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Section V: Rural Radio: Case studies from the USA, Latin America and Africa

This section includes four chapters with information that will be particularly useful to readers unfamiliar with rural radio and the essential role it plays in people's lives.

Robert Hilliard's chapter, Farm and Rural Radio in the USA: Some beginnings and models, provides an overview of the last eighty years of rural radio in the United States. The fact that even in the world's largest economy rural radio continues to be a vibrant medium for securing farmers' and farm workers' rights.

Jean-Pierre Ilboudo's chapter on the history of rural radio, After 50 years: The role and use of rural radio in Africa, charts the transformation of rural radio from a production department within the State broadcaster to a local community-based.

Bruce Girard's chapter, Radio Chaguarurco: Now we're not alone, is an intimate look at the political, cultural and social role of a rural radio station. While the station looked at is in Ecuador, South America, much of what is described can also be found in rural radio stations in Africa and Asia.

Photo: UNESCO/D. Roger

Chapter 15: Farm and Rural Radio in the United States: Some beginnings and models - Robert L. Hilliard

In many countries in the world today, radio is used principally for entertainment. In the United States, for example, there are virtually no more radio documentaries and relatively few of the country's 12 700 radio stations are news and public affairs stations. Even most of the 2 100 educational or public radio stations are, like their commercial counterparts, devoted mainly to popular music.

We find much the same situation in other countries with principally commercial broadcast systems. In too many places in the world today, radio has either seriously underachieved or entirely abandoned efforts to be a meaningful medium for news, information, education, and culture. In part, this is because subsequent media - like television and the Internet - have replaced radio in countries with economies strong enough to accommodate widespread use of the new media. This is also due to factors such as migration from rural to urban areas - rural and geographically isolated populations relied on radio for basic information connection more than urban ones do.

It was not always like this, and rural and farm broadcasting have long been an exception. In fact, in the United States the first significant use of radio communications, aside from early ship-to-shore communications, was in rural and farm areas.

The first radio operators in the country were amateurs, known as ham radio operators or simply hams, experimenting with the new invention. There were over a thousand of them by 1912, many of them using radio to bridge the distances between their rural or farm homes to others in similar situations or to hams in towns and cities. Universities were the focal points for the development of radio in the United States during and following the end of World War I.

Engineering, physics, and other science and technical departments in a number of universities introduced courses covering the new phenomenon of wireless communications. As with any new scientific development, it was important that students learn not only how it worked, but also how to use it. Going from theory to application, universities set up laboratories so students could put the scientific principles they had learned into practice. Realizing that it was not enough just to send out signals at random, many of these labs became radio stations.

Universities in the Midwest, the heart of America's farmland, were among those that decided to use their facilities to offer a public service, choosing to focus their efforts on geographically isolated rural and farm areas, where at that time it might literally take days to travel over rough, unpaved roads to a city or town to get the latest news. These university-based stations began providing life-saving information to farms: weather bulletins from the U.S. Weather Bureau; soil and air information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; market reports on livestock, crops and other farm products; prices of grain, feed, machinery, and other farm needs from dealers in distribution centres; warnings about floods, tornadoes, drought, and storms; news about any events that affected farmers; even appeals for help in a crisis or disaster. In other words, radio provided information that farmers needed but were otherwise unable to obtain without long delays such as waiting for it to arrive via mail or through lengthy personal travel.

Some of the universities, especially the “land grant” colleges that had been chartered for the purpose of serving rural areas and which had extensive agriculture departments, offered distance education courses over the radio to people who were too far away from a school or university to attend in person. These courses were mainly in the fields of agriculture and home economics, covering subjects and skills necessary for the efficient running of a farm, both in the fields and in the house. It is noteworthy that the critical and necessary role of women in running farms was recognized in the courses offered - not only acknowledging the home economics aspect of the work women did, but as well their increasing field and management work. In fact, during hard economic times when many men took on non-farm city jobs in order to keep the farms going, and during World War II, when many men were in the military, women ran the farms either principally or completely. Then, as in many developing countries and in nations with vast land expanses in the world today, these were much-needed and appreciated “Schools of the Air.”

Commercial radio also recognized the importance of the new medium for rural residents. A 1916 memorandum attributed to David Sarnoff, later to become the most powerful broadcasting executive in the United States as head of the RCA and NBC networks, called for the development of a “'radio music box', placed on a table in the parlour or living room” which could provide lectures and events of national importance that “can be simultaneously announced and received.” Sarnoff concluded the memo with the words, “this proposition would be especially interesting to farmers and others living in outlying districts.” And indeed, that is what happened with the new medium.

In the early 1920s, as radio in the United States began to expand, many stations went on the air for the purpose of serving isolated people in farm and rural areas. In 1921 there was one radio receiver for every 500 households in the United States. Only five years later, in 1926, there was one for every six households. One major problem for the expansion of radio in rural areas will be familiar to people working with radio in many developing nations of the world today - in the 1920s only about half of the farm and rural population in the United States had electricity, and batteries were expensive. Nevertheless, within a few years a radio receiver was a necessity for farm and rural populations in the United States. When economic depression and drought hit simultaneously in the 1930s - resulting in the loss of thousands of farms and millions of acres of farmland, radio was the principal link to the world for poor people in rural areas and on farms. Most people were willing to sell their beds, iceboxes and other household necessities before they would give up their radio sets.

Farm radio programmes were popular, important and influential. One in particular, the weekly Farm and Home Hour on the NBC network, was a favourite for decades, even in cities. It combined entertainment with information and was carried on commercial radio stations across the country, not only serving rural listeners but also making money for its sponsors and for the NBC network. There were many similar regional and local programmes on radio throughout the country. Even today, there are more than 100 agricultural radio stations still on the air in the United States, providing programming to farm and rural listeners. Several hundred more devote at least some time every day to farm topics, often in the form of franchised programmes supplied by independent production companies.

Over the years the use of radio to serve rural and farm areas grew. Through the development of an extensive radio service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even the government got involved in producing programmes for broadcast on commercial and public stations.[97] Highly-qualified writers and reporters were recruited to prepare and air materials with the help of agricultural experts and, as time went on, many of the writers and reporters themselves became well-versed in farm and rural needs and solutions.

One of the pioneers in the field, working for radio stations that emphasized agricultural programming, was Lane Beaty, who later became chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's media office. In a book on the history of American radio and television, Beaty described some of the services provided farmers through radio:

It may be coincidence that the first use of “broadcast” was agricultural, referring to the sowing of seeds. It is nonetheless fitting because in the early days of radio when rural people lived in varying degrees of isolation, radio became a link to the outside world and a live-in companion for farmers and their families. Those first two radio stations, KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and WHA, Madison, Wisconsin, emphasized such services. Stations justified the use of their assigned frequencies and power by their broadcasts of market prices, updated weather forecasts, information on better farming practices, government regulations, and commercials adapted for far flung rural listeners. In my long career, those years spent broadcasting agricultural programmes were undoubtedly the most rewarding in terms of public acceptance. My listeners included not only country folk but urban professionals as well, and one network programme (the old NBC “Farm and Home Hour”) drew mail regularly from the Wall Street area. On the air, I tried to be warm and friendly with some natural humor, not contrived, too corny or suggestive - no inside jokes. I made as many personal appearances as possible, and this helped build goodwill for the station. Entertainment (music, etc.) and long features, early staples on farm programmes before good roads and television, have disappeared, making way for shorter, more concise reports aimed at helping farmers and ranchers (and sponsors) turn a profit.[98]

Indicative of the kinds of services provided for farmers by radio was a trip Beaty took to Mexico in 1947 when he was farm editor of a radio station in Fort Worth, Texas. Foot and mouth disease had broken out in Mexico and was being combated by killing and burying thousands of heads of cattle in a quarantined area in the central part of that country. Because of the danger to U.S. livestock and the concomitant economic effects on farms and ranches, American farmers were concerned and the United States government was cooperating with Mexico in trying to halt the outbreak. Lane Beaty went to Mexico with the then-new wire recorder[99] to interview key government, veterinary, and farmers. His reports were gratefully listened to by Texas cattle ranchers.

