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The Radio Schools of Latin America

by Michiel Schaay, Doorn, Netherlands


This article was originally published in the September 1983 (#80) edition of Review of International Broadcasting. It is placed here with permission of the author.

For many shortwave listeners all over the world, Bolivian radio stations carry a priority number one label. The music and the special atmosphere that characterize authentic Bolivian broadcasts, put a spell on us as soon as we've learned to recognize them.

Taking a closer look at the media landscape in Bolivia, it becomes clear that, in some respects, the situation differs from other Lat�n American countries. The comparable circulation of newspapers and magazines is very low, in contrast to the very large number of radio stations. For a population of just over 5 million, there are close to 150 registered stations, resulting in an average that is far h�gher than that of giant broadcasting countries such as Mexico and Brazil.

The bigger Bolivian stations transmit on a 24-hour schedule of which an average of only 1-4 hours is reserved for programming in one of the two Indian languages of the cauntry, Aymara and Quechua. Considering the fact that Indians form 60% to 70% of the total Bolivian population, their share in broadcast�ng time appears to be quite poor. A meagre allotment, reflecting cultural and social neglect.

Often, this small portion of the broadcast pie bears no resemblance to the majority of Spanish language programming. For decades, development institutes have seen radio as the best medium for adult education in scattered rural conmun�ties. Many such foundations have their own transmitters or hire airt�me from private broadcasters. Some radio stations have been transformed into true radio schools, with their own teachers, local correspondents and students, often scattered over a vast area, but participating in the same educational programs, dealing with reading and writing, health, agriculture, cooperativism and trade unions.

Because only few newspapers reach further than the city, radio stations play a vital role up-country. For remote communities they are the only contact with the outside world, bringing the news, but also family messages and summons. On top of that, a number of educational radio stations have political significance too. Not only did the successive military regimes experience the weight that these broadcasters can throw onto the scale, but so did the present elected government. When farmers recently demanded higher prices for their crops, they expressed themselves forcibly with roadblocks that were partly coordinated with the he1p of their radio stations. The personal pronoun is used deliberately, because more and more the local population act as participants instead of mere audience. Another self-imposed task of the educational radio broadcasters is the promotion of Indian tradition and culture. Needless to say, nusic is an essentiai part of the resulting programs.

Most of the radio schools of Bolivia have united in the ERBOL organization. For a membership list of the Escuelas Radiofonicas de Bolivia, the WRTH may be consulted. Although Bolivia is an archetype for the portrayal of Latin American educational broadcasting, such use of the medium is wide-spread.

Moving our scope to the Spanish-speaking part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, we find Radio Enriquillo transmitting on 1550 kHz from Tamayo. Bordering Haiti, the backward southwest of the country is populated by underprivileged peasants. This group is not only the audience for Radio Enriquillo, it also fills most of its programs, although the technicians are of course professimals. The station, founded in 1977, was named after an Indian leader who fought the Spanish invaders. In this World Conmnications Year 1983, the motto of Radio Enriquillo certainly deserves aur attention: "Comunicacion es dar voz al que no tiene". Producer Jose Ignacio Lopez explains the station's programming by stressing that the relation between Radio Enriquillo and the local population is not one of teacher vs. pupil. Obviously, the villagers do not supply ready-to-transmit programs, aired between 5 am and 11 pm daily. Listeners' letters and verbal questions are discussed in quantity. Newscasts primarily contain regional and local events. Announcements of family visits, marriage or death are transmitted regularly. And although the station needs advertising revenue, commercials for rum, lotteries, cock-fights and political parties (a pregnant combination... ) are refused.

Radio Enriquillo's prime-time program is ENCUENTRO, entirely recorded in the villages of the region. Farmers, women and local youth tell about their lives, their work and their problems. The program also carries nusic, theatre and poetry of regional origin. An estimated 500,000 listeners in the southwest of the Dominican Republic are daily bound together by ENCUENTRO.

Our last sample of Latin American educational broadcasting brings us to Riobamba, the capital of the impoverished agrarian province of Chimborazo, in Ecuador. Here, in 1962, E R.P.E. was founded (E.R.P.E. stands for Escuelas Radiofonicas Populares del Ecuador) with a major task in the field of adult education. At the start, E.R.P.E. was divided into three sections: the education, administration and radio departments. Later on, a small hospital, a credit and savings cooperative and a modest printing office were added. From time to time large landowners have accused the radio station, currently registered on 1570, 3985 and 5015 kHz, of subversive activities. The educational programs not only teach the Indian population how to read and write, but also pursue social consciousness.

Since 1969, the entire programing of E.R.P.E. has become socially involved. News broadcasts were extended until today they consist of local items supplied by correspondents, national items taken fram the morning newspapers and international items from Agence France Presse (AFP) telex transmissions. Other programs are aimed at specific audience segments, and of course regional folk music fills a considerable portion of the broadcasts.

Since 1979, Radio Nederland Training Centre (RNTC) in Hilversum has E.R.P.E. in a project called "Training and research with regard to the application of the mass media for education and information in Latin America and the Caribbean". The purpose of the project is to develop a more dynamic interaction between broadcaster and audience. Similar to what we have seem from Radio Enriquillo, audience participation is encouraged, to the effect that rural communities gain partial responsibility for the radio broadcasts. Such a project is not the first of its kind in Ecuador. Back in 1973, the Center for International Education of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, backed by AID-funds, set up a project with Radio Mensaje in Tabacundo (1590 kHz). The local population participated in the MENSAJE CAMPESINO program by producing tape-recordings that were later played on the air. While the Amherst project supported the participation of the local audience direct1y and on an individual basis, RNTC assistance is largely focused on training of station personnel.

The three samples discussed here, prove that there is more to Latin American broadcasting than entertainment and commercial advertising. In the concluding paragraphs of his brilliant "It Came From a Radio", David Newkirk revealed his feeling that "more and more people are getting what they prove through lack of thought and action they deserve". I suggest we turn this round to describe the development of educational radio broadcasting in Latin America. More and more local communities are getting what they prove through thought and action they deserve: participant radio, as a counter-current to mainstream commercial broadcasting.


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