The Semi-Sacred Bulletin

"Aida Al-Kabti"

My relationship with radio began in my childhood, when I participated in Mr. Abdallah Christeh's radio program, along with my brother Salah. When we returned to Libya and I had to find work, my father's colleague at our embassy in Cairo, Mr. Mostafa Bin Shaaban, got me a position at the radio's technical library, under his supervision. When they announced a call for radio broadcasters, he advised me to apply, based on my proficiency in Arabic. As soon as I got accepted, I started working as a radio host. 

I presented a number of programs, including my first solo show, titled "The First Letter." The show was a radio encyclopedia; every few episodes, I would select a different letter, such as Alif, for example, and discuss words and terminologies beginning with that letter. 

Some people believe that reading the news is easy, but in fact, not everyone can do it without making mistakes–especially if you are not a proficient reader, or if you have not received adequate training. At the time, the bulletin was nearly sacred; it couldn’t be delayed even for a few seconds, and anyone who read the news incorrectly was immediately suspended, and barred from coming back until they improved. I always bore the brunt of my colleagues' absences; if any of them didn't show up, the transportation department would send a driver to my house, who took me to the station to read the news bulletin. This continued to happen until Afaf Zahran, of Middle East Radio, joined us and bore that burden with me. 

I usually went to the news department well before the scheduled bulletin. If the news report was not ready, I took whatever the editors had on hand, and started to prepare: I enunciated the letters and rehearsed the pauses so I wouldn’t make mistakes. Next, I’d go to the central broadcasting room, located behind a large glass window. I didn't need the technician on duty to give me the signal for when to begin; I listened for the click of the "on air" button, which signaled that absolutely no one was allowed to enter the studio. 

Once I started reading the news, I lost touch with my surroundings. I wouldn’t lift my eyes off the page until I was done, and I never stuttered. One time, one of the editors came in with a piece of urgent news, but I didn’t look up. He mistakenly thought that I was simply refusing to read the report, oblivious to how embarrassed his presence made me feel, as well as to the fact that I couldn't multi-task. I was punished as a result; they extended my tenure in the fifth division for another six months–but I got through it. 

Television was even harder to handle. In addition to checking over the news, I had to carry the filmstrip over to the moviola to watch the films associated with the bulletin. I would match the video with the bulletin, write down my notes on the news piece, and decide when to keep going and when to wait. Sometimes, a piece of news was incorrectly placed, but I always dealt with any issues; I was always ready. 

The TV studio was much larger than the radio studio. While we were on air, everyone left except for the cameraman, to avoid disturbing the host (who couldn’t see the cameraman due to the spotlight’s glare). The news began with a click; the sound of the camera’s red light pointed towards me. I followed the news on the monitor, I matched it with the text, and I read. 

This is the only colored photo of me on the job. In the other one, I’m wearing headphones–which we actually don't use because we never host any on-air programs with audience participation. But it was trendy back then for media professionals to wear these headphones in their photographs. 

Born in Cairo, she worked as a radio presenter and host and was the first female presenter on Libyan television when it was established in 1968. She worked in education for 40 years and has authored three books about the biographies of pioneering Libyan women.

Aida Al-Kabti
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