In the 1970s, Cesar Chavez, one of the great labour leaders of US history, turned his attention to rural and farm broadcasting as tool for organizing farm labour. Migrant farm workers were virtual slaves, working under horrible, unhealthy and dangerous conditions. They had no medical assistance, filthy housing without facilities, no schooling for their children who also were forced to work in the fields, long, back-breaking hours in excessive heat or rain or cold, and they were charged exorbitant prices for food and other necessities they were forced to buy from the farm owners. They had no guarantees of work from one day to the next and entire families could work for months and, after paying the farm owner what they owed for food and necessities, find themselves penniless, with no food, no shelter and no job. In addition, whenever workers tried to organize, the farm owners would hire thugs to beat them and even kill them. Police and other authorities generally sided with the owners.

It was under these conditions that Cesar Chavez, himself a migrant worker, established the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). This union not only successfully organized migrant farm workers, it also mastered modern public relations techniques to organize highly effective public campaigns that convinced many American consumers to boycott the products of some of the worst companies.

Radio was a natural area of interest for Chavez and the UFW and they used it effectively to fight for better lives for farm workers and their families. The union's activities in this area offer an example that may be useful in other countries where farm workers and other rural people want to use radio to better their conditions.

In the early 1980s[100] the UFW applied for licences for non-commercial - or public, as differentiated from commercial - radio stations in California, where the union had its headquarters and where most of its members worked. Still fighting exploitation by the owners, Chavez thought that if he could get the owners to allow the field workers to carry a small portable radio with them, presumably to raise their morale and motivate them to work even more efficiently for the owners, he could use the stations for more specific union purposes. If he could establish instant communication with all of his members in the field through radio, he could call a strike at a moment's notice when there was a reason, such as an owner refusing to negotiate for decent wages and working conditions; or he could call a work stoppage or a protest when the workers took ill or were poisoned by the pesticides and the owners refused to give them medical help; or he could deploy the workers when the thugs the owners hired brutally beat or shot protesting workers, which was a frequent occurrence.

As the use of the stations was discussed, most of his advisers argued for programming designed to strengthen the workers' resolve and ability to push for union contracts with the reluctant owners - information and education programmes, discussions, speeches and so on. Chavez, to everyone's surprise, said he wanted entertainment, not education and information on the radio channel. He explained that people working hard in the fields wanted something to help them relax. They wanted entertainment programmes. They did not want to listen to speeches. Entertainment, mainly music, would guarantee that they would keep the radios tuned in and then the union could be sure that when there was an important announcement, farm workers would be listening. The UFW-associated National Farm Workers Service Center now has seven radio stations in California, Arizona and Washington State and their practical approach to the use of radio is one that can inform situations all over the world.

In recent years many groups in Africa, especially NGOs, have taken to radio to help them organize, inform and educate their constituents, despite the geographic distances and obstacles. It is not surprising that many of these NGOs are women's groups, suffering similar kinds of discrimination and prejudices that farm and rural women did in the United States before their significant roles and rights were recognized. At a recent series of workshops in one country, we heard many comments from women and women's groups. They spoke of women's need for information about legal and economic rights; of their need to know where to obtain information and assistance on health and childcare; of their desperation in trying to learn what to do about AIDS when their husbands refused to use condoms and did not care about infecting their wives or future children; of their desire to find out about technologies that might make their lives a bit easier. They also spoke of their desire for better education and opportunities for their children and to learn about more efficient, easier and more profitable ways of raising and selling their crops and cattle. In essence, these are similar to the needs and desires of farm and rural people, including women, in the United States when radio first came into use. And, as happened in the United States, radio in Africa and elsewhere, is proving to be a key factor in beginning to solve some of these serious problems.

Photo: Choy

Chapter 16: After 50 years: The role and use of rural radio in Africa - Jean-Pierre Ilboudo

To consider today of the role and use of rural radio raises the question of its place in the new African media landscape, and in particular in the radio environment marked by deregulation and the end of broadcast monopolies. Given the pluralist nature of the contemporary broadcasting environment, what role can rural radio play to support the emerging civil society? What does the future hold for rural radio, indeed for public radio, in Africa, in view of the ever-increasing number of local stations, be they commercial or community?

This new issue is a major challenge for us all. To understand the contemporary challenges, it is useful to take a historical perspective; to analyse the changes in the role and use of rural radio that have occurred over the last fifty years.

It would be a truism to say that rural radio has known various forms and objectives. The speed at which its roles and uses are evolving stems from the fact that it cannot be seen as an educational technology independent of the social system or untouched by integrationist policies designed to keep the prevailing leadership in power.

In what has by and large been a rapid process, African States, that is to say the governments which take the decisions affecting radio, have become aware of how most broadcasts meet the tastes and needs of citizens. As a result, it has been necessary to revisit the nature of rural broadcasting, and from this the concept of rural radio has emerged.

How has this evolution taken place? In short, that depends on the countries concerned, for each one has known different rhythms of change.

Let us now consider what have been the fundamental steps in this development, whether successive or simultaneous.


Even prior to independence, there were radio broadcasts which aimed to give the community advice on hygiene, health and practical finance, mainly for farmers. This meant that the new countries in sub-Saharan Africa very soon used radio as a means to promote economic development - this was the case in Cameroon from 1956 onwards, Mali in 1957, or in English-speaking Africa, mainly in Nigeria. In Ghana, from the eve of independence, in 1956, Radio Accra broadcast in Ghanaian languages and had programmes for rural communities; the weekly programme 'The Cocoa Family' about life on cocoa plantations is an example. In 1957, Radio Ghana started talk shows on agriculture, albeit in English.

In Benin, as early as 1960, Radio Dahomey had a special programme in the Fon language; it is at this time that the government of Dahomey requested the FAO to design a rural radio broadcasting service. It worked together with the agricultural department based in Porto-Novo and effectively started operations in 1967. It broadcast in six languages, covering palm planting, layout of maize fields and the introduction of rice and cotton farming.

In Niger, the Association of Radio Clubs was set up in 1962, with its first broadcasts in 1965, following the line of farm radio. The major topics covered were improved seed varieties, soil management, fertilizers and cattle rearing; it also dealt with such issues as the marketing of food stuffs, irrigation, water hygiene, women in the household, the National Assembly, and animal husbandry.

In Nigeria, it was at Radio Kaduna that a programme encouraged farmers to adopt agricultural mechanisation and improved seed varieties. And in Kenya, from 1962, the Education by radio programme broadcast advice for farmers.

In the so-called English-speaking countries of Africa, this sort of radio was widespread. Often programmes were produced by the Ministry of Agriculture, with its own radio production units.

In Cameroon, beginning in 1966, there were broadcasts of agricultural advice in the Fulfuldé and Fulani languages, and in Hausa on regional stations. In Ivory Coast, the programme La coupe nationale du progrès, or The National Progress Bowl, was started in 1966 with a mixture of extension-style agricultural information, traditional music and contests between sub-prefectures, all with the goal of improving agricultural output and social conditions.

There are many examples of this early orientation in the use of radio for development. Such was the case with Radio Progrès in Benin in the years 1968 - 1969, and with the development radio contests on the rural radio of the Burkina Faso in 1975. It is important to emphasize that radio club approach was adopted in other countries: Ghana (1956), Niger (1962), Benin (1967-68), Burkina Faso (1969) and Togo (1970). Later, in a second phase, it was no longer a question of developing awareness of these issues within the stations themselves, but of using radio to support agricultural policies and, in a more general way, rural policies.

Farm radio, with or without the support of radio clubs and their collective listening approach, had been seen as a supplement to agricultural extension work, and even as a palliative for the shortcomings of training services. The purpose of a broadcast was to give the farming community short and to-the-point information segments, sometimes known as micro-programmes, with which to improve their agricultural output. Farm radio was seen as a radio school, serving to consolidate the process of organising emerging cooperative groups.

