Radio talk show host Abdiqaadir Sagaar cracks up as he listens to a comedy show from his native Somalia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, April 13, 2015
Another time, the talk turns serious when a host explains the history behind the film “Selma” or when parents from Atlanta and Minneapolis discuss ways to prevent their teens and young adults from joining overseas terrorist groups.
Sagal Radio Services is on home turf again after an early morning fire last year destroyed its Decatur studios, where it had been based for three years.
The fire disrupted broadcasts for about a day, but programming quickly resumed using the facilities of another station.
“It’s great to have the studio back, even better and nicer and more convenient for our listeners, ” said Hussien Mohamed, founder and executive director of Sagal Radio (The Voice of New Americans) on AM 1420, who has lived in Atlanta since 1986. The station is in a plain-looking set of office buildings in Clarkston, a city that over the years has seen unparalleled change as more refugees and immigrants moved to the area.
Listeners have become neighbors, and Mohamed said it’s not unusual to have people casually drop by the second-floor studio to meet the voices behind the mic.
Sagal Radio is a community-based nonprofit that broadcasts radio programs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in six different languages — English, Somali, Amharic, Karen, Bhutanese/Nepali and Swahili. Programs are broadcast in various languages at different times during those days. It also streams online. People can also listen by dialing 832-551-5083 or by downloading the Sagal Radio app on Android phones.
It claims to have more than 45,000 listeners in Georgia alone, but its broadcast also reaches immigrants in other states.
Sagal Radio attracts listeners like Dowlay Ahmed, 65, who was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a refugee in 1993.
Ahmed, a retired clerk in DeKalb County government, said it’s one of the main ways she gets news from Somalia, where she still has relatives.
“It brings home closer to us,” she said.
She also said her younger sister, Amina, who is blind, has learned to speak some English by listening to some of the programs.
Mohamed was born in Moyale, Ethiopia, and resettled in Chicago in the early 1980s. He moved to Atlanta in 1986.
He has been an important voice in the community. In 2011, he was instrumental in bringing a then-19-year-old Somali woman to Atlanta who had been severely burned by her husband.
The idea for Sagal Radio was birthed as a way to help refugees and immigrants adjust to their new lives and provide information on health, how to get a job, navigating schools and the justice system.
From federal fiscal year 2004 to 2014, more than 26,000 refugees settled in the state, according to the Georgia Department of Human Services.
Before Sagal, Mohamed did work for the DeKalb County Board of Health and the Atlanta Regional Commission on Project Vision 2020. He was going around the refugee and immigrant community and realized they did not have media in their different languages from which to get information.
“So this idea was born that why not have radio to empower, educate and entertain our community?” he said. At first, programming was limited to one hour every Saturday. It has since expanded in scope.
For instance, when the film “Selma” debuted, Sagal Radio aired a show, explaining to newcomers about the civil rights movement and how they are today’s beneficiaries although they were born thousands of miles away.
“People fought for them before they got here, and it has made their lives easier,” he said.
Sagal Radio was formed in 1998 and has received grants to help pay for airtime. The hosts and staffers are volunteers and include people such as Angelar Muthike, a student at Spelman College from Kenya, who works on the Swahili program.
“One of my goals is to give back to the community,” she said. “I was born into a family where if it were not for other members of the community, I don’t think I would be here today.”
Emory University has had a long partnership with Sagal Radio, from helping it secure its nonprofit status and grant funding, to community-engaged learning experiences for students who have helped support Sagal’s development into a vital presence in the Atlanta refugee community, according to Emory spokeswoman Elaine Justice.
“We can’t be silenced by a fire,” Mohamed said. “The people need us and we are coming back, louder and stronger than ever.”