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Detector Media will tell stories of three Ukrainian media outlets that have won grants from the Stiykist’ Program, supported by East Europe Foundation in a consortium of nongovernmental organizations led by ERIM and funded by the European Union. Main characters of these stories shared with us how their local media have withstood the full-scale war and offered their audiences a new and much-needed product. Let’s start with Radio Nakypilo.

When you listen to Nakypilo, you immediately think of the indomitable city of Kharkiv. In over 18 months of full-scale war, the Radio Nakypilo team completely reset their online portal, almost doubled the share of their original creative content and – attention! – after a license ‘quest’ launched FM broadcasting, ousting the Russians from FM frequencies which were used to intimidate listeners in the Kharkiv region. Radio Nakypilo Director Yevhen Streltsov – since recently known as Udovychenko – told Detector Media why the Nakypilo media group dreamed of launching a radio station, how the radio station has changed in a year and a half and how it has managed to preserve its old values in a new environment.

October 2023 will mark one year since relaunching Radio Nakypilo. Yevhen, tell us why you had to restart and how your project has changed since the outbreak of full-scale war.

– In November 2021, we launched the radio station, which broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week online with support of the UCBI program (the United States Agency for International Development's “Building Public Trust” project – Detector Media). The station featured news, programs, and music from Kharkiv musicians. This is how we worked until the full-scale Russian invasion.

On February 24, 2022, we realized this radio station format was rendered irrelevant because many songs were played in the Russian language, even though the music composers were pro-Ukrainian. We could not continue other operations here and now, so we suspended broadcasting and thought about what would happen next. It took us a month of watching the situation and deciding what to do. In early April, we started releasing news digests and some programs. In June 2022, we restarted the radio station online.

We preserved our core team. As a result of team brainstorming, we decided to broadcast Ukrainian songs exclusively, translated into English and German, or any other language but Russian. Then we went on to consider the new radio format, what it would look like. Until February 2023, Radio Nakypilo rebranding was supported by the Nakypilo media group. Staff was paid minimum wages.

We engaged international partners about our plans to restart in October 2022. It turned out the online format was great for us, but not interesting enough for our partners to support the business relaunch. Negotiations lasted several months, and in the end, it became clear that the best way was relentless ambition. Focus on online, but also aspire to launch FM radio broadcasting. Since August of last year, we have been working on both ideas.

On October 3, 2022, we relaunched online. We created a separate website on the Nakypilo subdomain – radio.nakypilo.ua.

For several months, I studied the possibilities of launching FM broadcasting. During martial law, the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting in Ukraine suspended all competitions to grant broadcast licenses. You can get a temporary permit; but, only if you already had a license, and we didn’t.

●      Read also: Yevhen Udovychenko, Radio Nakypilo: We won't survive without grants. We do not do advertising during the war as a matter of principle

Our international partners helped us find a solution. We found a company with a license, re-registered it and then received broadcasting permits. In December 2022, we began operating at a frequency of 92.2 MHz. At first, we broadcast in Kharkiv and to communities within a radius of 40 kilometers, and since the end of March in de-occupied Balakliya and Blyzniuky (97.5 and 107.5 FM, respectively Detector Media).

It was a challenge to get to the point where we could broadcast in FM.

We have been going for six months. This is the result of the work of dozens of people who advised and shared contacts and experience. It is no exaggeration to say that this is an unprecedented story, because it was done quickly and efficiently thanks to good advice and because Ukrainian government agencies met us halfway. Otherwise, everything would have remained only in my head and on paper.

●      Read also: How to return Ukrainian media to the liberated territories

– “Some time ago, the occupiers’ propaganda radio used to reach Kharkiv from Russian Belgorod on this wave,” you told Suspilne about the frequency you took over. What exactly did the Russians broadcast to Kharkiv residents? How was this possible in the wartime?

– The issue with radio broadcasting in Kharkiv is not a recent one. For years, both in the 2000s and when Hennadii Kernes was mayor of Kharkiv and Viktor Yanukovych was President, local media were destroyed. Before that, there was a media war between the business groups of Kernes and Avakov. Large radio corporations were gradually replacing local radio stations. As a result, in the mid-2010s, there was no local radio in Kharkiv. The only local radio station was shut down in 2014. It was Nova Khvylia (New Wave). I’m not counting Ukrainian Radio, a [nationwide] radio station renowned for its large-scale projects. As we are talking about local private initiatives, there was no local radio in Kharkiv.