With the introduction of listening clubs, farm radio was quickly transformed. This second phase saw a strategy of radio forums and radio debates, where listening, discussing and decision-making were brought together, following the example of Niger's radio clubs:

1. Look at observable facts (or build a foundation of facts through a process of enumeration, description, comparison, distinction, classification and definition);

2. Generate ideas (develop understanding, look for the consequences, rules and theories);

3. Plan actions whilst determining goals, means and methods.

What lessons can be learned from these first and second phases, which in practice almost merged one into the other?

By amplifying extension services and programmes, the impact of rural radio broadcasts led to a notable increase in cash crop production in most African countries in the 1970s. It must be noted, however, that rural radio erred towards a reductionist approach to development, reducing development to a simple increase in agricultural productivity, and choosing to focus its messages on rural problems rather than on concepts of under-development. It can also be noted that the issue of socio-economic change was not grasped by many, and that political action - mobilising rural communities - was avoided. Consequently, this educational work was carried out in isolation, without collaboration with other efforts to improve rural livelihoods.

With regard to radio clubs, it is hard to say which changes, in the long-term, were due to them or to other influences at work in the community. It is also hard to determine their costs of radio debates: staff (local facilitators in each club), equipment (714 radio sets distributed in Benin in 1973 and 580 in Burkina Faso in 1980), printing and distributing listenership reports, and so on. Nevertheless, it is possible to point to four major sets of constraints:


One thing is clear: radio campaigns and propaganda pushed by the top echelons from capital cities rarely achieved the desired effect. Was there then a change in the intentions of rural radio? Did the experience of radio clubs usher in a third phase?

Rural radio ceased to be handled as just another programming unit, producing agricultural programmes just as other units were producing programmes for young people or programmes with technical information. Instead, it became an autonomous body within the national radio broadcasting system.

In Senegal, in 1968 we saw the establishment of rural educational radio (although the idea dated back to 1965). It sought to go beyond earlier experiences and was designed as an overall programme for integrated rural development. In 1969, in Burkina Faso, the same model of rural radio was launched, drawing much of its inspiration from the broadcasts of the rural division of Radio Mali. These rural and educational radio units of the 1970s stood out for their freedom of expression (as in the case of Radio Disoo in Senegal), and above all for their increased coverage of agriculture, livestock, health, news and culture.

Not only did they aim at changing farming methods, but they also sought to change people's attitudes and behaviour. In fact, such is the diversity of their phases, methods and objectives and such is the multiplicity of their styles, that we should be talking of rural radios in the plural form. The main issue facing them was that of a communication strategy. Even though they had fixed schedules, the broadcasters were not able to measure the impact their messages had on an unorganized audience. Mere letters from listeners do not provide evidence that a message, after being received, has been assimilated or has led to any concrete action. Furthermore, one has to repeat a message on the radio several times because it is fleeting in nature. Scheduling constraints also pose a problem, especially when programme directors and station managers refuse to allocate much time or the best listening slots to educational broadcasts. And there is the shortage of funds which seriously affected rural radio stations' operations, as became clear when projects supporting them came to an end.

Of course, the economic crisis which has afflicted the continent for more than two decades, devastating the economies of African countries, did not left the world of communication unscathed. Funds from both national and external sources dried up, and this has generally led to a crisis in African radio, particularly in the field of rural radio. Having moved ahead by leaps and bounds in the 1970s, rural radio was gradually restricted by a bureaucratic approach to production, due largely to the lack of resources permitting programme makers to travel to rural areas and to meet with farmers. Rural radio was been in danger of complete asphyxiation, and a second breath of oxygen had to be found.

To do more with less, rural communicators had to resort to imaginative financial means, drawing inspiration from the experiences of others and making use of the new possibilities offered by advances in technology. Nevertheless, they soon found themselves faced with a lack of trained competent staff, with problems of distributing their final product due to the constraints of having share their transmitters with foreign language broadcasts, with the issue of the many languages that must be used to reach target audiences, and with a class censorship which tended to block programmes which challenged the prevailing social, political, cultural and economic environment. All these led to a lack of credibility, itself engendering a breakdown in communication.

Outside, vigorous demands were being made for a new information and communication order; inside, equal passion was devoted to doing next to nothing to change things. There, the new order was driven by a handful of technical staff - so-called development facilitators - who were unwavering in their positions and much enamoured with the good tidings heard at a CIERRO-ACCT training seminar for rural broadcasters held in Ouagadougou in 1981.

The studio has been transformed into a church where only the grand organ is played, where the only message to be amplified is that of the Channel of Truth. The believer who hears this, deeply aware of that which is sacred, promises deep down to act in accordance with the sound principles of the sermon. Yet, no sooner has he left the cathedral than he takes another path, to the great astonishment of the noble preacher who was sincerely steadfast about having convinced his parish of the validity of his arguments.

The severity of this judgement betrays its somewhat excessive nature, but it does highlight the perverse character of the information flows organized by some services and bodies in rural radio; it is a one-way flow, and at the last resort, it leads to a situation of 'non-communication'. Several alternative solutions were advanced, and the promotion of local rural radio in Africa is one that has been at the heart of debates among rural communication professionals since the early 1980s, discussed in various meetings organized by the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique (ACCT), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Union of National Radio and Television Organizations of Africa (URTNA) through its Inter-African Rural Radio Studies Centre in Ouagadougou (CIERRO).

At the beginning of the 1980s, these reflections led to the conclusion that there was a need to question the methods hitherto experimented with for reaching rural areas, and to search for new ways to improve communication. In 1981, from 4 to 28 October, a training seminar was held in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) for rural radio programmers, organized jointly by the ACCT and CIERRO. It was attended by fifteen participants from Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Togo and Tunisia. At its conclusion, the seminar report stated that “rural radio stations have done well to communicate to farmers the knowledge they needed, but they have forgotten that to learn is to express oneself and to teach oneself, especially when the true goal is for the community to assume its responsibilities.” Seminar participants agreed that local rural radio could provide a new basis for the possible renewal of communication in Africa, aiming for participatory methods linked to the problems of development.

In 1982, the community radio station of Homa Bay in the province of Nyanza in Kenya started regular broadcasts in the local language, Luo. Led by a producer of the national broadcasting service, the Voice of Kenya (VOK), with three assistants, it had a daily one-hour broadcast of local news. Health problems and family planning topics replaced the Ki-swahili news programmes from VOK. Most programmes were based on interviews held in the market place, on farms, in schools and with organized groups such as the local women's organisation. This community radio station was part of a UNESCO project which sought to create a low-cost radio station in rural areas, where the equipment would be designed and built using local labour. The station had a low-power FM transmitter (10 watts) and with its low energy consumption, it could use solar energy. The cost of imported material totalled US$900. The station later was later closed, due to disagreements between local people and the authorities.

In early 1983, a second CIERRO/ACCT seminar on local rural radio was held in Ouagadougou, with the goal of further developing what had been done in October 1981. The seminar discussion focused on the first seminar's report, “Towards a local rural radio”.

In late 1986, a workshop-seminar on the production of messages for community media defined the underlying concept behind the variety of terms in use: local radio, community radio, free radio and participatory radio. The same workshop - hosted by UNESCO and URTNA - determined the characteristics of the content and orientation of messages to be broadcast by a rural radio station. In September 1990, a seminar-workshop was held at CIERRO with the assistance of the Swiss Romande radio and television service, on the linkages between national, regional and local radio.

Let us see what conclusions can be reached from these developments and efforts to arrive at more focused roles and functions of rural radio. The overall observation to be made is that African rural radio stations were almost all created in the 1960s, following the various preparatory meetings launched by UNESCO and FAO, and in particular following the meeting held in Giseyni in Rwanda which called for the general replication of debate-radio and radio clubs already set up in Ghana (1956) and in Niger (1962) in the Association of Radio Clubs of Niger (ARCN).

