TV: Houston's newest radio show aims to fight Islamic extremism

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by By DAVE FEHLING / KHOU-TV

kvue.com

Posted on October 6, 2009 at 3:34 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 21 at 4:06 PM

HOUSTON -- As young Muslims accused of terrorism are making court appearances in Dallas and New York, a Houston radio station owner wants to use the airwaves to fight Islamic extremism.

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KBRZ-AM1460 caters to listeners with ties to Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries.? Some of the talk shows and newscasts are delivered in Hindi and Urdu or a mix they call Hindish, like what Spanglish is to Mexican-Americans. Owner Saeed Gaddi sees his station as the perfect venue to reach impressionable teens who might be targets for recruitment by extremists.

KBRZ-AM's studios are in southwest Houston, not far from where Pakistan seems to intersect with Texas at the corner of Hillcroft Avenue and the Westpark Toll Road. The area is full of clothing stores, restaurants and other shops catering to South Asian cultures. The streets are cluttered with election signs for Pakastani-Americans running for positions at Houston's City Hall.

The radio station is also where a young Houston man named Kobie Williams once hosted a talk show on Saturdays. On it, Williams sometimes vented his anger over the Iraqi civilians killed by United States forces, according to Gaddi. At the time, Gaddi said he thought Williams was justifiably exercising his First Amendment rights. But then, in 2006, Williams was one of three young men arrested in Houston by the FBI on allegations of training to fight alongside the Taliban overseas.

To this day, Gaddi has his doubts about whether Williams was an actual threat or was caught up in a sting.

"There was an informant. And the informant was the one who was planting everything," said Gaddi . "So it was more like excitement for those people, thrilling."

But maybe it was that experience that now has Gaddi thinking about how radio might be used, not to stir up hatred for America, but to increase understanding of how some Muslims feel -- and how some Americans view Muslims.

"Listen, we need to start looking at our kids," said Gaddi , a Pakistani-American Muslim who last year ran for Sugar Land City Council. To reach a younger audience, he began changing both programming and some of the hosts. To hear the result, tune in at 2 p.m. when ?a pre-recorded chant booms: "Sherry! AJ! Sherry! AJ!"

It's the opening for KBRZ-AM's newest show: "Just Chill," hosted by Gaddi's son AJ and Sherry Ramji. Both went to school in Sugar Land and are now students at the University of Houston.

For two hours weekday afternoons, they play pop songs and keep up a banter that's little different than their counterparts on Houston's bigger FM stations with thousands more listeners. You'll hear the latest gossip about movie stars, except with an emphasis on those of "Bollywood," and the songs are from those India-based movies, sung in Hindi. ?

But Ramji and AJ will also share the unique experience they have of being a teenager in one of the area's fastest-growing ethnic populations.

"There's a difference between Muslims and extremists. They're totally separate," said Ramji. She says she never encounters Muslims who hate America or applaud when it's attacked.

"I have never come across that ever. And whoever is Muslim, all my friends, we think it's like a really big pity that there are people around the world who say, good, they deserve it," said Ramji.

AJ Gaddi hits a nerve with many Muslims when he relates his experiences of what it's like to get caught "flying while Muslim."

"I've had a couple instances where I've been stopped at the airport," said Gaddi, telling about being "randomly" pulled out of security lines time and again, suspecting it was his looks and name that were the reason, not pure chance.

Station owner Saeed Gaddi said programs like "Just Chill" could be good for his station's ratings, but also for the local South Asian community by providing more dialogue for its teenagers. He said he hopes other Houston radio and TV stations will do more to increase airtime given to issues involving the South Asian and Islamic communities. ?

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