Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 352 | Noviembre 2010


Latin America

Seven Sound Barriers Broken In the Digital Radio Era

The digital age’s technological revolution has broken seven different sound barriers. There are no longer barriers of space, time, laws, the market, censorship, age or gender. How can we exploit the opportunities being opened by the new technologies and the digital convergence to promote freedom of expression and cultural diversity from public, community and citizens’ radio stations?

José Ignacio López Vigil

As recently as ten years ago, we sent radio programs to our associated broadcasters from the regional office of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) in Quito. The process was pretty cumbersome. First, you selected or produced the materials, which was the creative stage. The problems started with distribution. You had to buy blank cassette tapes, open the boxes, throw away the cellophane, take out the master copies, write the title on the cassette labels, stick the labels on, design the insert cards, photocopy and guillotine the insert cards, fold them and position them in the cassette boxes, wrap the cassettes in plastic so they wouldn’t be damaged, write the postal addresses on the envelopes and then fold and glue the envelopes. This whole process had to be repeated 400 times because we had 400 member broadcasters.

In the end, we went to the post office with a sack full of packaged cassettes, trusting that each would arrive at its respective destination, although all too frequently they ended up in the hands of curious go-betweens. In addition to being expensive, the whole process took three weeks of work. On the “hot days” the whole office staff got down to sticking, folding, labeling, gluing, wrapping… in an assembly line similar to the one Chaplin faced in Modern Times. And with each new month a new cycle began, because we sent materials to our network of broadcasters every month.

From the analogue era
to the digital one

That was the analogue era. All that effort just about enabled us to place one radio program a month with 400 broadcasters. Today, thanks to digital technology, we can send off a program a day from the production center of our Radialistas Apasionadas y Apasionados (Passionate Radio Broadcasters: www.radialistas.net) to a growing list currently containing 25,000 receivers. Many stages of the process have been eliminated. What used to take hours and hours of work has now been reduced to a click of the mouse.

The digital age technological revolution has radically changed the way of sending and receiving audio. It has changed the way of taping and editing audio contents, the possibility of distributing them, the right to exchange them and the time it takes to listen to them. It has changed almost everything. Many barriers that previously conditioned full freedom of expression have been broken, because that’s definitely what it’s about: how to exploit the new technologies and the digital convergence to promote freedom of expression and cultural diversity from public, community and citizens’ radio stations. With each broken barrier we’ve found a challenge and an opportunity we can exploit.

First barrier broken:
Planetary coverage

Which is the world’s most isolated broadcaster? Undoubtedly, Radio Manukena, which transmits in Easter Island to a handful of inhabitants. There’s no other land for 4,000 kilometers all around, just the interminable ocean over which the Easter Islanders’ Polynesians ancestors arrived. But now there’s Internet on Rapa Nui, the island’s original name.

“Now we download the international news,” I was told by station coordinator Francisco Haoa when I arrived to coordinate a UNESCO-sponsored training workshop. “Do you want to check your e-mail?”

“Yes, and I’d like to listen to Radio La Luna’s FM news program. It looks like things are heating up in Ecuador.” In the most remote place on the planet, I was as immediately informed as if I’d been breakfasting at home in Quito. It seems like the stuff of journalism-fiction.

Most radio stations, even the small ones, already have access to Internet. In many broadcasting booths, journalists have a monitor connected to the web to read directly the information on the pages they’re surfing without even printing it out. No journalist would previously have had such an ambitious dream: to almost effortlessly monitor newspapers, magazines, news programs from all corners of the world; to be able to listen in real time to hundreds, thousands of stations broadcasting on line over the web.

I remember how impressed I was when I visited the installations of HCJB, the Voice of the Andes, with its forest of antennae located in Pifo in the Ecuadorian province of Pichincha. This evangelical station, with over 75 years serving the community, operated with local, national and international stations and repeaters. The total combined power of the shortwave transmitters was as much as 1.2 million watts, covering the Americas, Europe, Australia, Russia and almost all of Africa, approximately 70% of the earth’s surface.

