Radio waves have lately been sweeping Pakistan's troubled Balochistan province, playing hip tunes and holding at bay political turmoil, raging militancy, a separatist movement and trouble on the border with Afghanistan.
A radio boom has overtaken the entire valley over the past few months, thanks to two FM stations. Although there are no clear estimates or market surveys, the number of radio listeners has increased tremendously.
Amidst fears that books and radio were two rapidly fading mediums that continuously failed to attract Balochistan's youth, comes the FM culture that has dramatically changed these perceptions, says The Daily Times in a special report.
The boom acts as a balm for youth trying to reach out to the world of music. This has been made possible by the two FM stations not airing anything remotely political.
Utterly oblivious to sensitive subjects like politics and religion, these two stations are engaged in entertaining their listeners with hip tunes from assorted genres.
"In a largely uneducated society, where entertainment is taboo and music is 'haraam' (not permissible), the FM stations, where education and information go hand in hand, have come as a pleasant surprise for the people of Balochistan," said Rubina Rahim, Sachal 105 Station Director.
Walk inside a swanky bookshop, a drug store or a restaurant in the Balochistan capital and the visitor immediately notices the FM mania that has come over the valley.
At present, only two FM radio stations are operating in Quetta. The government-controlled FM 101, located inside the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) compound, was the first to start its transmission about two years ago.
After nine months of trial transmission, a private station, Sachal 105, run by the Sachal Communication Group, became the second FM radio station.
Its service was regularised on September 20, 2006, and is just four months old.
Though controlled by the government, Tanveer Iqbal, the manager of FM 101, says FM 101 is very different from Radio Pakistan in terms of censorship. "We try to preach love and harmony. Our RJs observe self-censorship. There are no government dictations as to what sort of songs we can and can't play."
"On radio, there is no artificiality. The language used is a peculiar blend of English and Urdu, which is the one spoken colloquially. This frank and gracious lingo is easily digestible for listeners and makes FM radio different from traditional radio," she says.
Enthused by listeners' response, Tanveer argues that Quetta and the rest of Balochistan are very different from the image people living outside have about the province.
She said when the FM station began looking for talent in Quetta while launching Sachal it was surprised to see the huge number of young men and women who turned up for the auditions for RJs.
"There is no lack of talent and enthusiasm among the youth of Balochistan, just a shortage of opportunities that bars them from employing their full potential," she says.
"There is just no outlet for young men and women in Quetta. They don't know what to do, so they end up being exploited either by religious or nationalist elements for subversive activities."
The FM radio stations in Balochistan are also gaining popularity for the wide coverage given to regional languages. For instance, Sachal 105 airs programmes, most of them musical, in seven languages. These are Urdu, English, Balochi, Pashtoo, Bravi, Persian and Sindhi. Though FM 101 airs songs in several languages, its programmes are presented solely in Urdu.
FM 101 is on the air 23 hours a day, while Sachal 105 broadcasts for 18 hours. The RJs at both these stations, both young men and women, are mostly students from the universities of Balochistan.
While these FM stations are gaining tremendous popularity among all listeners, the management of the privately owned Sachal 105 says the biggest problem is a shortage of advertisers, cutting the station's revenue generation.
"Quetta has no large public or private companies at all. People love to listen to music, but they prefer to advertise their products on cable television or in the local newspapers," says Rahim.