and a very short time. I have learnt a lot about Egyptian history and other things,” said the 48-year-old government employee, who usually rides the metro from Heliopolis in east Cairo to Attaba downtown.
“When I have time, I sometimes skip the train in order to listen to as many as possible of its programmes.”