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Radio Bilingüe: Listening to Latino Audiences

NCM Profile

Marcelo Ballvé and Elena Shore Posted: Sep 10, 2003

Amid the proliferation of music-driven FM frequencies, one sign of Spanish-language radio’s maturity may be the emergence of Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe, which like National Public Radio is financed mainly by foundation grants and donations.

The public radio network was founded in 1976 by an all-volunteer staff of farm workers and artists led by Hugo Morales, a Mixtec Indian from Oaxaca, Mexico who grew up as a farm worker in California. Today Radio Bilingüe (www.radiobilingue.org) owns and operates five community stations in California and has over 60 affiliates (nationwide and in Mexico and Puerto Rico), which broadcast portions of Radio Bilingüe programming via satellite.

While most of the programming is in Spanish, Radio Bilingüe carries some content in English, such as “Latino USA,” a public radio show that focuses on Hispanic issues and news from Latin America. But Radio Bilingüe’s signature program is the daily “Linea Abierta,” a kind of “Talk of the Nation.” Through a combination of interviews, news and talk, the show—hosted by radio journalist Samuel Orozco—focuses on issues shaping Latino lives in the United States.

Despite the satellite link-ups, Radio Bilingüe stations still have a relatively high proportion of locally produced content.

“Many of the people on our radio stations are actually living in those communities,” says Ana Lilia Barraza, station manager for Radio Bilingüe’s KUBO 88.7 FM station in El Centro, a border city near San Diego. “The information is coming from someone who is living through it.”

Radio Bilingüe has received national recognition for its programming and leadership. Executive director Hugo Morales was honored with a Mac Arthur Foundation Fellowship as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Edward R. Murrow Award, public radio's highest distinction. Executive producer Samuel Orozco was selected to be a Kaiser Media Fellow by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Though it was established to give Mexican Americans access to the airwaves, the radio network has since provided public radio access to other underserved communities including African Americans, Hmong, Filipino and Pacific Islanders.

“I think the main thing is that we’re non-commercial,” says Barraza. “We’re not just interested in bottom-dollar. A lot of ethnic media is trying to do a lot of good. But at the same time, they have commercials for beer and other things, trying to push this commercialization. It’s much easier to just play music and try to sell them stuff. We’re trying not to talk at people, and listening to what they have to say.”

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