When the resistance takes over the airwaves

In Argentina, community radio stations have flourished in recent years. Faced with the dominant media, they promote new ways of communicating, but also of working together. 

« We are a workers’ media, a voice of the popular sectors. We are the FM radio of the tribe ». For 25 years, this self-managed radio station has infiltrated the airwaves of Buenos Aires. From morning to night and from night to morning, its activists broadcast. They talk about human rights, social movements, students, indigenous peoples, communities, agro-industry, responsible consumption…and everything that is not heard enough elsewhere. 

The Tribe defines itself as a social community radio. If it is the oldest radio of its kind in Buenos Aires, it is far from being the only one in Argentina. Whether they are citizen, free, alternative or popular radios, all these radios share the same way of understanding the world and believing that things must be changed. « We exist because there is a need for information and denunciation, which the traditional media do not respond to, » explains José, a 40-year-old journalist who participates in the radio station Zumba la Turba, from Cordoba. Pablo, 28 years old, is also one of them: « We talk about themes that do not enter the media agenda, which the classic radios do not talk about. We let those who don’t have a voice have it. The increasingly uniform communication of the media, citizens have decided to counter it. 

to the radioS, CiToyenS! 

José explains the beginning of the recent community radio movement. « In 2001, during the economic crisis, the media no longer represented society. At that time, people were saying: ‘Those upstairs are pissing on us and the press is saying it’s raining’. This unreal construction that the media made of society on a daily basis made people stop hoping that the press would talk about what was really happening to them. And people, social organizations started to build their own media. Since then, the radios have consolidated and multiplied. Today there are dozens of them in Argentina. 

With community radios, citizens become actors of communication. At the Tribe, they are clear: « We don’t have ‘listeners’  ». Even if many people listen to them. « It’s a radio without listeners, because we don’t broadcast information, but we offer a conversation, » explains Anuka, 26. She listened to La Tribu for many years before embarking on the adventure herself. Diego, who has been with the Tribe for eight years, explains this need for people to participate. « Community radios are fundamental for society as a whole to express itself and participate. Otherwise this view is filtered, by the State or by the markets. It is the technical form that the desire for a different world adopts. It can be through a radio, through a bar, through a performance in the street… ». 

In general, the airwaves of these free radios are open to whoever wants to participate, with more or less broad criteria according to them. At Quinta Pata, in Cordoba, all neighbors are welcome to talk about soccer, hip-hop, or the issues of adolescence. If some radios leave more room for amateurs, others have a clearly professional level. « For all of them, it is about generating another culture of communication, where people are not consumers but actors », summarizes José, from Zumba la Turba. 

More than radio 

For these alternative radios, it is also a question of generating another culture, another way of functioning. « We can’t just talk about another organization. We have to organize differently, » says Diego. All are self-managed. In concrete terms? There is no director or board of directors. The members make decisions in assemblies and divide up what needs to be done. For Anuka, it is a daily reflection on the meaning of making meaning with others. « It’s collective decisions, debates, pooling of all our ideas, discussions… It’s sharing and thinking together about work. » At The Tribe, large assemblies where all members of the space participate are held regularly. They decide on the general political lines of the project. And once we know this collective definition and have internalized it, everyone can work in their own group, their own space, in complete freedom. Diego gives an example: « I don’t have to consult the assembly to know what musical theme I’m going to play tomorrow morning, that would be an unbearable bureaucracy. But I do know what the assembly has decided about the aesthetics of the radio, about what is expected of the morning program, about the kinds of topics and interviews that are of common interest. » 

For Diego, The Tribe is an experimental radio. Beyond different themes or a different way of saying things, they can afford to try and practice different things. Beyond the question of the themes or the way of saying them, it is also about the way to question an imposed way of life. « After years, our functioning is beginning to resemble what we wanted. Through discussions in assemblies, having dissolved hierarchies while keeping roles… By having tried to dissolve all the horrible modes on which this world functions. With this radio, we have the chance to try to live in a different way, starting now. 

In the same perspective of building differently, alternative radios are rarely in a cocoon. Community-based by definition, they are integrated into the living fabric of each neighborhood. Quinta Pata shares a house with a popular library. The two teams are really one, even if each one specializes more in radio or in biblio. When one of them has problems, they solve them collectively. The Tribe is located in a house that is also a bar, a cultural center and an empowerment center. Radio Sur is closely linked to the social movement of unemployed workers. In general, the radios stand shoulder to shoulder with the social and neighborhood organizations. For months, the Tribe has been making visible workers who occupy their graphic company: « In the Pompeya neighborhood, MOM workers continue to resist eviction attempts. Any support is welcome ». When a self-managed cultural center in Buenos Aires, « Compadres del horizonte, » was closed by the police, Radio Sur became the voice of the collective’s activists, inviting them into the studio and broadcasting their calls to gather. Diego summarizes: « The link we have with social movements is a political one, we share the same way of understanding things. And we think that we will be stronger if we act together ». More than radios, they are spaces of meeting, of creation, of resistance. 

ConViCtion and resourcefulness 

In community radio, everyone is a volunteer. Some stage managers or hosts who spend a lot of time on the air are sometimes paid, but no one can make a living from it. « Nobody lives from this radio [Zumba la Turba], is fed from this radio, the spaces are free, there is no advertising… ». For José, this is a lifestyle choice that goes against the prevailing economic culture. 