My colleagues and I at Nakypilo media group always dreamt about a radio station. We had been discussing the idea since 2015-16. Moreover, Kharkiv has a distinctive radio history. First, Ukrainian radio was born in Kharkiv. Secondly, in the nineties and noughties, there were dozens of local stations in Kharkiv that produced unique content, and there were many live broadcasts. Many of our media team worked at these radio stations.

It was our dream to launch a radio station.

When I studied the FM market last year for the restart, it became clear that this was an important thing. Why? Because right now, more than 20 Russian stations are reaching Kharkiv region from the north, from the aggressor country of Russia. All of them are propaganda stations. These are not neutral stations: they tell us that Ukraine does not exist, that the Ukrainian Army should surrender, and spread fake news. So, we resolved to launch FM.

Until December 12, 2022, even during the blackouts in the city, Radio Zhizn (Life) was broadcasting at the frequency of 92.2 MHz, where we are broadcasting now. This station’s slogan used to be “I will kill you”. You might drive in your car and read this line on your car stereo.

For years, the Russians have been preparing for an attack, not only military, but also informational.

They broke all the rules. They installed powerful transmitters, and after the invasion began, they seized the frequencies of Kharkiv radio stations. For example, they broadcast on 106.6 FM, where there was a station called Business Radio, which belonged to Simon TV and Radio Company. They simply seized this frequency because the station had not been broadcasting for some time.

The same story happened with 92.2 FM. On December 12, 2022, it so happened that we came on this frequency and jammed their signal. Judging by their reaction in the telegram channel, they did not like it. They tried to broadcast on 92.2 FM for some time, and then left and ran from one frequency to another. That is, we fulfilled one of our main tasks: the Russians stopped broadcasting on this frequency.

– To summarize: what were the biggest challenges you faced during the restart? You described the first one: the FM license. What were other difficulties?

– The second challenge is funding. Fortunately, the Nakypilo media group had some funds to support the radio for certain time, yet they were running out of money. It was not easy to find support. We got it through cooperation with East Europe Foundation’s Stiykist’ Programme. We worked together for about six months. It was a short-lived but great support for our team, which allowed us to finally understand our strengths and capabilities and make a full-fledged large-scale online restart.

Support from East Europe Foundation helped to provide honoraria for the radio's editorial staff and program authors. This is a total of 15 people. During our cooperation with the Foundation, we have produced about 450 newscasts, 17 audio blogs, 53 interviews, 26 audio reports, and more than 110 posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram. Cooperation with East Europe Foundation was one of the key impetuses for the further development of Radio Nakypilo.

Another challenge, of course, is to keep the team together. It is clear that some of us had to leave Kharkiv, some even left the country. But now the team is growing rapidly, and there are twenty-five of us. These are ten authors that produce content of the programs that come out weekly or several times a week. These are the authors of the live broadcasts that we launched in March this year with the support of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. And this is the editorial team: the editor-in-chief, the production editor, the music editor, two sound engineers, an SMM manager, a content manager, a news anchor, and a journalist in Kharkiv who goes “into the field”, records comments, makes audio reports, and writes for the radio’s website. These people are great, they are professionals and are one hundred percent committed to doing their job.

– In March 2023, after you launched your FM station, you described its format as ‘music and information’, with a 75 to 25 percent ratio of music to information content. Did you manage to increase the share of information programs as planned?

– Our format is still ‘music and information’ radio, and I think the share is about 60% music and 40% other content. As I said, we recently added live broadcasts three times a day 50 minutes each. This has really revitalized our broadcasting. We invite interesting guests to the air and discuss what is happening here and now in both Kharkiv city and region. If something extremely important – scary, unpleasant, terrible, or beautiful – happens in our country, we also talk about it. Of course, we have talked and will continue to talk about the Kakhovka Dam disaster. As for the programs, we keep on adding new content.

– Tell us more about the programs. How did you choose the content for the restart? Which programs disappeared and which ones appeared?

– Of those that were produced before February 24, we preserved only some. There are various reasons for this: some authors are in the army, some are volunteering, others don’t have time. As for the new programs, there is an interesting story. In fact, I can say without unnecessary pathos 😊 that I have gathered the best authors of Kharkiv.

Everyone in Kharkiv who can produce high-quality audio content works for Radio Nakypilo.

