How the Community Radio Station in La Boca works

Written by Robert Benjamin
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Broadcasting from its studio on the third floor of Los Pibes Community Center, Radio Riachuelo provides its listeners with a unique perspective on a wide variety of issues. Three years ago, when the idea arose to establish a radio station at Los Pibes, a group of untrained women were chosen to learn about radio production and communication. Now they collaborate to host multiple live programs, broadcast daily online. One of Radio Riachuelo’s producers, Roxanna, who has been working with the station since its beginning, provided some insight into the station’s history, methods, and objectives in this interview.

 Where did the idea to have a radio station come from? The project to start a radio station started about three years ago, when the idea came forward to organize communication and press for the community center. First, it was for the members of the organization, but later for the neighborhood and other organizations, so people could stay informed about the community center. The necessity was then identified that beyond communicating amongst ourselves, something stronger was needed. The radio station was to be created and used as a social-political communication tool; it was seen as an urgent need because a voice was needed for the neighborhood, but also for Latin America as a whole. We broadcast on the internet now, so our ideas have to do with the entire region. We hope to provide people with information that helps them realize they can learn and accomplish things they didn’t think they were capable of and to instill the confidence and self-esteem in people that they need to try new things in order to improve their well-being; to instill the idea in people that they can always accomplish more. How did the radio station get started? The radio started broadcasting last year, July 10, 2011. When the idea began three years ago to have a radio station, we were trained and taught at another station to learn how to run our own. Later, we were trained in community communication, how to do it, how to inform, the necessary steps. We also learned from other journalists through meetings over the course of about a year.

 What types of programs do you broadcast? The radio broadcasts 24 hours; sometimes live programs, sometimes not. One live program which is broadcast live on afternoons during the week and repeated the following morning, is a program dedicated, let’s say, to multiple kinds of information, information about education, culture, current events in America, also about health - these are called columns. Guests with knowledge about specific topics also come to discuss their work. In general the program talks about the problems in the neighborhood, the city and throughout Latin America. But in addition to problems, the program also talks about what organizations are doing, what cultural centers are doing, and also what activities are being offered that are cheap or sometimes free, all in order to provide support to the members of the community. What kinds of things do guests come in to talk about? For example, we have a column about health, for which we have invited a psychologist that works in a mental health hospital. We also have a column about the environment, for which we have a guest biologist from Colombia who talks about what can happen to the environment if it is mistreated. We have another column called Latin America, which informs listeners about problems in Latin America and also major achievements. Another column we have discusses education, including what the government is doing to support public schooling. However, we also discuss what the government does to hinder teachers and make their jobs more difficult. Beyond that, we include how the teachers work with parents and students to achieve things despite the obstacles that the government creates for the city. We also have one about culture, for which artists come in to talk about things like cinema and music. We also have people from cultural centers come in to talk about programs in the community. The program helps to provide information about using art to enhance our listeners’ lives. Additionally, sometimes cultural centers are in danger of being shut down and we try to distribute information to defend them.

How do you prepare for these invited guests? We try to see what they have done, where they come from, how long they have been working, things like that. If they are coming to talk about a current problem, we try to understand what is happening with that problem so we can have some understanding of the story during the program when we are asking questions and conversing with the guest. Do you have any other programs that are broadcast live? Yes, there’s another live program at noon on Saturdays, which is run by the coordinator of the community center, which focuses on what is happening on a regional level, in Latin America. There’s also another program which is broadcast at 11 in the morning on Saturdays, that talks about a different organization each time: how it began, how it grew, and what it has accomplished. Does the station ever broadcast music? Yes, we also broadcast music that contains some sort of message that has to do with the topics we discuss, but we don’t play music that has nothing to do with the content of our programs. We also broadcast clips during the day from famous speeches that contain inspiring content. Do you broadcast announcements or advertisements? Yes, we do. They include announcements that the organization makes to the community, like how to be part of the cooperative, or about opportunities to take courses in things like photography or computing. Other organizations also come to us with spots that we broadcast for them about events or programs they are organizing. Sometimes they give us something to read on the air, for example, about an activity at a school for kids to participate in.

What are the differences between this radio station and mass media? The biggest difference is that we try to establish a real, honest communication, whereas mass media communicate the things that are in their best interest to distribute. We defend the interests of the people. Do you think there are opportunities for the station to expand? Yes, sometimes we are hesitant to broadcast certain material since we aren’t professionals and we’re still learning, but if we continue to learn, we will be able to expand and create more programs. Right now we have blocks for different topics under a single program, but in the future, we would like to have a separate program for each topic and to create new programs about things like music, history, and maybe sports. Does the station provide opportunities for foreign volunteers? Yes, volunteers can help us with a variety of things, including gathering materials about our programs from foreign sources and translating them to Spanish for us. How the volunteer can help depends on how long they are here and their level of Spanish.  

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