“Radio Sutatenza: a cultural revolution in the Colombian countryside (1947 – 1994)” is an exhibition that reconstructs the historyof the famous radio station, which sought to reduce the abysmal distances between the quality of rural and urban life through education in the basics and at a distance. Managed by the Acción Cultural Popular (Acpo), an educational company of Catholic extraction, it used an educational method that combined communication technologies with a model of Comprehensive Fundamental Education (Efi), seeking to generate social change. In forty years, working with public and private entities, Acpo has created a network of educational media in more than nine hundred Colombian municipalities.
An evergreen slogan
“Education makes us free” was the slogan used to invite the peasants to participate in the radio movement and to practice independently. The success of Radio Sutatenza stemmed from the fact that teaching entered the homes of thousands of peasants, many of whom set up radio schools in their homes to welcome those approaching learning for the first time, to meet their neighbours, but also to listen to entertainment programmes. The travelling exhibition has been taken to different cities in Colombia for several years. Videos are available on YouTube and several images of the exhibition can be found on the website of Studio Machete, which designed the exhibition layout.
While at the end of 2020 the Uruguayan government had averted the closure of Radio Clarín, the historic broadcaster of tango, folklore and typical Uruguayan music, Radio Ciudad de Montevideo did not make it. The historic station (which has been on the air since 1930 on 1370 kHz on medium waves) was nicknamed ‘La 42‘ because of the identification code CX42 assigned to it (a code of letters and numbers, also known as “call sign”, inherited from the days of the telegraph, which in many countries of the American continent is attributed to authorised radio stations). Several burglaries to the transmission system brought the station to its knees, making the crisis irreversible. Programming ranged from tropical music to sports and summer theatre, and for 43 years the radio followed the Montevideo carnival.
The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic (over 600,000 people have died in the South American country) has brought many broadcasters to their knees, and they have asked to reduce their transmission power in order to cut operating costs. So the Ministry of Communications has allowed radio and TV broadcasters to reduce their authorised watts by up to 30% for six months, at times when the audience is less busy. The president of the Brazilian Association of Broadcasters (Abert), Flávio Lara Resende, was satisfied and said ‘by accepting the sector’s request, the Mcom is showing itself sensitive to the moment of a financial crisis that the private sector is going through, driven by the coronavirus pandemic‘.
Despite risking imprisonment of up to six years and a fine of up to US$54,000 for what the law calls “aggravated theft of the radio spectrum,” illegal stations proliferate in Peru, and the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) is working hard to disable them. In the last five years, the MTC has filed 910 criminal complaints, made 714 precautionary seizures and seized more than 2300 pieces of equipment. Improper use of radio signals also degrades the quality of services received by citizens, and interference with aeronautical communications can create dangerous situations. And it is not only broadcasters who risk penalties, but also advertisers: airing commercials on an abusive station is a serious administrative offense, and the fine ranges from $11,000 to $32,000.
From 1 June 2021, mobile phones manufactured in the South American country must integrate FM radio, to allow those in areas not served by the internet to get information for free. The government sees this as an opportunity for those who live far from large urban centres, where the mobile network signal is weak and FM stations are well received. As many as 40 million Brazilians do not have access to the internet, but almost all of them have a mobile phone. Smartphones will have to allow listening from 76.1 to 108 MHz: in the South American country, in fact, the FM band has been extended since 2013to allow AM stations to move to FM (1720 broadcasters out of 1781 operating on AM have requested this, but feasibility analyses are delayed).
While in Europe people are thinking about digital radio and turning off FM, in South America, broadcasting in frequency modulation (FM) is still alive and well. In Peru, the MTC (Ministerio de Transportes y Telecomunicaciones) is promoting the opening of new FM stations in rural areas. In May, it assigned 54 frequencies in 17 locations in the regions of Áncash, Apurímac, Cajamarca, Cusco, Huancavelica, Junín, La Libertad, Piura, San Martín and Ucayali. These will benefit 607,000 inhabitants. Two localities, Pueblo Libre (Áncash) and Pacaipampa (Piura) will open their first ever FM radio station. On June 2, 2021, it was the turn of another 11 channels in the regions of Arequipa, Apurímac, Ayacucho, Puno y Madre de Dios. In all the concerned locations, FM was “virgin”: Tarucani de Arequipa (2 frequencies), Andarapa de Apurímac (1), Socos de Ayacucho (2), Copani de Puno (2), Tocota de Arequipa (3) and Nueva Arequipa de Madre de Dios (1).
