Radio is still the top tool for information among Afghans. According to the media directory of Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, there are 194 operational radio stations across the country. Community radios are based in rural areas and cover the people who live in a specific district or a small group of districts. Thus, these local radios broadcast in community languages and about local cultures. But there are radios that cover more than 20 provinces, out of a total of 34, through links and re-transmitting systems. For example, Arman FM is listened to mainly in Persian/Dari-speaking areas, while Arakozia is the same for Pashoon-based areas.
Radio is covering almost two-thirds of the population. People are tuned to radio especially in rural areas, but there are also urban audiences composed mainly of people tuned to the radio stations while driving their cars or they are passengers of taxis. The radio industry in Afghanistan is quite developed but still facing challenges. Afghanistan is a mountainous country; thus, FM radio is used but it covers small areas. AM and Shortwave are not so well known in Afghanistan, although the state-owned radio station is broadcasting in all 3 frequencies. Sustainability is still a challenge for radio stations, although there are few stations that are self-sustainable. Worth mentioning that self-sustainably is a big question now for radios due to Covid19.
Radios are broadcasting mainly music, but news, current affairs, sports, religion, social and political awareness programs are also part of the content. It is worth mentioning that there are unique radios in Afghanistan that only broadcast voice of people, the so-called Vox Pops. People are calling and their messages and sayings are automatically recorded. Then after some hours these recorded pieces are broadcast. Youths are calling the most, criticizing the government at both local and national level, sending various messages and even expressing their feelings to their beloved ones. Groups are made and transferring their messages through that radio stations. It is important to mention that in cities such as Kabul or Herat, both girls and boys contact shows by calling the radio stations on the phone, while in rural areas it is mostly boys. In the South and East of the country where security is a challenge, calls are less frequent than in the areas to the North and West, where security conditions are somehow better.
From a coverage perspective, radio covers almost all of Afghanistan, excluding some high mountainous areas or places that are very far from the control of the government. Thus, there are national, regional and local radios. Local radios could be defined as community radio in the country.
Radio Afghanistan, is one of the few national radio stations owned by the government. There are also private radio stations that cover almost all of the country. Some of the companies own a network of radio stations where the central radio is based in one of the big cities and the other stations are transmitting the programmes elsewhere in the country, sometimes alongside with local programmes.
In rural areas there are radio stations only focusing on religion. But almost all radio stations allocate a time for religion. Resalat Radio is one of the examples; it is based in the Kohistan district of the Kapisa province, 100 km North of Kabul. All contents are Islamic but with a temperate approach through the affiliation of university lecturers and religious scholars.
Radios mainly broadcast in the two common Persian/Dari and Pashto languages, but there are local/community radios that also broadcast in local languages. The state-owned radio has programmes in all languages that exist across the country, but its main languages are the two common ones.
Although accessing work based on ethnicity is not accepted by society, there are radio stations that are established on an ethnicity basis which is legal through the current laws of the country.
The Taliban occasionally run a mobile radio station by the name of Shariat Ghag (Voice of Sharia), mainly to recruit youths for their fighting lines. It was used for the first time in 2007 in the bordering areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After being off for some time, in 2018 it was used in the Ghazni province in central Afghanistan. The station was bombed by international forces.
ISIS also operated a radio station called Khelafat (Caliphate) in the Nangarhar provinces, in eastern Afghanistan at the border with Pakistan. The radio was also bombed by international forces in 2017. It is worth mentioning that both radios were broadcasting illegally.