It’s an amazing investment and effort. But today, any station, no matter how small, can put its programming on the web and be listened to at the planetary level. HCJB, which also broadcasts online, harvests more listeners in cyberspace than over the short waves.

So the first barrier broken by the Internet is the spatial one. And the first digital challenge for public and citizens’ broadcasters is to be present on the web. Haven’t you got a web page? You still don’t broadcast online? What are the radio broadcasters of the previous millennium waiting for?

Second barrier broken:
“A la carte radio”

Since the invention of radio, the audience has had to tune into programs at the hours scheduled by the broadcasters. If you were a fan of a particular slot, you could tape it and listen to it later. But that wasn’t a very common practice, at least not in Latin America.

The time barrier is also a thing of the past, thanks to the Internet. Now that it’s online, radio is no longer gone with the wind. The Internet lets us listen to the programs we’re interested in at any moment. Listeners are increasingly becoming their own bosses or programming heads and can select the programs they prefer at the times most convenient for them. This is what’s known as “a la carte” radio.

Just as in a restaurant, we can choose the programs from a menu, establishing our own programming. You can opt for streaming (listening to the selected program as it is being downloaded) or podcasting (recording the sound file onto a hard disc to listen to later when you want to, without having to be connected to the Internet).

Some radio stations establish listener profiles. Just like a trusted waiter who already knows our tastes and recommends a sea bass in shellfish sauce or a trout with herbs, some a la carte radios use cookies to identify our musical or news preferences and place us in a group of users with similar tastes.

The web pages of online radio stations present audio libraries that visitors can access without any commitment or password to download programs, particularly ones with more elaborate and relevant contents, such as an in-depth interview, a bold commentary or a radio play.

When we talk about “a la carte radio,” we’re simply thinking about the individual consumer. But what if the consumer were another radio station? Why not imagine an audio storage center, a radio soul, feeding the often anemic programming of local and community broadcasters, including public radio stations that don’t have so many resources for production? A free-access factory of contents, where radio broadcasters from anywhere can find or offer productions, reports, features, dramatizations, great Latin American radio series, noncommercial music, spots; in short, the most varied inputs to energize their programming.

Such an exchange of productions is already working, with many gigas uploaded and downloaded through Radioteca (www.radioteca.net), a wiki-style collectively constructed portal with the sole purpose of facilitating and enriching radio station programming. Radioteca already has a bank of 10,000 productions and hopes to add another digit to that number in the near future.

Third barrier broken:
On air without permission

When in the last decade the Research Center for Latin America (CIESPAL) published its inventory of communication media in Latin America and the Caribbean, 85% of the radio stations, 67% of the television channels and 92% of the written media belonged to for-profit private enterprise. Cultural and educational broadcasters only accounted for 7% of the total number of radio stations in the region and 10% of the TV channels.

Has the situation improved today or has it seen a further concentration of the radio electric spectrum into fewer and fewer hands and voices? Some say that if we continue the way things are going, four or five giant corporations will control most of the newspapers, magazines, books, radio and television stations, films, recordings and data networks in a few years. The situation in the United States is alarming, with ever fewer increasingly opinionated opinion makers, as Eduardo Galeano acidly observed.

Faced with the discrimination and intolerance of governments that grant radio and television frequencies at whim, some civil society organizations have found an alternative on the Internet. It requires no license or permit from a regulatory body to set up as an online broadcaster. Nor does it require an antenna or any complex transmission equipment. A computer and the appropriate software is all that’s needed. Money won’t be a problem. The PC can be used as a server, or you can rent a hosting provider with the option of broadcasting online, which you can currently find for under US$300 a year.

We know that online stations still have a lot of limitations. In most of our countries the access is slow and costly. But despite this, 35% of the Latin American population uses the Internet. The level of access in the region has quadrupled in the last five years. In 2000, there were 16 million people surfing, a figure that rose to 51 million in 2005 and 200 million in 2010. Comparatively speaking, the Internet continues competing at a disadvantage with the free nature and facilities of the open signal stations. But the gap is narrowing.