With the opening of six more stations, whose broadcasts aim to consolidate the country’s peace process, the turning point has been completed: the target to be reached by 2026 (twenty stations) is now closer
Announced last summer, the six new peace stations went into operation on 21 May 2021. They are stations that teach the pedagogy of peace, trying to mend the divisions caused by fifty years of armed conflict between the army, guerrillas and mercedarios in the pay of drug traffickers. Last year, the locations where they were to be transmitted were defined, then the frequencies were assigned, the equipment installed and the studios set up. These are the frequencies and the localities (department in brackets) 92.6 Algeciras (Huila); 88.9 Arauquita (Arauca); 98.5 Bojayá (Chocó); 92.0 Florida (Valle); 90.1 El Tambo (Cauca); 102.7 Puerto Leguízamo (Putumayo). They join the five other stations already active (there will be 20 by 2026): 103.5 Chaparral (Tolima); 92.3 Ituango (Antioquia); 94.7 Convención (Norte de Santander); 92.2 Fonseca (La Guajira) and 89.8 San Jacinto (Bolívar). All of them depend on RTVC (Radio Televisión Nacional de Colombia) and are professionally organised.
Further details on the project can be read in our article from last year.
This is one of the many stories of small local stations being overwhelmed by the signal of a more powerful station. In FM, such situations occur when the airwaves are not regulated, but it is surprising if both stations are authorised by the regulator. It is happening in Greater Buenos Aires, the metropolitan area with almost 15 million inhabitants, comprising 15 municipalities and 48 districts.
Since September 2020 FM Reconquista, a community station operating on 89.5 MHz in José León Suárez (7 km from the urban area) has been “covered” by Mucha Radio‘s signal. The distance between the two antennas is less than 14 km, but the difference in power is enormous: the community station, on the air since 1988, transmits with 1 kW, the commercial one with 40 kW. Yet both were authorised by Enacom(Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones), which regulates telecommunications in Argentina.
As long as Arpeggio FM (a classical music station, now closed) was on 89.5 MHz, there were no problems: its antenna was in a historic 18-storey skyscraper located at 651 Uruguay Street, 21 km from José León Suárez (7 km further than Mucha Radio’s), and according to FM Reconquista the station used a power of 5 or 6 kW (compared to the 20 kW authorised). This was explained by Margarita Palacio from the organisation that manages the station, in a lengthy interview that appeared on the website of Radio Gráfica, another station in the capital that broadcasts on a nearby channel, 89.3 MHz.
The repression of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime has claimed another victim: Selecta FM, which operated on 102.7 MHz from Machiques, in the state of Zulia, in the northwest of the South American country. It was deactivated by Conatel (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones) officials, who seized the equipment on the evening of Friday, 5 March 2021. This was reported by the SNTP (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa), which wrote on Twitter that the station had already been intimidated on 26 February, when its premises were attacked during an interview with an opposition leader. More details in the Swissinfo.ch article.
After the 2019 coup, the “radios de los pueblos originales” (RPOs) had almost been silenced: intimidation, fires, and theft of equipment had reduced their number drastically. The green light for the raids had been given by the then Minister of Communications, Roxana Lizárraga, who accused the RPOs of being “seditious voices” and called for them to be stripped of their equipment; journalists had also been persecuted. But after the elections and the formation of the new government, the situation has changed: Gabriela Alcón, deputy minister of Communication, reiterated that the government will rebuild the national system of Radios de los Pueblos Originales (RPOs) to give back a voice to the country’s rural and indigenous communities. She added that “from more than 100 RPOs, only 16 are left, and only two are functioning properly”. But this is going to change.
More details in the article published by GRA-Gruppo Radioescucha Argentino.