It went on air on 13 November 1995 as a regional radio station broadcasting in the metropolitan Istanbul area and its environs. It has hosted more than 1200 radio programmes, majority of which was produced by more than 1300 volunteers. As a rare example of a genuine community radio, 99% of its programmes are curated and presented by volunteers who “work” on a totally voluntary basis. Its radio programmes are highly diverse, ranging from ecology to economy, sociology to psychology, politics to philosophy, literature to poetry, science, history, archaeology, anthropology, fundamental rights and freedoms, and activism. Its music programmes introduce to its listeners very diverse genres and music cultures from different corners of the world, embracing a rich pluralism.

Its programmes dwell particularly on the future of the planet, global climate crisis, war and peace, struggle for rights, activism, and earthquake. Having ran every possible warning bell against the global climate crisis for many years, it has made pioneering efforts in this field through its broadcasts. Throughout its broadcasting history, it has encouraged people to take action against climate change. It has spearheaded the movements acting against climate change and defending climate justice in Turkey. Having aired live many demonstrations and actions, it increased the visibility of these movements. A great number of its radio hosts took active roles in organizing a rally in Istanbul in 2005 in parallel to the Global Day of Action rallies in other cities across the world, calling for the signing and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. As part of this global rally, the first of its kind on this topic, the Istanbul rally secured the second highest number of demonstrators across the world, right after London. In 2014, during the historic People’s Climate March held in New York with the gathering of 400,000 people from around the planet, the radio hosted a remarkable broadcast marathon. 

As a not-for-profit radio station, despite all the hardships it has continued its activities by preserving its full independence, without any affiliation to interest groups. It has always adhered to its principles of independence, diversity, and freedom of expression. In an effort to secure the sustainability of its independence, in 2004, it launched the project ‘Listener‘s Support’, ensuring the participation of its listeners in the collective efforts of its founders and volunteering programme hosts. In this way, thanks to the constant financial contribution – and intellectual input – from its listeners, it has become a permanent medium. It has been recognized in Turkey and internationally through 60 awards. The station continues its broadcasts 24/7, currently airing 142 programmes produced and presented by 239 radio hosts. 

The radio promotes independent music and supports local artists. Built collaborations between local civil society initiatives, universities and cultural institutions over the years. Fosters dialogue between different segments of the society through workshops, cultural events, festivals, exhibitions, and public forums.

Dear all,

A crazy idea, my late son Cem Madra, came up with 30 years ago, around which we somehow managed to gather 92 people, has come to fruition as a community radio – Açık Radyo, and is recognized by the International Hrant Dink Award this year.

This is the 61st award our radio and programmers have received over the years both nationally and internationally, and without a doubt the most precious one. I cannot find the words to describe how proud and happy I am to receive this honour on behalf of the entire radio team. 

For the past 29 years, with over 1400 programmers, 99% of whom ‘work’ on a voluntary basis,  Açık Radyo has been striving to bring the most pressing issues of the world and the country to its listeners through its news and commentary: It has been seeking to hold subtle conversations on the most burning issues across the continents and generations. 

Moreover, the radio has ventured into the mission of presenting people from all walks of life virtually all genres of music, sung in almost in all languages (even the ones that are now extinct),  and played with all types of known musical instruments, as well as the sounds, chatter and rattle of the living beings of the planet (wolves, birds, whales, fishes…).

Through all these sounds, tunes, thoughts, comments, poems, ballads, and folk songs, as an institution we make efforts to pass on must-be-told stories to our listeners, inform them to the extent possible, inspire them, and make them part of a collective that strives to make the world a better place.

We can indeed call this a “commons”. Just like forests, parks, gardens, libraries…(By the way, talking about libraries, on top of the already published 27 books derived from a thousand programmes our radio hosted on culture-music-literature-arts-anthropology-urbanism and similar topics, tomorrow will come out a new book, compiling the content of the cinema programmes hosted by our late programmer, film critic Cüneyt Cebenoyan. With this new book, we will further enrich the Açık Radyo library. Just wanted to break the news for you on this occasion).

In the manifesto of our radio published in the summer of 1995, we have declared that “It is imperative to undertake dignified action”.  The manifesto goes on as follows: “We do promise that we shall not formulate any solutions. In the best possible scenario, all we can do is try our best to find temporary remedies to the ‘incuriosity’ syndrome prevalent around the globe. It is not our desire to give you something; to the contrary, we wish to receive from you as much as possible. For, this is our collective project”.

