Iraqi radio was established in 1930. The interest of the Iraqi ruling elites for radio dates back to King Ghazi, who established Radio Zuhoor in 1937. Way before the military rule of the likes of Qasim, Saddam and Jamal Abdun-Naser in Egypt, radio stations were already conceived as platforms to launch tirades against regional rivals and King Ghazi used to call for the annexation of Kuwait on the frequencies of Radio Zuhoor (Saddam echoed him on Republic of Iraq Radio ahead of the Gulf War). Before the fall of the monarchy (1958), the radio airwaves were employed for a proper war of words between Naser and the Western-backed Baghdad Alliance, with the Egyptian iconic leader calling for the toppling of the Iraqi king on Sawt al-Arab (Voice of the Arabs) radio and Baghdad hitting back by jamming the Egyptian station and launching a rival project called Sawt al-Haqiqah (Voice of Truth).
In the '80s, under Saddam, "Iraq used to possess a very impressive array of powerful transmitters and modern antennas for both domestic and external broadcasting, nearly all of which was destroyed in the Gulf War," writes Finnish broadcast journalist and DXing expert Mika Makelainen. In light of this legacy of technologically advanced self-reliance, it is worth noting that, nowadays, most of the successful radio stations are foreign-backed initiatives: According to the aforementioned IREX survey (2012), US-funded Radio Sawa Iraq is the most listened radio station in Iraq on a weekly basis, followed by Baghdad Radio and another US-backed project, Radio Nawa. Another quite successful initiative is Basra-based Al-Mirbad, which has received British and American funding. It is the largest BBC Media Action project in Iraq and, according to BBC Action 2013 figures, boasts a weekly listenership of 1.7 million as "the most listened-to local radio station in southern Iraq and arguably the only independent public service radio station in the country."
Under the mission of creating a Western-styled public service, there is a great number of foreign radio and TV broadcasters targeting Iraqi audiences (BBC, Paris-based Monte Carlo Doualiya radio, US-backed Al-Hurra TV and Radio Free Iraq among others). Many of them can be listened via local relays. Since 2003, according to US Congress figures, the American NGO that operates Al-Hurra and Radio Sawa, the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN), has been the beneficiary of approximately $870m for all of its projects across the Middle East; MBN's Director of Communications Deirdre Kline told BBC Action that around 14 percent of this budget has been spent on Iraqi radio and television. Such an investment is partially driven by soft power calculations that preceded the US invasion and still pursue the goal of moulding a Western-friendly public opinion; before the arrival of satellite TV, clandestine radio airwaves were the only access to the outer world for Iraqis and Washington was fully aware of that when supporting the establishment of Radio Free Iraq in Prague in 1998, or that of Radio al-Mustaqbal (Future Radio) in 1996, the broadcasting arm of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Accord (INA). The major Iraqi actors who had interests in the downfall of the Baathist regime, namely the Kurds and the Shia Islamist parties, also placed their bets on radio guerrilla. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Voice of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)'s Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan and the PUK's Voice of the People of Kurdistan were only some examples.
Today, in the context of visual media, radio has clearly lost its pivotal role: 35.1 percent of Iraqi households possess a radio, lagging consistently behind satellite TV (97.3 percent) and Internet (50.4 percent), according to the Gallup-BBG 2014 report; 19.7 percent of the Iraqi respondents reported using the radio for news weekly , in comparison with 92.1 percent using the television for the same purpose. The importance of radio in delivering news is still significant, but its use is most common among men, better-educated Iraqis and Kurds, turning it into a sort of niche media.
Other noteworthy radio stations include the longstanding state-run Republic of Iraq Radio, the private Baghdad-based Voice of Iraq, the private talk radio Radio Dijla, whose studios are also in the capital (Dijla is the Arabic name for the Tigris river) and Sumer FM, an affiliate of As-Sumaria TV. A collective of Mosul exiles has recently set up Al-Ghad radio station to reach people in their IS-controlled city and facilitate communications between those who are still trapped there.