After a decade of existence, the limitations of collective listening groups as the basis for rural radio in sub-Saharan Africa were to be clearly seen. The failures of ARCN and of the radio clubs of Benin and Burkina Faso speak volumes about the dissatisfaction of farmers with these uses of radio for development. Those limitations lie principally in the fact - and here we recall what has been said earlier - that rural radio stations have done well to communicate to farmers the knowledge they needed, but they have forgotten that to learn is to express oneself and to teach oneself, especially when the true goal is for the community to assume responsibility for its own development.

The question that arises is thus not to change the educational goals of rural radio, but to allow them to attain their full meaning. This implies a reversal of the methods used previously. It is this new approach which rural radio services have been trying to achieve since the 1980s, by adopting an interactive strategy and methodology. Elements in this strategy are the public broadcasts and debates held in villages, which give rural radio stations a role of dialogue between communities. International organisations such as FAO, CIRTEF (the International Council of French-language Radio and Television Services) and CTA (Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development ACP-EU) should support these moves towards a broader process of democratisation on the roles and uses of public rural radio.


What is at stake here is the need, today and in the future, to reinvent farmer participation in radio broadcasts, to give farmers free expression, and to arrive at a radio school of self-education where each listener can recognize their language, and better make it their own. Such an approach in radio must get close to the field it seeks to report. The future of rural radio is in local rural radio. It becomes what the community makes of it.

The basic characteristic of this type of radio service is that it belongs to the community, and that it aims at responding to the community's needs. It has the privilege of riding the wave of democratisation of communication, which enables the broad participation of men and women of the local community, although the nature of this participation depends on the particular social context.

This is part of an alternative approach to the use of radio - one in which the radio station adapts to the socio-cultural environment. It is led by the desire to be in close proximity to local circumstances and to provide the local community with the real possibility to participate in programming, to define content and to manage the station. By making the means of communication available to a social group, this approach, and these radio stations, encourage and engender a certain degree of democratisation because it is the very nature of participation. This participation goes beyond the medium in question; it also changes the form of the radio stations. Take the example of educational rural radio: true, it broadcasts literacy programmes and provides ample advice on health, agriculture and livestock, but it also has to innovate, to create attractive forms and 'genres' of radio which carry local values and knowledge.

In conclusion, these four aspects of radio - one could almost speak of four phases - come with four distinct methods. The first lays emphasis on sensitising rural people to the radio itself. Even though radio receivers are far from being ubiquitous, this stage has long been overtaken in most countries. The second phase is to encourage people, by radio, to adopt specific agricultural practices, by informing and initiating them in new techniques. It depends more on agricultural policy than on information policy. The third phase, taking an opposite approach, lets the farmers speak and has a positive impact on agricultural policy. The fourth phase comes from the challenge of democratisation, given the propensity of the radio medium to enable the demanding goal of democracy. When this facet is well-understood and wisely used, it can confer upon local radio not the function of being a tranquillizer but that of an instrument of popular expression and education. A facet which could open up some excellent perspectives for farmers' self-improvement.

Some people have posed the legitimate question of whether local communities might not be ready to take charge of and run democratic structures in Africa. The ensuing debate has been seized by some communication specialists to express reticence about, or even opposition to, community-based local radio.

Let us be clear. Radio is a political tool for governments. To accept its decentralisation and regionalisation in the form of local community radio is to take power from the government, and to give it to local communities, which have long been excluded from the scene of public administration. For thousands of years these communities had their own democratic forms of justice and organisation, but they have been confiscated. Let these responsibilities be handed back gradually, let people again take ownership of them through the various social, political and economic organisations broadcasting on the continent, and - why not - let this happen through the use of local rural radio stations.

The experiences of Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Congo and Ivory Coast in this process, under the leadership of the ACCT, are such that attention needs to be given to mechanisms enabling the community to assume ownership of their radio station, to issues of programme content and production, to the languages used, and to the roles assigned to specific broadcasts.


There is a direct link between the period in which private, commercial, and community radio blossomed, and the rise of political demands in Africa. Radio stations which were linked to associations or to political parties made claims for frequencies in order to gain liberty and democracy. As a result, in 1989 and 1990, in the process of drawing up their constitutions, some countries elaborated communication policies which authorized the establishment of private radio stations, regardless of the type.

And so, at the end of 1990, the first commercial private radio station was set up in Burkina Faso, under the name of Horizon FM, and another three were set up between 1992 and 1995. In Mali, it was not until the establishment of a constitutional government in 1992 that several radio stations sprung up, both in towns and rural areas. The same trend was set to grow even faster in Niger, Senegal and Cameroon where communication professionals, associations and rural communities all demanded more space for freedom of expression.

These stations were to fulfil various political, cultural and spiritual roles, depending on their background and circumstances. Some served to link the village with the Diaspora community of its emigrant sons and daughters, as in the case of the radio station in Kayes. Others have been commercial stations broadcasting primarily music and advertising.

One thing they have in common: they all broadcast programmes with information components, covering questions of health, environment, making skilful use of national languages and local music. In fact, many of them have started playing the initial roles and uses of rural radio with even a greater degree of attention in targeting specific audiences (youth, women, farmers, fishermen) or entire communities. All this raises the question of what rural radio will be like five years hence.

Civil society is getting organized, and is gradually acquiring communication tools for the simple reason that it needs to communicate. Radio is such tool because it is the cheapest of (mass) communication tools and rural people can easily obtain it. Radio has the flexibility for playing the following roles:

This is why it is not realistic to seek to divide the 'clientele', as some aspire to do, into two opposing groups of urban and rural audiences. Reality is more refined, and the differences and differing lifestyles which are specific to ethnic or community membership - language, gender and age - play an increasingly important role.

The roles and uses of rural radio in the early years of the 21st century will be determined by the forces which separate or bring together existing rural radio stations and community, public, private, religious and commercial services. The end of broadcast monopolies opened the way to a division of tasks and roles. Henceforth the determining factors will be the freedoms, rules and unifying practices needed in the framework of Africa's emerging media pluralism.

What alliances between public, commercial and community radio services can we expect to emerge in the future? What sets of structures, what regulations, and what other measures will be required to allow commercial, community and public service broadcasters to coexist? What can public service, commercial and community radio learn from each other? How can financial sustainability be assured?

These are the fundamental questions, inspired by half a century of rural radio experience in Africa, that must be asked as we prepare for the next fifty years.


ACCT. 1980. Pour une radio locale en Afrique, Ouagadougou.

Bliß Rudiger, L. 1987. ein Entwicklungsmedium fur die Dritte Welt, in Entwicklung und landliches raum, 1987.

Ilboudo, J.-P. 1989. L'expérience burkinabé dans le domaine de la radio rurale, in Carrefour africain no. 1102.

Ilboudo, J.-P. 1992. Etude des conditions de production, du contenu du discours radiophonique et de l'auditoire de la radio rurale au Burkina dans les années 1980. Thèse pour le Doctorat en Sciences de l'Information et de la Communication, Université de Bordeaux III.

Tudesq, A. J. 1983. La radio en Afrique noire, Paris: Pedone.

Tudesq, A.J., Albert, P. 1981. Histoire de la radio-télévision, Presses Universitaires de France, Que sais-je. Paris.

Photo: Alfonso Gumucio

Chapter 17: Radio Chaguarurco: Now you're not alone - Bruce Girard

I think the famous phrase that described the radio and what we wanted to do with it was 'now you're not alone'. Now there's a communication medium where you can talk, say what you feel, and denounce that person who is giving you a hard time. Now you're not alone. That was the phrase that motivated people. - Marcela Pesantez, member of Radio Chaguarurco

It was in Latin America that the world's first community radio experiences were initiated fifty years ago, when two very distinct movements turned to radio as a way of increasing their influence and contributing to community development.