Yes, since then, our Radio, has diligently strived to uphold the principle of independent broadcasting, and ensuring sustainability mainly thanks to its listeners’ individual support and sponsorship. To this end, 20 years ago we launched the Listener-Support Project. In the early days of this project, we hosted our dearest friend and programmer Hrant on the radio. Let’s recall how he described the radio in his own words: 

“What does Açık Radyo mean to me? I will give it a try to summarise in one sentence: It is the one and only shelter, the sole line of defence in Turkey which could preserve its integrity, aestheticize itself, and intentionally concentrate itself in a certain nook,

against the backdrop of a decadent intellectual landscape of the country. This is how I think of it. Right from its inception, through its landmark programmes, the countries and the masses it has reached out and embraced, its guests, its music and its culture, it stands for extraordinary rather than ordinary, yet at the same time normality. As far as I am concerned, it is the only venue where things are done in the way they should be done.”

(Let me also add that in an effort to honour the legacy of our dearest Hrant, and the Agos newspaper we inherited from him, in 2012 Açık Radyo opened a nook window for “Radyo Agos”, which continues to offer a fresh breeze for the past 12 years.)

Our overarching goal is to offer a humble contribution to the creation, preservation, and thriving of a free, democratic, egalitarian, and peaceful society.

Let’s take peace for example. Right from the very first day the radio went on air, we live broadcasted the “Sarajevo Diaries for months, featuring the true [insider] stories of civilians in Bosnia Herzegovina which was under relentless fire of snipers in those days. We took early stance against the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the Western countries led by the US, 17 months before the actual invasion. On 15 February 2003, during one of the largest anti-war protests of the history, our late friend, poet and activist Roni Margulies, live reported from London. And on 1 March [2003], we aired live the protesting sounds of tens of thousands of demonstrators who gathered in Kızılay Square [in Ankara] against the war and the parliamentary motion the deployment of US troops on Turkish soil for the invasion of Iraq. Regrettably, this war of aggression could not be prevented; in an effort to bring to account those responsible for the devastating war, a World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) was convened. We live broadcasted the historical Final Session of the tribunal held in Darphane-i Amire [the Imperial Mint in Istanbul] for three consecutive days.

In the ensuing years, we have spared no effort to continue broadcasting on this most vital issue. We have never let the “flag for peace” to “go of our hands” so to speak, neither in Turkey nor in the world.

In 2001, we launched the internet portal for Açık Radyo, and published a founding manifesto for this online domain, where we expressed our urge as follows: “to contemplate and prove that  freedom and democracy – the most fundamental values we must cherish – should not be merely seen as values, yet as vital elements for the continuation of our existence…” Featuring numerous podcasts, select articles and op-eds, translated pieces and commentaries, transcriptions of some of our broadcasts, letters from our listeners, carefully selected visuals, today, the Açık Radyo online portal has become a proper “digital showcase” reflecting the pioneering efforts of our radio in the digital domain.   

In late 2002, we did an in-depth interview with the renowned thinker and activist Noam Chomsky, where he noted how intellectuals of Turkey should serve as a source of inspiration for the West, in many aspects particularly in defending freedoms, given the absence of such practices in the Western culture:

In many ways, Turkey ought to be an inspiration for Western intellectuals. It's the only country I know where there's or that I can think of historically, in fact, where a substantial part of the class of intellectuals, writers, artists, journalists and others not only speak up for freedom of expression, say, but actually do something about it. And, they face constant threats and dangers. Where do you find somebody like Yashar Kemal, for example, a world renowned writer who's willing to speak up for freedom of speech and suffer for it? Can you find anyone like that in the West? Or take Ismail Besikci. I mean, here's a man who faced and endured 15-20 years in jail for telling the truth about atrocities that his own state was carrying out. Can you think of anyone in the West? And there's a whole list of them. A long list of writers, artists, journalists, people like parliamentarians, people like Leyla Zana and so on, who are not just talking about freedom of speech, but are constantly doing something about it, you know, day after day and facing real dangers. There's nothing like that in Western culture, for that matter, or in its whole history. Certainly not now.