The main difficulty, however, lies not in the access, which is admittedly still restricted to the most urban and well-to-do sectors of society, but rather in the reduced number of users that can be connected simultaneously. This number varies depending on the server’s broadband capacity. Normal servers don’t have an audience potential of more than 32 people connected. If a thousand listeners want to listen to your program on the Internet you’d need 100 gigas of broadband, which would imply an investment of at least $120 a month.

Freedom of antenna:
A right worth defending

The challenge is to be on the Internet, but without ignoring the other previous and urgent challenge of fighting to democratize the radio wave spectrum, because it doesn’t belong to States, let alone to private enterprise. It’s a collective good, like the air or the ozone layer; the common heritage of humanity, as established in the Torremolinos Treaty (1992) and article 33 of the International Tele¬communication Convention, with the adjustment achieved in Nairobi.

It is therefore unjustifiable to practice the kind of discretional distribution of the current analogue radio and television frequencies, or even the auctions based on purely economic criteria that many Latin American governments conduct and intend to conduct with the future digital frequencies. We have to continue denouncing the growing monopoly of frequencies, which represents the most serious attack on freedom of expression in our countries, although it is never denounced by the Inter-American Press Society or the Inter-American Association of Radio Broadcasters. And we have to continue proclaiming the “freedom of antenna” that can and should be exercised by broad sectors of civil society: indigenous communities, women, unions, ecologists, high schools, universities, youth in general... Although incipient and still only slightly ajar, Internet broadcasting now provides us with an emergency exit to dodge the dictatorial controls of the State and market. Another barrier broken.

Fourth barrier broken:
Shared rights

The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was approved during the UNESCO General Conference held in Paris in October 2005. Almost all of the 151 UNESCO member countries present in the hall voted in favor. Only two countries voted against it: the USA and Israel. These two countries consider that cultural products must be bought and sold just like tomatoes or bars of soap and therefore be left to the invisible hand of the market.

But art is not merchandise. Cultural goods cannot be subjected to the laws of the World Trade Organization. According to UNESCO, each State has the sovereignty to produce public policies that defend and promote its literature, language, cinema, theater and culture. This sovereignty is exercised in a limited way, subjugated as it is by the US cultural industry.

UNESCO talks about “protecting” culture, defending it. Together with many other colleagues, I think culture is only protected by being shared. The only way to counter the single thinking and single taste the gringo empire wants to impose on us is to proclaim the global society of knowledge, a dream that’s becoming possible today thanks to the Internet.

In response to copyright, the philosophy of “copyleft,” or shared rights, free software and free contents is being promoted with increasing vigor. The copyleft concept was invented in the eighties by Richard Stallman’s free software movement and the license known as the GNU General Public License (GPL), created by the Free Software Foundation. This license stops the “privatization” of a shared program and gives all users the freedom to redistribute and change GNU software. The GNU license indicates that anyone who redistributes the software, with or without changes, must allow the freedom to copy it or continue modifying it. What is not allowed is to stop someone else doing the same thing. In other words, nobody can appropriate the license and impose a copyright on it. Prohibiting is prohibited.

The legitimacy of this new conception is based on the universal right to culture, to read, to look at and listen to artistic works, to receive knowledge of all kinds through any communication media. Isn’t this the underlying meaning of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Both art and journalism have an origin and a social function. There’s no such thing as solitary geniuses; we’re not gods who can create something out of nothing. Where did Walt Disney find the stories for his films Cinderella and Pinocchio? From whom did García Márquez take his inspiration to make Remedios la Bella rise up to heaven in body and soul? From which northeastern mouths did Vargas Llosa take his captivating narration The War of the End of the World? In the universe of culture, we’re all debtors and creditors.

What becomes of “authors’
rights” with pirating?

What about author’s rights? What happens to copyright if we make everything common property through copyleft? Let’s make it clear that the author continues to be the author of his or her work under a copyleft license. Nobody has the right to appropriate it let alone copyright it.

The participating authors, aware of the social ends of culture, offer their ideas, texts, articles, music, photos, audios and videos free of charge across the Internet. And the surfers access them and can copy them and distribute them freely. In this way, radio broadcasters will be able to exchange and disseminate productions on their stations, achieving more diverse and competitive programming.