For example, Heroes of Kharkiv, a program by Volodymyr Noskov and Tetiana Fedorkova. Volodymyr Noskov is a well-known Kharkiv radio journalist who worked for Radio Liberty. Tetiana Fedorkova is the editor-in-chief of the Mediaport publication. Last summer, they launched this program as a podcast. At the same time, Ania Hubanova and Dima Tretiak from Oleh Kadanov's Culture Shock Volunteer Hub launched the Culture Podcast. I listened to these programs and really wanted them to broadcast them on our air. And so it happened.

In addition, we have audio reports called Derzhprom Station by Mariia Malevska and Oleksandr Brynza. These are hero journalists who saw the worst that was happening in Kharkiv with their own eyes and covered it. In the program, they tell stories from the de-occupied parts of Kharkiv region, travel to the frontline over and over again and talk to the military.

We have preserved the program Musical Bla-Bla-Bla – conversations with cult Kharkiv and Ukrainian musicians. We launched the program Laugh or Cry. These are two programs by Oleksandr Serdiuk, one of the co-founders of the Gorobchyk (Little Sparrow) absurdity theater. In the program Laugh or Cry Oleksandr and stand-up comedians discuss what is happening in the country and talk about humor during the war.

The program 5 Minute Psychotherapy by Nataliia Zavhorodnia, psychotherapist, is continued as well. The Program talks about how to respond to traumatic events.

In the Voices of Our City program, we talk to those who are bringing victory closer in Kharkiv. First, these are our defenders, volunteers, cultural and public figures who make Kharkiv a better place.

We have a joint program with the Kharkiv Literary Museum called Literary Museum on Literary Museum. My colleague Philip Dykan talks to the museum guests and famous writers. He is an anchor in the guest studio program called Kharkiv Stories, where he talks about the past, present, and future of Kharkiv.

The Unread program by Alika Pikhtereva continues to come out. She reads Ukrainian classics, chapter by chapter. Just recently, for instance, she has finished a book by Mike Johansen, and before that she read Serhii Zhadan. Alika conducts polls among her listeners on social media to choose what to read next.

– You said that you are already planning new programs. Tell us more about them.

– We want to launch Audio Reports – investigations of Russian war crimes in the Kharkiv region. Another program should be about soldier rehabilitation after war injuries. Another one will tell stories of women who serve in the military or volunteer. We expect to release the Public Talk program, where the authors will analyze Russian fakes spread by Telegram channels. We also plan to work with the Kharkiv Puppet Theater. We are currently holding preliminary talks to launch audio performances. They do incredible things, and it’s worth recording them and letting people listen to them.

We hope to launch a program with our colleagues from the Liuk media about how the community can influence the authorities. For example, if they plan to rename a street, how can I participate in this? Or how the community can react against unwanted housing development.

From the very beginning, we focused on the situation in Kharkiv city and region. This is very important for us because, as I said, there are no local radio stations. And those who broadcast in Kharkiv from Kyiv – with all due respect – do not highlight all the details and problems in the region.

– You said that you focus on listeners. Do you have a clear target audience profile?

– Online and FM have completely different audiences. Online, we see our player statistics, social media statistics. It is clear who is listening to us. Mostly not Kharkovites: 65% of our audience are people who do not come from Kharkiv originally. Age: 25-35 years old primarily, as well as 18-25 years old. We have listeners in Kyiv, Lviv, and abroad, I think those are mostly people from Kharkiv.

As for FM, unfortunately, there is no research going on now. We are focused on the fact that we are listened to in cars, as well as across the Kharkiv region. In the region, for various reasons, a radio station may be the main source of information. We are facing the challenge how to reach out to the community and understand in detail who listens to us on FM. Soon, we will focus on this. We intend to conduct in-depth interviews.

– How do you measure your impact on both online audience and FM listeners? How do you get feedback from them and what kind of feedback struck you?

– There are a few things here. I often address our audience on Facebook. When I wrote about the launch of our FM broadcasting, hundreds of people commented on it and reposted this news. This reaction shows that people really want to have a local radio.

People email us, direct message us on Instagram, and tag us in Tiktok. They ask what songs were played on the radio, and write their own recommendations. In general, they respond very lively to posts on social media that are directly or indirectly related to our content.