First to appear on the airwaves, in 1947, was the Catholic Church's Radio Sutatenza, in Colombia. Founded by Father José Joaquín Salcedo, Sutatenza had two objectives - to broadcast the Christian doctrine to Colombian peasants, and to teach those same peasants skills that would contribute to the community's development. In spite of the amateur equipment at their disposal, Salcedo's message travelled further and faster over the airwaves than from the pulpit. The students, listeners organized into informal classes, would meet mornings or evenings at neighbourhood houses to listen to the programmes and discuss the lessons.[101]

Five years later, in Bolivia, the members of a tin miners' union decided to contribute a day's salary each month to a communication fund and La Voz del Minero (the Miner's Voice) was born. The mines surrounding the town of Siglo XX, four thousand metres above sea level, had been recently nationalized in the Revolution of 1952. However, as the Latin American socialist writer, Eduardo Galeano, was to say years later, the tin mines of Bolivia were the best argument in the world against nationalisation. Working and living conditions were so bad that the life expectancy of a miner was less than 35 years. Although its doctrine was different than Radio Sutatenza, the Voz del Minero was born to evangelize. In time the station took on a role that went beyond spreading militant doctrine and made immeasurable contributions to democratisation and community development.

From these roots of rural Christian charity and militant trade unionism, community radio has come to have a significant presence in Latin America, where private commercial, church, university, trade union and indigenous peoples' radio stations have combined to make the region's radio the most dynamic and diverse in the world. This chapter looks at one station and its contribution to its community.


Radio Chaguarurco, located in a rural part of Ecuador's southern province of Azuay, is a young station that continues the tradition set by Sutatenza and the Voz del Minero.

The idea of setting up Radio Chaguarurco started with a series of workshops in 1990. These were organized by campesino organisations and by the local churches in the counties of Santa Isabel and Pucará, in the province of Azuay in the southern part of Ecuador. The workshops were intended to organize the communities in order to get access to basic services such as drinking water and electricity and to ensure that human rights were being respected. A document written by the station's founders explains how the discussion of the need for basic services started the process that eventually gave birth to a radio station:

As we were getting organized, we started to talk about what we needed; first we mentioned electricity and drinking water, but after that, and above all other needs, we started talking about communication, about being able to share a common reality and being able to analyse it in order to improve it. That was how Radio Chaguarurco started. Some people who didn't live in the countryside asked: Why do you want a community radio station if there are so many other priorities? It would be much more logical to prioritise projects that cover more basic needs. Isn't a radio station a luxury? Sure, there are lots of other needs: health, nutrition, education, better agricultural techniques to improve production, daycare. But more than filling holes and patching things up to temporarily fulfil our needs, it's important to think about the causes of these problems, about the injustice and inequality that bring about misery and marginalisation.

Humberto Berezueta, director of the station adds:

The idea for Chaguarurco grew out of the need to communicate. In the counties where Radio Chaguarurco is located, it's very difficult to receive radio stations from the region. Even though we're in the mountains, we can only receive stations from the coast. That's one problem. Another is that most people don't have access to television, and even fewer to newspapers, which only reach a very few people in the urban centres of the two counties. Telephones are still unavailable in many of the towns, and not at all in the countryside, where most of the people live.

The communities are very scattered. Some communities are 30 minutes from the county centres, where the political structures and the markets are located. Others are an hour's walk with no roads. Others are three hours away. Others are ten hours. Some are as far away as twelve hours. For them it's practically impossible to be in daily, or even weekly, contact with the county centres.

Communication began to be seen as a necessity by the Church and campesino organisations in the area that had already been working together on various development projects. They recognized the potential of radio to work alongside other development initiatives, and decided to establish a station.

The idea caught on quickly and within a few months the possibility of a community radio station became one of the main topics of discussion at the ongoing workshops. According to Nelson Campoverde, a member of Chaguarurco's board, people in rural areas were used to being excluded from the media. Once they started talking about having their own radio station, they became excited by the possibility of having a communication medium that would provide an ongoing means to talk about the necessities of their communities and about the problems in getting basic services provided by local authorities. “This is something that used to be difficult because commercial media wouldn't let us on the air because, as you know, sometimes they just don't let people from the countryside on the air.”

Everyone agreed that the idea of a radio station was a good one, but the problem was, who would make it a reality? A frequency and government permission would be required. Equipment would have to be bought. Who would own the station? Where would the station be located? Which communities would it serve?

The local Church parishes and the peasant organisation, Proyecto Norte, quickly emerged as the two main drivers of the project. They had already collaborated on previous development projects and had both participated in the discussions about establishing the radio from the outset. With help from Diego Delgado, the area's representative in Congress, they started making plans for the station.

The first problem they faced was obtaining a broadcast licence. In 1992, Ecuadorian law did not recognize community radio.[102] Getting a commercial licence involved a complex and long process that, even after years of waiting, was as likely as not to fail unless one had better political contacts and more influence than the people of Santa Isabel and Pucará did. Fortunately, Diego Delgado remembered that there had been a station in Santa Isabel a few years previous. The man it had belonged to had died and the station had been off the air for many years. However, the licence was still valid and the former owner's son, Rodrigo Palacios, was willing to sell it. Buying a station still requires government permission, which involves a process almost as long and complicated as being assigned a new frequency, but it doesn't require the same political influence.

With the process of legalising the ownership of the frequency underway, the founders next turned their attention to deciding where the station would be located. The two choices were Pucará and Santa Isabel.


With a population of 3 000 people, Santa Isabel is the centre of the county of the same name. For many reasons, it seemed the logical place to locate the station: it is the largest town in the region and an important supply centre for the surrounding communities and countryside. Apart from the Church and the parish community centre, the central plaza is ringed by banks, doctors' offices and shops with shelf space shared by plastic kitchen utensils, hardware, rum, fertilizers, television sets, and blue jeans. Not only because of its market, but also because it is less than two hours from the provincial capital of Cuenca, on the main road linking most of the communities to the capital, and because it has telephone service, Santa Isabel is an important communication centre for the region. At 1 500 metres above sea level, the climate is moderate year round - warm in the day and cool at night - perfect for growing tomatoes, onions and even sugar cane, products that are marketed throughout Ecuador.

The village of Pucará, centre of the county of Pucará, is only 40 kilometres from Santa Isabel. However, the non-stop bus takes two hours to climb to more than 3,100 metres above sea level. The unpaved road winds alongside steep cliffs and rises quickly. In the rainy season, the road can be closed for days at a time. There are no telephones in Pucará and when the road is closed, the town is shut off from the world.

With a population of less than 1 000, Pucará is at the end of the road. Its single street is a tear-shaped loop, with a brightly painted Church in the middle and a perimeter of breath-taking mountains and valleys. The majestic view camouflages a harsher reality. With an average annual temperature of only 12 degrees and nights that drop to near zero, Pucará's climate won't support the tomatoes and onions that are the main cash crops in the Santa Isabel area. Subsistence agriculture is the rule, beans and potatoes the staples, and precariousness a way of life.

Pucará did have one important advantage. While Santa Isabel was larger and a more important economic and communications centre, Pucará's altitude and more central location meant that from a technical perspective it was a better place to locate the transmitter.

However, the question of where to put the station, in addition to technical and financial considerations, also had a political dimension. The community where the station was located would be more likely to have its concerns broadcast, its members interviewed, and to benefit most from the existence of the station.

The solution was to put the transmitter in Pucará, the administrative centre in Santa Isabel, and studios in both communities linked via microwave. When Chaguarurco's director, Humberto Berezueta, talks about the radio, he says it is actually two stations sharing a single frequency and a single identity:

Local information is gathered at both stations. News programmes are in duplex, with two anchors, one in Pucará and one in Santa Isabel. Interviews, in certain cases, are also in duplex, with the interviewer in one community and the person being interviewed in the other.