So what commitment is made by the happy surfer who enters with a click into this marvelous society of knowledge? He or she has to obey three commandments. The first is to respect the integrity of the works (you cannot manipulate a text or radio program like engineers do with free software, which they collectively go about perfecting). The second is to respect the authorship (cite the source, make the corresponding acknowledgments). And the third is not to make money out of the works that have been copied (because in that case you should share the profits with the authors). That’s all.

What about crimes against intellectual property? Instead, we talk about cultural solidarity. But just as they apply the label “pirates” to stations that exercise their freedom of expression through a radio electric spectrum that belongs to and is denied to them, they also apply the word to those who photocopy a book or download a song from the Internet.

And yet if you really think about it, who are the ones who’ve caused the mis-termed “pirating” of human knowledge? The companies that slap exaggerated prices on books, music CDs and films. Where are the fortunate souls that can fork out $30 or $40 for a book, or $15 to $20 dollars for an original CD? Faced with such unbridled ambition for profit, the consumers of the new digital age have reacted by demanding and exercising their right; in other words, copying the cultural goods, employing P2P [person-to-person or peer-to-peer] networks to exchange music, and downloading audios and videos from the Internet. Who says that’s a crime? The real crime is culture becoming inaccessible to most of the population.

We’ve already heard the cry of protest: How are the artists, musicians, writers, radio broadcasters going to live? Do those opposed think that the “pirate” copies are going to ruin the income of authors, artists and creators and that the copyright is protecting them? Who benefits from the so-called “intellectual property” laws? Do they defend artists’ interests or those of the multinational middlemen?

What percentage do the authors receive—when they succeed in getting paid—from a music CD? 4%. And a book writer? 8%. And how can they check the real print runs against the numbers reported by the publishers? By far the largest cut—by contract or hair-pulling—ends up with the record companies and producers. The defense of authors orchestrated by businesspeople is simply a pretext. The record industry alone turns over US$40 billion a year.

So back to the question of what the authors are going to live off. Curiously, most musicians interviewed think the exchange of P2P networks benefits them economically because the Internet provides the best propaganda. The real business for musicians lies not in the ridiculous percentage of the record companies, but rather in live concerts. And they say that the dissemination of their music over the web multiplies the number of concerts and people who turn up to them.

“You can’t fence in the wind”

David Bravo, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights, reminds us that you can’t fence in the wind. Today, the miniaturization of the equipment and the almost dematerialization of the supports makes it almost impossible to control access to the contents and copies of them.

According to Bravo, music won’t die, but CD sales will probably be a relic of the past in a few years time, just like kerosene lamps or the horse-drawn carriages that made way for motor cars. The fact that inventions can’t be un-invented, he continues, is the great fear of many businesses and workers who see themselves being inevitably replaced by machinery. In the past, manual weavers launched themselves against mechanical looms because technological progress had left them without work. What the music industry is currently doing, says Bravo, is the 21st-century version of that call to destroy machinery. The only difference is that laws and lawsuits have now replaced the sticks and stones of yesteryear.

Thanks to the rebelliousness of the new citizens of the digital era exercising their freedom of culture, many broadcasters have been able to free themselves from the musical dictatorship of the record labels, which impose the radio-formula model, the 40 hits they want to promote. Thanks to the Internet, we can also free ourselves from tele-trash and access the most varied films from other countries, other horizons, and dispense with the unbearable lightness of “made in Hollywood” films. At the radio level, the Internet allows us to rejuvenate all of the programming slots, from music programs to news programs, including the much-forgotten drama production.

Fifth barrier broken:
Prohibiting is prohibited

In 1980, when my sister María and I wrote and recorded the radio series Un tal Jesús (A Certain Jesus), the Catholic hierarchies weren’t exactly thrilled. It was, after all, an attempt to make a narrative out of the sometimes abstract contents of liberation theology. We were immediately the target of criticism, condemnation and even threats.

