Public access to radio as a news source is limited. In the 2016 FPU et al research, pro-government channels dominate, with Sham FM ranking first, but there are a couple of exceptions represented by Radio Fresh and Hawa Smart (respectively, 4th and 9th in the list of most followed radio channels).

Government-held areas

Syria’s own national broadcasting organisation was founded in 1946 but did not receive much in the way of government funds or attention until the early 1960s. Today, the Baathist-run Directorate-General of Radio and Television operates two radio stations in Arabic: Sawt al-Sha‘b and Idha‘at Dimashq (Radio Damascus), which is the main Arabic-language station and broadcasts from studios in Damascus, with content similar to that of Syria’s state-controlled press. The second station, Sawt al-Sha‘b (Voice of the People) started in 1978. In early 2007, private radio stations began broadcasting in the country after years of state monopoly. Currently, there are two state-run radio-stations and 12 private ones; Al-Madina FM was the first private radio station. Private radio stations can only apply for an entertainment license, therefore cannot transmit news or political content. Some private radios - such as Sawt Shabab, Radio Sham, Suriyatna - focus mainly on social, cultural and arts programmes.

Opposition-controlled territories

In general, the audience of Syrian independent radio stations is quite limited. The maintenance of the FM transmitters and towers is among the major technical problems for their sustainability. Apart from this, small radios can hardly compete with other bigger organisations and especially TV stations. It is no coincidence that community radios seems to have a deeper impact on the ground. Radio Fresh, based in Kafr Nabl (Idlib), engages with social activities on the ground that apparently contribute to increasing its strength. In November 2018, its founder, Raed Fares was shot dead with the reporter Hamud Junayd. No group has claimed responsibility for their killing, and Fares had been targeted by militants and government forces alike, but Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which was controlling the town at the time of the attack, had previously threatened and abducted the activist. In May 2019, after being hit by a barrel bomb, the radio facilities moved to the northern countryside of Idlib.

None of these independent media institutions are in fact registered as radios, though, but they are often registered as commercial and production companies in Turkey (almost all of the radios are based in Gaziantep or Istanbul), or as NGOs in Europe. In this sense, all of them have to be considered “pirate radios” broadcasting without a legal license. Nonetheless, since 2011, Syrian radio stations have gone through a gradual but constant process of institutionalisation and professionalisation. Of these, Hara is part of the Syrian Media Group, registered in Turkey and Hawa Smart is part of the SMART Network registered in Europe. Fresh is the only Syrian radio based inside Syria, which explains why it is not registered. Almost all the independent radios have their main offices outside Syria, even if a lot of stations have opened small offices inside the country, especially to better transmit their signals. Therefore there is the actual risk that they increasingly lose touch with the reality on the ground and with the audience inside the country.

Kurdish-majority zones

As for other media in Rojava, radio stations aligned with political parties have a higher impact and diffusion than independent ones. However, some Kurdish independent radio stations, such as Radio Arta and to a lesser extent Hevi and Welat can reach larger audiences than those radios lined up with political parties (Orkesh and Judy FM of PYD, or Rudaw Radio of KDP). In particular, according to an informal survey conducted by the Washington-based Navanti Group in September 2015 in Aleppo, Idlib and al-Hasaka governorates, Arta FM appears to be the most listened-to radio station in northern Syria, with a listener share of 69,4 percent in the Jazira region.