While the stations are located in towns, the townspeople are not the main audience. Of the estimated 65 000 people in the area, only 20 percent live in the dozen or so communities in the area (most of which are smaller than Pucará). The other 80 percent live and work on small plots of land in the countryside. While the station's listening area is primarily mountainous, it also includes part of the coastal lowlands, where banana and cocoa are produced for export crops and mining is an important activity. Most listeners dedicate themselves to agriculture. In lower altitudes they supply products to the national market. At higher altitudes, where conditions are more difficult, subsistence farming is more the norm. Many people, particularly those from higher altitudes, spend parts of the year as migrant workers in the coastal harvests or in the mines.


The issue of ownership of the station was as important as that of location. From the beginning it was agreed that the radio station would not be owned by the local priest, or the parish, or any single person. It was to be owned by the grassroots organisations in the region, by the people. In September 1992 the “Chaguarurco” Foundation for Rural Development was established with representatives from campesino organisations in the two counties, from the Catholic parishes, and from the workers and volunteers of the radio station. Nelson Campoverde is a member of the foundation's board and an activist with the campesino organisation, Proyecto Norte, in Santa Isabel:

The radio is under the care and supervision of a foundation created with a specific objective: that the radio not have a single owner so that tomorrow or later on the owner doesn't decide not to give space to the people from the countryside. With that mission, the Chaguarurco Foundation was formed so that there will be representatives and no single owner. So, we're all owners.

The Chaguarurco Foundation's board meets every three months, with extraordinary meetings when necessary. The board receives reports from the director and makes all the important programming and budget decisions.

By the time the foundation was set up, the dream of the radio station had been circulating for almost two years. Everyone thought that the day they would have their community radio station was just around the corner. Nobody foresaw that they would have to wait another two and a half years. Nelson Campoverde explains why it took so long:

After the formation of the foundation we had to see how we were going to make it work. We needed money to buy the equipment. We had to get the frequency. We also had to train the personnel. With the aid of technicians from CORAPE[103] in Quito, we organized training for community reporters, which is what we call them now. This took a long time. To get the money, which is scarce in Santa Isabel and Pucará, was a long and difficult process.

In the end, the radio finally went on the air and started serving the community. We're happy with the work that it does for the community and with the efforts and the energy that all of us put into the project. If we hadn't stuck it out, the radio wouldn't be here. It took time but we moved forward step by step and now, here we are.

As Campoverde says, money is not easy to come by in the region, and the project was going to be an expensive one. Because of the area's geographic characteristics, the radio station required an AM transmitter, which was substantially more expensive than FM would have been. The 5 kilowatt Nautel transmitter, including its antenna and installation, was going to cost US$80 000, an amount much higher than the community could put together on its own. Once the foundation was established, it started the slow process of getting the money together from local and international sources. However, Berezueta emphasizes that while they needed money, they were not prepared to sacrifice the station's independence:

Practically all the equipment was new. What we got when we bought the old station wasn't even good enough to put in a museum. The transmitter, antenna and installation was paid for with a donation from the Spanish aid agency, Intermon. Caritas and Manos Unidas also helped. So did some Spanish volunteers who held bingos and other events in Spain to buy some tape recorders, a microphone, a computer and other equipment for the station. The Church in [the provincial capital] Cuenca donated a pickup truck.

Everything we received was for equipment and installations. That's what we got from international aid. After that the radio operated on its own. We never asked for anything for administration or personnel. The idea of the project is to be autonomous, not to have salaries or operational costs paid by an international organisation. The idea was that the radio had to pay its own way. And that's what we're doing.


In the meantime, the process of legalising the purchase of the frequency crept slowly ahead and a group of volunteers began training people from the community to work with the station. According to Berezueta, training posed a special problem because almost nobody working on the project had ever worked in radio so they had to train themselves first in order to be able to train the others.

They had to train people to run the stations - technical training, journalism, announcing, everything. A couple of Spanish volunteers who were helping had a little experience in community radio stations in Madrid, but nobody else had ever done radio. They read whatever books they could find and travelled to other stations to see how they did it. Experienced radio people were invited to speak and to give courses. In the end, a manual and a trainers' package were produced based on what had been learned. Then the newly trained trainers went out to start training the community volunteers.

Serious training started in December 1993. The idea was that each community would look for a person that they considered to be an appropriate correspondent. In addition, there was a general invitation to anyone who was interested in participating in the courses. Marcela Pesantez was one of the trainers:

Four of us worked in the training and we divided up the work. Every Saturday, two would go to one community and two to another. This lasted a long time, from December 1993 until October 1994. By that time we had lots of groups of volunteer correspondents trained. People were excited about the radio and lots of them would walk four, five or even six hours to get to the place where the courses were held... People would leave their houses at four in the morning to arrive at nine or ten and join the group. This was particularly so when we held courses in Ponce Enríquez, where there had been lots of conflict and lots of people who had been abused by authorities. Some people had been killed. People believed that the radio would help them put an end to the abuses.

In November 1994, the staff was selected from amongst those who had been trained. In December the new staff members underwent a month of intensive training. The ongoing training and discussions about the radio and how it would help the community kept the project moving forward and kept the organisations and individuals involved. However, it had taken five years for the station to move from dream to reality, and the wait had a cost. “In the beginning everyone thought that there was going to be a radio right away,” explains Berezueta. “But the dream seemed to get more distant as time went by. Some compañeros got discouraged and left. It was one thing for the organisations to undertake an irrigation project to grow potatoes, but nobody had ever set up a radio station before.”

Finally, the station went on the air. Marcela Pesantez was there on the first day:

On 1 January 1995 we went on the air. It was the most beautiful thing. Beautiful. With lots of people listening. We were crazy. Greeting all the people. Thanking the ones who had been with us since the beginning, those who had taken courses with us, the correspondents. Making calls to Cuenca to see if the signal reached the city. We made calls to Machala to see if they were listening. There were some people who knew we were going to be on the air and they called us. It was crazy. We played lots of music and every few minutes going on the air, “This is Radio Chaguarurco! We're on the air! Listen to us, at 1550 kilohertz! Tell your neighbours to listen!”

It was beautiful.

After a while, we started to calm down. But it took at least three days until we were calm enough to start doing the real work of the radio station.

Now you're not alone

It quickly became apparent that the real work of the radio station involved a lot more than simply producing radio programmes. After years of waiting, people's expectations were high. They were not going to be satisfied with a station that sounded like all the rest. They wanted to hear their own experiences and concerns told in their own voices and in their own language. “I think the famous phrase that described the radio and what we wanted to do with it was now you're not alone,” explains Marcela Pesantez. “Now there's a communication medium where you can talk, say what you feel, and denounce that person who is giving you a hard time. Now you're not alone. That was the phrase that motivated people.”

To produce the kind of radio that the community wanted required a different kind of relationship with the members of the community than an ordinary station might have, and a different kind of radio producer. Only four of the eight fulltime staff and 20 volunteers at Radio Chaguarurco have ever formally studied journalism, the others learned their skills in Chaguarurco's own courses, but all of them work as journalists and programme producers in addition to sharing the secretarial, sales, technical and administrative tasks. Five of the fulltime staff are based at the station in Santa Isabel and the other three in Pucará. Nelson Campoverde thinks that their dedication to the community is what differentiates them from other radio producers:

It should be noted that the “workers” in the station are in fact practically volunteers. Their salaries aren't even the minimum that the law requires. They're volunteers who work in the radio with small salaries. As the radio's income rises, their salaries increase bit by bit. Very few of them are professionals. Its important to note that most of the personnel were trained here in the radio while doing radio and that they work here because it's their way of contributing to their own community.

Humberto Berezueta is one of the trained journalists. A native of Pucará, he studied journalism and teaching at the university in Cuenca. After he graduated he stayed in Cuenca for a couple years, freelancing for the daily newspaper, El Mercurio. One day, a delegation from Santa Isabel visited him. “They had seen my name in El Mercurio, Berezueta is a name from Pucará, and they came to ask me if I was interested in working in my own community. So I went to work with the radio station... It revolutionized the way I think about and practice journalism. At Chaguarurco, I'm able to combine my training as a journalist and as an educator, and to be a communicator.” Humberto was hired to direct the operations of the satellite studio in Pucará and is now overall director of Chaguarurco, based in Santa Isabel.