The 144-episode radio series, already validated in various Christian communities, was planned to be distributed among hundreds of radio stations across the continent. But that wasn’t possible. With customary intolerance, Bishop Alfonso López Trujillo orchestrated a campaign against the authors and against the Radiophonic Service for Latin America (SERPAL), which produced the series. The scandal began to acquire significant proportions and, through its Bishops’ Conferences, the Vatican banned the series and totally refused any dialogue. If that weren’t enough, it cut SERPAL’s funds and sank it, even though it was unquestionably Latin America’ best center for educational radio programs. It was like the times of the Inquisition.

Despite the ecclesiastical censure, it remained possible to distribute Un tal Jesús thanks to a legion of “pirates” that made copies upon copies and got them out to parish groups, high schools, seminaries and the like. It was also played—and is still being played—on many radio stations that astutely changed its name, broadcasting the prohibited audios with high-sounding titles like “In the footsteps of the Nazarene” or “The martyr of Calvary.”

We’ve now uploaded all of the audios and texts of Un tal Jesús onto the web, with all rights shared (www.untaljesus.net). A great many internauts access the page and download the programs, a practice that hasn’t reduced sales; in fact quite the contrary. For its part, SERPAL, after being left for dead by the Inquisitors, has been reborn in cyberspace: all of its series have been digitalized; it receives many visits at www.serpal.org; and is producing new series. The last one, Mujeres en conflicto (Women in conflict) has been a great radio success.

As for the authors of Un tal Jesús—accused of “hatred of God” and of having produced a poison for young minds “worse than cocaine”—we went on to produce a new radio series called Otro Dios es posible –100 entrevistas exclusivas con Jesucristo durante su Segunda Venida a la Tierra (Another God is possible: 100 exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ during his Second Coming to Earth). If we were labeled irreverent heretics before, you can imagine how many vestments have been rent in reaction to this production…

In any case, the great difference in this digital era—in which ideology is another barrier broken—is that not even Torquemada himself could stop access to these contents. The series is on the web (www.emisoraslatinas.net), within reach of anyone interested in finding out about a load of lies that have served to justify the betrayal of Jesus of Nazareth’s liberating message by so many Churches, particularly the Catholic one. And the Internet can’t be burnt as those fanatical bishops of the fourth century did to the Royal Library of Alexandria.

Public opinion is the
new world superpower

There have been attempts at censorship by churches and by governments. In China, they block certain words on the Google search engine. But Chinese hackers know how to break through that absurd barrier. The USA, in its anti-terrorist madness, created the Cyber Command in 2006, thus adding a fourth strategic corps—Internet warriors—to the traditional three of its air, sea and land forces. Within a few months, a few youngsters had hacked their way into the State Department’s super-protected computers, exploiting a design flaw in the Microsoft software.

It’s true that many journalistic sources are controlled by the media octopuses that do nothing to hide their conservative bias and don’t worry about being caught out in their manipulations, as was the case with Fox News or none other than CNN during the US invasion of Iraq, or when they tried to cover up the Bush government’s complete irresponsibility in response to the catastrophe New Orleans suffered when Hurricane Katrina hit. But it’s now relatively easy to leap the hurdle and receive alternative news services directly by e-mail, almost all of them free of charge. Or else you can open up a blog and air your opinions freely. These personal and almost invariably free pages are used to publish opinions or experiences related to life and work. There has been a great boom of blogs among freelance journalists who have turned these “journals” into a means of publishing their news without editorial censure. According to a study published by Pew Research Center, 7,500 blogs are created every day.

It’s possible to lie on the Internet, but it’s also harder to sustain the lie. And it’s more difficult for anyone, be they churches or governments, to censor. In 2004, the not very popular party of Spanish President Aznar lost the presidency due to its attempts to fool people about a supposed ETA link with the 11-M attacks in Madrid. Public opinion—which José Saramago called the new world superpower—went into motion, as the Spanish citizenry in general and young people in particular used cell phones, text messages, chat rooms, e-mails and online radios to mobilize people extremely quickly, putting out the call to gather and protest in the streets, unmasking the liar.

Prohibiting is prohibited on the Internet. Whoever tries to do so will have to take on the ingeniousness of the digital generation, of a youth capable of breaking any barrier that tries to control the freedom of thought.

