Radio station in Ukraine balances music, laughter and war news in their broadcasts: NPR

The Wave of Lviv is a radio station known for its pop music and jokes. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, however, they have struggled to balance their irreverent tone with news from the front lines.



AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Ukraine today, it was too dangerous for a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross to carry out a large-scale evacuation in the besieged city of Mariupol. They hope it will be safe enough to try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, in the northwest of the country, life seems a little more normal, although still tense. And if you tune your radio to 100.8, you can find a station known as Wave of Lviv, playing pop music and witty banter.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: But what do you do with a station like that when war comes to your country? The answer involves a lot of careful balancing. NPR’s Scott Detrow reports from Lviv.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: To get to the Wave of Lviv broadcast studio, you walk through a courtyard, down several stone steps, and through a long, vaulted underground hallway past an old gray boombox.

(MUSIC SOUND EXTRACTION)

HAYDEN JAMES: (singing) We don’t say much while we’re laying here. We are just friends.

DETROW: The studio itself has thick brick walls.

TERAC HAVRYK: Do you see that wall? It’s a big.

(TO LAUGH)

DETROW: It also serves as a bomb shelter when the Lviv air raid sirens go off. And that’s especially important since the radio station is right next to the kind of tall communications towers that have been targets in other cities.

YURIY KHOMYAK: We also broadcast the siren telling people to go to the shelter.

DETROW: Yuriy Khomyak is the station manager. He is 26 years old. He took over his father’s job just a few months ago.

KHOMYAK: When the war broke out, we had a difficult decision. Our radio operates on the – from commercials. All businesses have closed in Ukraine, in Lviv. So we had no funding. And we thought, should we keep streaming?

DETROW: They decided to stay on the air. Everyone took pay cuts to keep the station afloat. And they also made another important decision: to keep their irreverent style.

KHOMYAK: Yes. Especially at the beginning of the war, people phoned us, said that we were too sarcastic, too ironic about our hosts. They decided to stay that way. We tried to mix things up just to keep our listeners happier.

(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAVRYK: (non-English language spoken).

DETROW: Terac Havryk has been on the air for eight years. Listeners know him for his jokes and rapping. He wears two earrings, a leopard print shirt, and a fringe under his Hilfiger hat.

HAVRYK: I want to have, like, funny tunes. I want to joke in my studio. But it is what it is. We have war here, so…

DETROW: His show is more serious than before — more segments about how listeners can help raise funds and boost morale for the military, things like that. But Terac makes a point of saving time on the music and the laughs. People still need a break.

HAVRYK: Maybe distraction is also one of the roles of this music – to feel relaxed in this situation. It is not possible to be 100% relaxed. But we want to calm people down.

DETROW: One way is to play all the new songs that seem to pop up every day on War Online. They are often darkly funny and direct.

HAVRYK: So he made this song called “Die Die Die, Putin” (ph) with a funny chorus. (Singing) Die, die, die, Putin. Dun dun dun dun dun (ph).

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “DIE DIE DIE”)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in a language other than English).

HAVRYK: Now we are in wartime, so we can broadcast whatever we want. Putin, [expletive].

DETROW: We might have to beep that (laughs).

HAVRYK: Why? Americans…

DETROW: This rule does not apply to NPR.

HAVRYK: Yes, but do Americans know what [expletive] means?

DETROW: Someone will.

While Terac is doing his show, a small team of reporters are banging keyboards in a room just across the hall. They write the next newscast, which goes over the hour.

IRYNA SHUBINETS: (non-English language spoken).

DETROW: Iryna Shubinets, one of the main news anchors, does a final copy check. There is so much news now. It is constantly changing.

SHUBINETS: (non-English language spoken).

DETROW: She walks into the studio and takes her seat less than a minute to broadcast.

(TRANSPARENCY)

DETROW: And then…

(PHONE DIALING SOUNDBITE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (non-English language spoken).

SHUBINETS: (non-English language spoken).

DETROW: Top news this hour – bombings in the south, alleged Russian war crimes and aid for internally displaced people.

SHUBINETS: (Through interpreter) Journalists are like firefighters. They have to be ready at all times, whether it’s a war or whatever.

DETROW: Iryna tells us through our interpreter that doing the news is kind of soothing. Being able to manage and take the latest updates helps her cope with anxiety.

SHUBINETS: (Through interpreter) When the war broke out, the first day I came to work, we had this discussion. It felt like it was the end, like it was the end of the world. How are we going to realize this?

DETROW: Iryna says they realized they were going to report on the death, maybe even of people they knew personally. On the day of our visit, five weeks after the start of the war, it happens. A cameraman Iryna had worked with before was killed in the east, and she reported on it.

SHUBINETS: (Through interpreter) I was almost crying, and I even had goosebumps on my skin.

DETROW: Terac and his co-host – they knew not to joke around after that. War is personal to everyone. One of the station’s hosts has joined the Ukrainian army and is on the front line. Terac has family in Russian-held territory.

HAVRYK: Everyone – I think everyone in this country right now has stories of death, of fighting, of losing their homes. It’s – such bad things are happening right now.

DETROW: Like Iryna, he struggled at first. They both told us they needed medication for anxiety. But over the weeks, he adapted. And he sees his mission right now as helping his listeners try to get to the same place.

HAVRYK: I want my listeners to feel a little better right now.

DETROW: And sometimes it’s about something else. Sometimes it talks about the war, but jokingly.

HAVRYK: Not everyone in this country goes to a psychologist, doesn’t go to church, where they kind of feel safe. But a lot of guys listen to me. And I want to be like a kind of psychologist, a kind of priest right now.

DETROW: Yeah.

HAVRYK: I’m not, but I want to be.

DETROW: (Laughs).

CHANG: That was reporting from NPR’s Scott Detrow in Lviv. Scott will be guest host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from Ukraine all next week.

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