Marcela Pesantez also studied communications in Cuenca. When she finished, she went back to her home town of Santa Isabel, not sure of what she would do, but wanting to help her own people break out of their precarious condition. When she heard about the project to start the radio station, she immediately volunteered to help. The fact that she had never studied radio did not stop her from immersing herself in the medium and becoming one of the project's trainers. “I think it was good that none of us knew anything about radio. It meant that we didn't have any preconceptions about how it had to be done and that meant that we could do it in a different way.”

In addition to the paid staff, there are some 20 volunteer producers. Half a dozen of them are community correspondents from surrounding villages. They gather the news in their areas and periodically travel to the station with their stories and tapes. The station supplies them with tape recorders and rechargeable batteries, and proceeds from an annual raffle are used to pay their bus fare.

Others, such as Graciela “Chela” Morina, produce music programmes. Six days a week Chela goes to the station in Santa Isabel to do a one-hour programme featuring Ecuadorian music. Like the other volunteers, she brings her own specialty to the station. She developed an interest in national music at a time when it wasn't available on the radio. Asked how she manages to do a daily programme with the station's limited selection of CDs, cassette tapes and vinyl albums, she points to the bag under her arm stuffed with records and tapes, and describes how the radio programme has “collectivised” her personal music collection.

Other volunteers produce the weekly programme El Mercado (The Market). The programme is hosted simultaneously in Pucará and Santa Isabel and looks at prices and trends in the area's markets. It has played an important role in controlling prices and speculation.

Marcela Pesantez says that there is a constant turnover among the volunteers and that for this reason the station continues to offer regular radio courses to new volunteers:

We kept offering training to new people, but after a while we lost some of the volunteers. The group from Ponce Enríquez was left out. We thought the signal would reach the community but it didn't. It was a shame. There was a good group there... Later, little by little, some of the correspondents lost interest. Radio is lots of fun but when you don't have a salary or a stable job, no matter how much you like radio, you have to think about finances. You grow up and you want to get married and have kids and all that stuff. So, little by little people started leaving.


Like other radio stations, Radio Chaguarurco's programming incorporates news, interviews, music and cultural programmes. There are, however, a number of important characteristics that distinguish Chaguarurco from other stations. The most important of these is the priority the radio station gives to local voices, language and culture. Unlike radio stations in the city, with announcers who try to hide any regionalisms in their accents or their language, Chaguarurco's announcers celebrate their own way of speaking.

Another important distinction is the way the station actively seeks out the participation of people from the countryside, inviting them to visit the radio station, to tell their stories, to sing, or just to greet their friends and family members over the air.

The station never forgets its important role as a communication channel at the service of the communities, the telephone for those who don't have telephones. Pilar Gutierrez works with Pucará Community Health Project:

There are places where it is very difficult to access because they have no roads. The people who live there listen to the station for any information about visitors they might have so they can be ready for them. This is the case of our community health project. We have a medical team that periodically visits these communities. Before the radio they would travel to a community and lose hours or even days waiting for the news of their arrival to get out to the people in the countryside and for the people to travel to where they were waiting to attend to their health problems. Now the radio announces the visits and the community is ready and waiting for them on the announced day and time. This means the medical team can visit more communities and provide a more efficient and better service for everyone.

In her work with the Pucará health project, Pilar Gutierrez travels to the communities and sees first-hand how important the radio's programmes are for the campesinos:

In health matters, for example, lots of people listen to the radio dramas that the station produces and broadcasts everyday. The dramas have characters that the people in the countryside can identify with, like Don Julgencio. The characters chat with each other and tell stories about health and other matters. They talk about how to treat garbage, about vaccinations, about how to preserve the environment, which is an important health issue. They talk about nutrition. When they learn this way, they understand what is being said and they don't forget it.

People, especially in Pucará, listen a lot. They are very attentive to the radio. They are faithful to Radio Chaguarurco. They don't listen to, or rarely listen to other radio stations. Besides the radio dramas, they also listen to the news, especially news from Pucará, or that some government representative is going to visit, or that something or other is happening in Cuenca. For example, when a group goes to Cuenca from Pucará to meet with authorities about a local project, they visit the radio station on their way back and ask for an interview so they can tell people what happened.

Humberto Berezueta writes most of the radio dramas and they are acted out by the station's own staff members. The radio dramas provide a valuable way of explaining complex issues in everyday language and in a way that people can easily understand. Themes for the daily dramas are varied, covering health, the environment, politics, culture and human rights.

A recent change to the programming has been the inclusion of news from Latin America and the world that the station gets from ALRED, the radio service of the Latin American Association for Radio Education, and the Púlsar news agency. A satellite dish on the roof of the Pucará station receives ALRED's programmes, and news from Púlsar arrives via the Internet. Ramiro Tapia comments:

I think that the station's programming is making progress. For example, this year we started to get information from other countries, countries that many of us didn't know about before. And information from our own people as well, we see that there are people there just like us, campesinos like us. We're exchanging information with them. In the same way we receive information here from other countries, we also send news from here to other countries. And this is interesting, to communicate like brothers between different countries, and even different continents.


While the station did (and still does) count on the support of international solidarity for major capital expenses, the Chaguarurco Foundation decided that the healthiest way for the station to operate, was to pay its own way. Like many community radio stations, Radio Chaguarurco has a secret when it comes to paying the bills - keep costs low by using the resources freely offered by the communities it serves. The volunteer labour of the programmers is one way the community contributes. In addition, the studios in Pucará and Santa Isabel are in space provided free by the local church parishes, and there is always someone around to offer their carpentry skills or make a pot of soup in a minga (a day of volunteer labour for a community project) when the station needs to renovate a studio or paint the offices. However, volunteer labour and community donations cannot cover all the costs, and Chaguarurco has to generate some US$2 000 per month to cover its operational costs.

The station's financial situation is healthy. Chaguarurco not only manages to generate enough revenue to cover its fixed costs, it is also able to pit aside a few thousand dollars a year to improve its equipment or cover unforeseen costs. However, as Berezueta says, “We are in a good financial position, but if the transmitter were destroyed by lightening tomorrow, it would be impossible for us to replace it.”

Sources of revenue include advertising, community announcements, production services, and remote broadcasts of cultural events.

Advertising accounts for about 20 percent of the station's revenue. From the beginning it has been a controversial subject. Some people argued that advertising had no place on a community radio station. Others said that the survival and growth of the station was the most important thing and, consequently, all advertisers should be welcome on the station. In the end, Chaguarurco adopted policies that favour the promotion of local goods and services. Ramiro Tapia, a member of the foundation's board, explains:

A fundamental point since Radio Chaguarurco began to work was that it was going to be different from other commercial radio stations. What we want to do is encourage our communities to return to our past, to not forget our past. We have to try to value what is ours. What the other radios put in our ears, and television in our eyes, is the consumption of imported products and products developed with technologies and chemicals. Their message is that we should leave aside what we produce in our own fields. Our radio doesn't give space to advertising for Coca Cola or for alcohol (alcoholism is a serious health problem in the region). But there will always be space for any other type of commercial that doesn't harm people's health.

Political advertising is another controversial subject. For most of the country's radio stations, elections are a bonanza. More than a dozen parties buy advertising and it is customary for stations to put a surcharge of 20 to 150 percent on political advertising. As the owner of a commercial station in Cuenca said, only half joking, “these politically unstable times have saved most of us from bankruptcy.”

The temptation is strong. During a recent election campaign, one party offered to buy large block of time for partisan programmes at a price that would have paid the bills for months. However, Ramiro Tapia says that would not have provided a service to the community.

