Held Hostage: Radio as a Lifeline


During my tenure here on the Radio 2020 Blog, I have looked at technology, community, content, and other aspects of the radio ecosystem. I have talked at several points about how fundamental radio was to us in New Orleans after the levee failure of 2005. Now I want to show you radio as a lifeline.

Sarah Hampson of the Canadian Globe and Mail brings us the story of a journalist imprisoned and how radio was his anchor. Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent to Gaza City, had reported on 29 journalist kidnappings during his three year tenure in the Middle East. On the eve of his own departure, he became the 30th. On March 12, 2007, he was taken hostage by the militant group known as The Army of Islam.

Over the next 114 days, it was a battle to stay sane, especially as he knew that the BBC does not pay ransoms. Radio was what kept him going:

For his mind, his salvation came in the form of a radio, and for his body, in French fries and boiled water.

Locked in a small room, he had only a chair and a sagging thin bed. He told time by the passage of the sun and calls to prayer at a local mosque. The one thing he insisted his captors give him was a radio.

“I pushed for it every day, and argued and kept at it whenever I thought they would bear listening to me. Maybe they felt sorry for me, or maybe they were sick of hearing about a radio or maybe they did it as an act of kindness. But anyway, at pretty much my lowest moment, they appeared with this radio and that changed everything,” the 45-year-old says.

On it, he heard of the demonstrations, vigils and other efforts to gain his release. “To know that the outside world is almost inexplicably rallying to your cause is amazing and difficult to quite understand. It’s overwhelming to be the subject of that sort of focus of goodwill.”

It is highly doubtful that an iPod or laptop would have been allowed by his captors. Likewise any communications device, be it cell phone or other, would have been confiscated. Radio, a medium seen as harmless, became a conduit to the world he had been taken from. Through it tales from the outside world were able to keep the flame of hope alive during circumstances that would otherwise crush most people.

To think that these invisible waves that permeate the air around us can be a lifeline to a man imprisoned is nothing short of awe inspiring.


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