However, for the radios themselves, the economic aspect is inevitable. « You can’t think about the political and the communicational without taking the economic into account. These are legs that must walk together. Otherwise we have great projects that are very strong politically and aesthetically, but which are not viable without subsidies from the State or NGOs. But these are subsidies that must also be questioned. How do these agencies read the world? We must be consistent with our ideas. For all these radios, self-financing is the Bible. It is often a necessity, but it is always a conviction. It’s about making do with what’s there and staying independent. Anuka explains this ideal of self-management. « It’s about doing things the way you can do them, looking for the tools to do that with, seeing the possibilities and resources you have. We can do anything with what we have around us and the people who think like we do. » 

The activists of these radios rarely cut it. In Zumba la Turba as in Quinta Pata, the members built the studios themselves. For Quinta Pata, it was the CTP, the Popular Technical Collective, that helped them build their transmitter. The PTC brings together sound engineers and other technicians who have decided to put their skills at the service of community radio stations. « Beyond the romantic vision of radio (« ah, the radio, the microphone, the antenna… »), you have to be ready to manage and support the radio economically, and not only to declaim a speech at the microphone. You have to be prepared to handle it in all its dimensions: erecting a tower, painting, wiring, cleaning, etc. « . For José, this is a vision that goes far beyond the vision of journalism professionals. 

To find the money necessary for the operation of the radios, all the ideas are good. La Quinta Pata sells pies and organizes meals for all the neighbors, Radio Sur sells T‑shirts with the logo of the radio, the members of Zumba la Turba each pay a membership fee, La Tribu runs a bar… Some radio stations charge a small fee for on-air space, others charge for advertising from their partners. Diego justifies this last point. « Our first link is political, but that doesn’t stop there being economic relations between us as well. For example, the cultural center can pay for the spot that announces a show, just as we go there to drink a beer. But we don’t broadcast just any ad ». In any case, everyone gets involved. Luli, one of the main animators of the Quinta Pata, concludes: « It is never in search of profit. The economic one is always present, but we prioritize other things ». 

to another paySage? 

Since 2009, a new law regulates the operation of radio and television media. It reserves 33% of the radio space for « profitless entities ». This is a victory for community radio stations, which have thus gained the beginning of legal recognition. But for the National Alternative Media Network, the problem is far from being solved: « The law does not recognize our specificity as popular and community media. We are lumped in with foundations, unions, NGOs, churches… which have much more economic, political and management power than we do to meet the obligations imposed by the law. In order to have access to the third of the reserved airwaves, the radios have to meet a set of specifications that cost between 4,000 and 7,000€ (which includes, for example, the obligation to have homologated equipment). « These requirements are concrete obstacles for the existence and functioning of the popular radio experiences. It is impossible for us to pay these expenses », Luli laments. 

Until now, community radio stations have not received any subsidies. 

For Diego, the recognition of community radio stations is meaningless if it is not based on their specificity. « For us, in communication, there should be no competitive relationships. What is important is cooperation and the socialization of knowledge. The more community radios there are, the better ». The demand of alternative radios is to be recognized for what they really are. Beyond preventing the monopoly of large groups, it is a question of allowing the existence of small alternatives, such as they are. And the goal for these radios is precisely to allow the expression of each one, beyond his degree of professionalism, and in all freedom. Alternative radios have shown that they can endure over time and consolidate. Their number is now impressive and their network strength is growing. All over Argentina, their voices resound, oppose, denounce, propose, build… Their words and examples carry.

Edith Wustefeld and Johan Verhoeven


and in belgium? 

If you can’t find alternative radios on every street corner, they do exist. Heirs to the tradition of free radio stations, which broadcast clandestinely in the 1970s and fought for the liberalization of the airwaves, they are now legal but still « free ». Their marginal position in a uniform radio landscape allows them independence, freedom and diversity. They broadcast non-commercial music, talk about themes that are not talked about, give a voice to those who have less. In a word, they are committed. 

They are the exception to the rule, yet some of them have a reputation worthy of their missions. Small panorama of three Brussels rebels: 

*RadioAir Libre 87.7 FM,
Forest http://www.radioairlibre.be

« We consider radio as a dialogue and not as an ear rinsing. Created in 1983, Radio Air Libre is an associative free radio, independent of any political or commercial group. It is managed and financed by its members. Thanks to the contributions of the members and the faithful listeners, Radio Air Libre continues to function, without sponsors or advertising. The result? « Unspoilt freedom of speech, unconstrained choice of programming, a radically different tone ». The radio wants to give a voice to those who find the door closed in the traditional media. 

*Panik Radio 105.4FM,
St-Josse http://www.radiopanik.org/spip

« (…) as a goal the real emancipation of individuals while respecting cultural differences and democratic procedures. » In 1983, a group of young activists against racism and human rights created Radio Panik. The goal? To make the different voices of Brussels heard and heard together. Today, it defines itself as an associative radio of expression and creation, multi and intercultural. it defends a critical approach to information, cultural and social diversity and freedom of expression. Since 2006, it is subsidized by the French Community. 

*Campus Radio 92.1FM, ULB Campus
http://www.radiocampus.be

« A free and constructive expression, a strong attachment to the social fabric of Brussels and an unbounded love for musical and cultural diversity. Radio Campus was created in 1980 by a group of students from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Financial support from the university allows it a certain freedom of speech and space compared to commercial radio stations. A community radio station with over 150 hosts, technicians and collaborators. 

E.W. and J.V.

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