When there are political campaigns, one of our policies is that the radio has is to give equal possibilities to all political parties. We don't want a situation in which the more powerful parties have more possibilities of promoting themselves on this station.

Whenever we have these debates, the disagreement always comes down to if we don't accept this advertising, what will the radio station live on? Of course, this advertising would provide a lot of revenue. However, we are seeing that we can live without it. We are getting enough advertising to keep the station going.

More important than advertising, accounting for some 40 percent of the station's revenue, are community announcements. Broadcast at various times throughout the day, content of the announcements ranges from announcing community events, to sending messages to a distant family about the health of a loved one in the hospital (see box 1). Like the restrictions on alcohol and political advertising, the policies that govern community announcements take into account not only the health of the station, but also that of the community. Two of the foundation's board members comment:

They're one of the things that we want to do with the radio station because they offer the possibility to communicate quickly with people in the countryside. Sometimes a sick person goes to the hospital and we have to stay waiting in the house for someone who has been with the sick person to know whether he's dead or alive. But the presence of the station has made it easier. (Nelson Campoverde)

The community announcements are one of the major benefits that the station offers to the communities. For example, if we're in Quito [Ecuador's capital city] and we want to communicate with our family, where there is no telephone, no direct means of communicating with them, the radio helps us. From Quito we call the radio, and the radio immediately transmits our message to our family. Of course, we all know that if we receive a message from a family member who is away, we have to go to the station right away to pay for the message. (Ramiro Tapia)

Some typical community announcements

From: the teacher Bisnarda Ochoa in Guasipamba

For: her father

Message: Try to come on Wednesday because you have to go to the school board to register the name of the school. Wednesday because our father will be in Cerro Negro Wednesday afternoon.

From: Daniel Nieves

For: Fredy Nieves and family

Message: The patient that Daniel was visiting in Santa Isabel is in the same condition and Daniel is now on his way back home. Also, tell Fredy to tell Lucio that Daniel won't be able to work with the engineer this week because he has to go to Pasaje on Sunday 27 September. Stay tuned to the radio for more messages.

Message: All the residents of Shaglli are invited to participate in a general minga that will take place on Tuesday 22 September to get rocks from the Masucay River and bring them to the village. The material will be used in the construction of the community communication centre and the town council has offered the use of a truck to transport it. Thank you for your collaboration.

Another source of income is the production of programmes on health and other issues for local NGOs and government. These programmes are not only broadcast on the radio, but they are also distributed on cassette and used in workshops and seminars.

The station also gets some help from a solidarity group in Spain. According to Marcela Pesantez, Francisco “Paco” Aperador, one of the Spanish volunteers who helped get the station on the air, went to Madrid for a few months before the station went on the air:

While he was in Spain he organized a solidarity group for the radio. They were mostly friends of his, interested in Latin America. We joked that they were like a cell of a revolutionary movement. The name took and we still talk about the Cell. When he came back to Santa Isabel, he stayed in touch with them and kept them informed about the radio's progress. They started to meet every few weeks to hear about the project's progress. When the radio went on the air and we needed a little money to buy something that was missing, a chair for the studio, a desk, a telephone, they would get some money together and send it to Paco. At first they gave their own money. Later they joined with another group in Madrid and started to do bingos, dinners, handicraft sales. There must be some 18 or 20 members of the Cell. Almost all of them have come to visit at some point. In the summer my house is practically a hotel!


Radio Chaguarurco has worked alongside other development and democratic initiatives to make a number of important changes in community life. An evaluation of the radio station concluded that it has improved communication, helped bring about more democracy and less abuse, made a positive contribution by promoting the sharing of experiences and solutions to problems, and made people more aware of and proud of their own culture. (Box 2) Two members of the community who have followed the Chaguarurco's growth since before it began were asked what they thought was the station's proudest moment:

I couldn't say that there has been any single moment, I think the best moments happen everyday, whenever we're listening to the signal, in our homes, in our communities. The proudest moment is whenever there is a chance to say, in public, that we think there's a problem with the way a certain authority is acting, or that a given project benefits the people in the centre at the expense of those of us in the countryside. Before we couldn't do anything about these but now the station is open to us. We just have to come here, ask for an interview and say this is what's happening or this is what so and so from whatever institution is doing. And with this knowledge people start figuring out what's happening. Now we aren't slaves to information, we have it. So the best moment isn't just a single moment but everyday. (Nelson Campoverde)

I think that we get a lot of satisfaction from the radio just by knowing that we can hear the voices of other campesinos on the radio, something that was impossible before because the campesino is always silenced by the powerful and our voices are only rarely heard on the commercial stations. Radio Chaguarurco gives us this possibility. That's the most beautiful thing - to hear our own people express themselves, with our own language, and it's beautiful, isn't it? The other stations criticize us for the way we talk, but we're used to it. (Ramiro Tapia)

How the radio station helps the community

Communication is easier now. Before, if someone went to the hospital from a community, those who stayed behind didn't know what had happened until the patient returned, or didn't. Now the radio has a system of announcements and communiqués. Every day, from 6:30 to 7:00 in the morning, at noon from 12:00 to 12:30 and from 6:00 to 6:30 at night we can send all kinds of messages - the situation of patients in the hospital, deaths (before one would learn about the death of a family member months afterwards), lost animals (now when you lose a cow, you announce it on the radio and whoever finds it knows who to return it to), invitations to meetings, etc.... the radio is the telephone for those of us who don't have telephones.

The authorities, institutions and merchants are more democratic. Before it was easy to abuse a campesino, charging higher prices, stealing material that was intended for public works projects in the communities or whatever; it was an everyday practice. Now when there is an abuse, everybody hears about it on the radio. As a result these kinds of injustices have practically disappeared. The radio serves as a sort of guardian in the democratic game.

The radio has served to let us share experiences and problems. Before if a community wanted to get electricity, it involved lots of trips to Cuenca to find out what was involved and how to do it. Now people from communities that have gone through the process of getting electricity, or drinking water, or subsidies for agricultural projects, tell about their experiences on the radio and this helps the others see the process and understand what has to be done, who has to be talked to, etc.. In addition, solutions to everyday problems are shared, ideas about farming techniques or latrine building are exchanged...

The radio is contributing to the valorisation of our culture, our music, our way of speaking. The songs that had practically disappeared and that were only sung by the oldest people during family gatherings, are once again heard on the radio. The programmes featuring amateur singers have been very important. Every community has one or two people who sing and even compose songs and they are all being heard on the radio. They are the most popular programmes and they are generating renewed pride in our culture.

Photo: Alfonso Gumucio

[97] Under U.S. law, the government is not permitted to own or operate domestic radio stations, a law intended to prevent the medium from being used as a propaganda vehicle by the government or party in power. As a result, in the United States the government relies on private commercial radio stations or "public" stations belonging to foundations, universities or community groups, to provide air time for the programmes it produces.
[98] Robert Hilliard and Michael Keith, The Broadcast Century and Beyond: A Biography of American Broadcasting, 2001.
[99] An electro-magnetic recording device that recorded on spools of wire. The format was later replaced by the modern tape recorder.
[100] The author was Chief of the Public Broadcasting Branch of the Federal Communications Commission at the time.
[101] Radio Sutatenza eventually became a national network of educational radio stations. Until 1989, when it was bought by Caracol, another national network, and converted into the commercial Cadena de Noticias, it was one of six national networks in Colombia.
[102] Community radio was not recognized in Ecuador until 1996. Most community radio stations are licensed as commercial or cultural stations. In 1996, the government approved a law that made provisions for community radio stations. However, it placed severe restrictions on them including prohibiting commercial activity, limiting transmission power to 500 watts and requiring approval from the army for reasons of "national security". CORAPE, the national association representing community radio, brought a constitutional challenge to the law, eventually winning important concessions.
[103] CORAPE (Coordinadora de Radio Popular y Educativa del Ecuador) represents community radio on the national level. CORAPE provides training, technical support, research and a daily news programme for its 26 members.

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