Apr 25, 2018

Reflecting on Radio Silence

by: Laura Kochman

On Sunday, April 15, a crowd gathered at Independence Visitor Center over cardamom tea and date cookies, with Independence Hall in view across a wide swath of green grass, to listen to the first podcast episode of Radio Silence. For many in the room, this was the first time they’d heard the recordings of their own voices, telling the stories of their experiences in and after Iraq. American veterans sat interspersed with Iraqi refugees and immigrants, and the room was full of children. Teenagers snuck out to the balconies for the best selfie lighting, before settling in to listen.

A sweet moment at the Radio Silence listening party on April 15. Photo by Steve Weinik.

This was a day several years in the making, since artist Michael Rakowitz first proposed the project in 2014. Then, legendary Iraqi broadcaster (and Rakowitz’s inspiration) Bahjat Abdulwahed was still alive. Over the years, the project evolved into its current form, becoming less about sound and more about silence—speechlessness, secrets, censorship, and more. Bahjat does speak in Episode #1, but the podcast is also populated by stories and memories too painful to speak until now, too strange in coincidence to believe. Last summer, we saw the live performance of Rakowitz’s radio play out on Independence Mall, but the true culmination of the project is now on the airwaves.

Veterans from Warrior Writers listen to the Radio Silence podcast for the first time, at the listening party on April 15. Photo by Steve Weinik.

It occurred to me, sitting on the carpet with my mug of tea, how little room is made for apology in this country, when there is so much in our collective history to apologize for, and so many nuanced experiences to acknowledge. Art can give us an opening into that unfamiliar space, where reflection and rebuilding are possible. Radio Silence may be specific to the Iraqi diaspora—a story that deserves attention—but it’s also full of important reminders that apply to us all: The past lives on in our memories. Our misdeeds do not define us, though we cannot ignore them. The loudest voice is not always the one you should listen to. There is always another side to the story.


Radio Silence episodes will air weekly through May 27, on WPPM PhillyCAM Radio 106.5 FM, and community radio stations across the country with support from the Prometheus Radio Project. The podcast is distributed nationwide through Public Radio Exchange (PRX), and through iTunes and the Radio Silence website.


Major support for Radio Silence has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Hummingbird Foundation. Project collaborators and partners include a host of agencies and nonprofits that work on refugee and veteran issues, as well as independent community-driven media nonprofits.

Last updated: Apr 25, 2018

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