Let’s turn to another issue: Earthquake. We need to acknowledge the fact in “a country of earthquakes”, Açık Radyo has undertaken special broadcasting mission on the topic, almost serving as “an earthquake radio station”.  In the aftermath of the Gölcük earthquake on 17 August 1999, as we overcame our initial shock of few hours, we quickly formed the Earthquake Communication Centre (ARDIM): We entirely changed our format, and for an uninterrupted period of two months, we functioned as “radio communication”, trying to act as a “bridge between needs and means”. Our main motto was: “No plastering of cracks!”. Our “Earthquake Radio” was “covered” by 12 international newspapers, BBC radio stations and TV channels, and became a major reference point. Our radio programme “Golden Hours”, dedicated to earthquake and disaster preparedness and relief, has been constantly on air for the past 24 years. As we were hit by major earthquakes with epicentre in Maraş on 6 February 2023, we have hosted daily programmes on the earthquake for several months. Most of our programmers have handed over their slots to “Golden Hours”. Some programmers still continue this practice today. 

Last but not least, the climate crisis! By all means, the most pressing issue of all times. As The Climate Book, edited by the young climate activist Greta Thunberg, puts it: “These crises are the biggest story in the world, and they must be spoken as far and wide as our voices can carry, and much further still.”

Since its inception, Açık Radyo has strived to tell this story, both through words and actions - in an exponential manner - and share it with the masses. We persistently followed and covered all climate summits held, starting from the Copenhagen summit. We did “surfing” on the great waves formed by swarming 400 thousand activists who gathered in New York’s Manhattan island [for the People’s Climate March].  There, we handed our microphone to a small kid holding the banner “I want to live when I grow up too!”.  We have never stopped holding our own banner: “Change the system, not the climate!”.

In autumn 2018, when the 15-year-old climate striker Greta started her “trailblazing” school strike, two days later we handed our microphone over to her, covered her strike action on our website, and kept watching her ever since. Two months later, when we met her in person during the climate summit in Poland, the climate activist gave the following statement to Açık Radyo: 

And last but not least, what is your message to the young people in Turkey? Because in Turkey there is a lot of young climate activists. And what would be your main message to them?

That you need to understand what is happening right now. We need to hold the older generations accountable for this mess they created and expect us to live with. And we need to make our voices heard and try to change, because our future is our plight.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

So, here we are [now]. For the past 28 years, we have been on an epic broadcasting journey spanning from the North Pole to the South Pole, from tropical rainforests to melting glaciers on snow-capped mountain peaks and right from there to the bottom of the deepest seas, from ancient forests ravaged by infernal wildfires to the beloved trees in Akbelen brutally chopped for the sake of extracting coal. If we are to put it in Greta’s words, “It's [high] time for all of us to tell this story and maybe even change its ending."

It is fair to say that our broadcasts have contributed to the making of some of the young climate activists in our country. A person who heard about the climate crisis for the first time on Açık Radyo at the age of 11, today makes regular interviews with numerous young climate activists across the world, joins climate protests at the forefront, sues politicians for their failure to take action, and closes their weekly radio programme with the following words, “take good care of yourselves, your loved ones, and our planet!”.

Here is another interesting and “historic” coincidence: In the aftermath of a fierce and terrifying summer full of wildfires, floods, and drought, at a time when our planet runs at full speed towards disasters of all sorts, as of today, on September 15th, millions of climate activists from thousands of cities around the globe are going on strike, demanding climate justice and putting an end to use of fossil fuels.

My last words. Climate carnage, devastating wars and conflicts, ever growing refugee crisis, our biggest “weapon of self-defence” democracy taking major blows in many places, all accompanied by a wave of hypocrisy, fraudulency, immorality, malignancy and lies, have turned our world into a nightmare. Against such a backdrop, Açık Radyo makes efforts to stay its course without any deviation. We come across with such disgusting things around us, one cannot help but cite our elders’ sigh “Some Decency Please!” [“EDEP Yahu!”]. But then we quickly gather ourselves and say ÖDEB instead, which [in Turkish] stands for: “Freedom, Democracy, Equality, Peace!” 

We take great pride in being recognized with this award. I accept the award on behalf of all programmers that dedicated efforts throughout the years as well as all my fellow colleagues, a great majority of whom is - at least one generation - younger than me.

Thanks a million, to all of you.

My heartfelt love, respect, and sincere regards to all former and new friends of Hrant. 

Happy birthday Hrant!

Ömer Madra, 15 September 2023