●      Read also: Kharkiv’s Nakypilo: We know our main audience fairly well

Recently, they sent me a link to a video in TikTok. The guy in the car (as far as I understand, not even a Kharkovite by origin) says: “Look. I found a radio station 92.2 FM, it’s called Radio Nakypilo. I listened to it for ten minutes, and there was not a single Vanka-Vstanka (a traditional Russian roly-poly doll – a translator’s note) song.” And then he makes this oooooh – sound of satisfaction. We even laughed that we would now have an unofficial slogan: “Radio Nakypilo. Without Vanka-Vstanka”. Many of our listeners react like that.

Another beautiful moment was when Jamala reposted our Instagram post about how Crimea was Russified.

– What are the top priorities for you today?

– Achieve sustainability. This may sound trite and perhaps even arrogant considering the war and Russian aggression. But to move forward such a huge ship as Radio Nakypilo, we need to look at what’s going to happen in the next three months, six months, a year, or better two or three years. So now my task as a radio director is to find institutional support. So that my team and I can hold a strategic session, think about who we are now and who we will be in the future, how we will respond to challenges, and move on.

●      Read also: Despite blackouts, thefts, shelling: up to a dozen radio stations returned to liberated Kharkiv and Kherson

I want to build a commercial department. Yes, there is no advertising on the air right now, only the most urgent, social issues are raised. We don’t run commercials, we don’t want to, and I will do everything to make sure that we don’t have traditional advertising. I want to work with the commercial department, which will be looking for advertising partners who are ready for native advertising. The image of our radio station is such that we simply cannot use traditional methods of earning money.

We launched the radio station primarily to fill the information void in both Kharkiv city and the region. We did not think about money.

Yes, in the medium or long term, we plan to make money. Today, we are grateful to our international and domestic partners for their support. Yet, the radio cannot survive relying solely on donor’s funding. We need to become financially viable.

We offer Kharkiv advertisers to take a new approach: posts on social media or on the website, other content that will be as organic as possible, for our listeners and readers. I think in a few months we will focus on this.

– How can the status of a nongovernmental organization help to ensure sustainable funding for independent media?

– Radio Nakypilo does not conduct commercial activities. We have no advertising or other paid projects, only social promos. This is due to our mission: to convey a well-balanced, verified information about events in Kharkiv city and region, and to disseminate aesthetic content in Ukrainian-language, Ukraine-centered. This type of content is sorely lacking in our region.

We don’t want to go classical way, filling the ether with information about drops for heart and things like that. We respect and understand the way other stations have monetized over the past decades in Ukraine, but this is not our way. This model is illogical in view of our station concept. In the medium term, our goal is to create materials that will be natural in content for our audience.

Our nongovernmental organization plays a vitally important role. Our statutory activities fully coincide with our mission. Our international and Ukrainian partners understand and respect the mission of our NGO and our aspirations, and we are grateful for their support. Therefore, in the current environment, partnership with donors is key for us. Without it, our activities would be impossible.

– How can you remain independent, professional, truthful, and preserve your values in the face of war? Or do they need to be reconsidered? How do you do it?

– Everyone has their own unique situation. Did we manage to preserve our values? Yes, we did. Despite all the difficulties that exist because of Russia’s attack on our country, despite other factors.

In May, your colleagues asked whether martial law had affected self-censorship. Back then I said that nothing had changed globally. The only thing is that we would not comment on the activity of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. Everything else is the same as before: we allow ourselves to criticize others.

●      Read also: “Will my publication help our victory?” – journalists on the restricted press freedom during the Russian aggression. Survey

If we don’t like what the local authorities are doing – and we are the Kharkiv-city-focused radio station – we will not be silent, we will criticize. Otherwise, one might argue that criticism is not timely at this moment, but ‘this moment’ may last a month, six months, a year, ten years, a whole generation might pass. We all have to realize that, unfortunately, Russia is next to us. Perhaps forever. And yes, it may be inadequate. Still, we need to carry on. Ukraine has to fulfill its obligations to international partners and to become a fully transparent, efficient democratic state with low levels of corruption. Therefore, we continue to work with the values we have always had.

The material was prepared within the framework of the Post-War Reconstruction special project with the support of the Stiykist’ Programme, implemented by East Europe Foundation as part of a consortium of nongovernmental organisations led by ERIM (Equal Rights and Independent Media, France) in partnership with Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights House Tbilisi, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, and funded by the European Union.

The opinions and statements expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the partner organizations of the consortium and the European Union.

NGO “Detector Media” has been working for our readers for over 20 years. In times of elections, revolutions, pandemics and war, we continue to fight for quality journalism. Our experts develop media literacy of the audience, advocate for the rights of journalists, and refute Russian disinformation.

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