Radio used to help Jordanians follow World Cup

Ingenuity and media entrepreneurship, helped out by technological changes, provided a rare opportunity for many Jordanians to follow their favorite teams vying for the World Cup.

For the second time in eight years, football fans in Jordan were denied the pleasure of watching the World Cup this year. For sure the games were available to Jordanians, but with a fee. In order to watch the games, you needed to have a satellite dish as well as a special card to be purchased from Al Jazeera Sports Channel, which had bought the exclusive rights for the games to the Arab world. Some relief was provided by Jordan’s crown prince in the form of huge screens that were erected in major locations throughout the country. Anyone who was willing to go to a restaurant or other public locations that served drinks, food and water pipes were also able to watch the games.

Nevertheless, a large number of Jordanian fans were left without the ability to follow the games.

In this vacuum for terrestrial broadcasting, a local radio station in Jordan, Radio al Balad, stepped in and began broadcasting on radio the commentary of the games. Within a short time, the station enjoyed a huge spike in audience, with taxi drivers, policemen, shoppers at local supermarkets and of course individuals and groups who have no access to the restricted broadcasts. Some tried some ingenious creativity, looking for international broadcasts of the games, some used broadcasts from Israel and some European countries to watch the game, putting the TV on mute and listening to the commentary from the local radio station. A photo sent by a group of youth watching the game showed them using a cell phone connected to big speakers to hear the commentary while watching the game on TV from a non-Al Jazeera station that doesn’t require payment.

The radio broadcasts of the games were short-lived, as lawyers for Al Jazeera Sports visited the radio station and insisted on an immediate stoppage of the broadcasts. Station Manager Mohammad Abu Arqoub presented the lawyer with numerous emails and faxes to Al Jazeera managers in Doha months before without a positive or a negative answer.

Without the Al Jazeera commentary and with a hungry Jordanian audience wanting to follow the games, station owners kept on looking for an alternative. Finally one was found. A radio station in Ramallah, Palestine, had concocted its own way of beating the system. Radio Ajyal, a leading commercial station, had created a hybrid of sorts. They succeeded in obtaining the audio track of the games from South Africa and they found an enterprising sports journalists, Ali Abu Qeis, to watch the games and comment on them from their Ramallah studios with the mixed sounds of the south African stadiums. After a few calls, the Palestinian station agreed to have their commentary broadcast in Jordan. Technicians in Amman’s Wadi Saqra were unable to pick up the Palestinian radio signal but succeeded in securing the internet signal. After missing a few games because of the Al Jazeera denial, Jordanians were again able to follow World Cup games and will be able to do so until the final game.

Only one problem remains — the South Africa to Palestine to Jordan connection meant that the broadcasted games on radio in Amman were about three minutes late, meaning anyone wishing to watch the games on TV and hear the commentary on radio would have to wait about three minutes after seeing a score to hear the word gooooooooooooool.