Sixth barrier broken:
Young people to power

The world has been turned upside down. Before, a child would go and ask his dad the name of Japan’s capital city, or an adolescent girl would look to her mum to find out why she was bleeding. Young people learned from the adults, novices from the wise, from those with experience. But today it’s the parents, the teachers, the ones going grey who are timidly approaching younger people to ask them for help because the computer “hung up on them,” or needs to have a Trojan destroyed or an anti-virus program installed.

It’s a similar story with radio. A recently recruited technician knows how to automate programming, syndicate with RSS and Twitter, while the director, sitting arrogantly in his comfy managerial chair, doesn’t even know the name of those new tools much less what they do. That thin, uncombed 15-year-old girl knows how to download a patch to operate the audio editor free of charge, while for all his serious demeanor the administrator can only thank her for the several hundred dollars she’s saved them.

It’s the digital generation, born with a predisposition—an evolutionary chip?—towards informatics, a connaturality with software, video games, social networks, virtual realities. But if information is power, it’s clear that power has been generationally displaced. The most indispensable modern tool is dominated by young people. The same is true of its contents, previously controlled by adults. Parents didn’t used to talk to their children about sex, for example, or allow them to access literature that might clear up their hormonal concerns. Where would young people find the guidance they needed? A friend might have leant them a copy of the pornographic tale Memories of a Flea to read secretly. Nor were their doubts resolved at school, where so-called sex education was limited to physiological information, or on radio or television, which only programmed triple X programs at inaccessible hours of the night.

The arrival of the Internet smashed that control to smithereens. Regardless of whether they or a friend have Internet at home, kids can now slip into a cybercafé and search for prohibited pages. Which parents know where their kid’s surfing has taken them? It’s an even greater problem for teachers. Let’s say that the teacher is marking a piece of work on the life of the prophet of Latin American education, Simón Rodríguez. She recalls in her time the effort of going to the public library, taking out one book and then another, reading, understanding what she had read, taking notes on what she had understood, writing up her essay, making a clean copy and then handing in her work in class.

And now? All you have to do is type the words “Simón Rodríguez” in Google, copy and paste one of the many biographies that pop up, and send the command to print, taking care to change the first lines and put your signature at the end so the teacher doesn’t catch you. And then off you go to the cinema or to play on your Play Station. I know a teacher in Quito who, driven to despair by this easy way out, demanded that his students present their work typewritten. That way, at least, they had to transcribe what they had copied and would remembering something. Other more astute teachers copy a sentence from the middle of the work and then google it to see if the same words come up. A bad grade lets the students know they didn’t get away with their plagiarism.

Let’s give young people
visas to their dreams

The Internet has also broken the formalism of language. In contrast to handwriting taught under the threat of rulers to the knuckles and spelling learned from dictionaries, today’s youth write and talk the way they want to. Text messages via cell phones and chats compress and smash everything, including grammar, syntax, and writing and punctuation standards. Let’s not discuss whether this is good or bad. It’s just the way it is. The young have invented their own language without rules or hierarchies.

Faced with this generational change, we adults can get defensive and end up longing for the good times past; but at the end of the day this only amounts to swimming upstream with very meager results. Let’s accept with historical humility that the leading role has changed hands in this information and knowledge society. Wasn’t “Imagination takes power!” the youth slogan of May ’68? Well, now we can put it into practice through ICTs.

And what about radio? It’s time to rejuvenate our radio station programming and the whole management and training style. Learning from the youth, we can infect ourselves with their best virtues, their searching spirit, their irreverence, their nonconformity. What would happen if we were to shed our fears and prejudices and let the radio’s young personnel experiment, give them permission to invent—and make mistakes—granting them a visa to the dream of more novel, crazy and creative programming?

Seventh barrier broken:
The voice of women

The patriarchal system that was introduced into this maternal planet almost 10,000 years ago established a barrier between the “public arena,” which belonged to men, and the “private arena” of women. The public men controlled the power and money, governed and commanded. The private women had to obey. And to keep quiet. Silence was their best virtue.

This division, imposed by the greater male physical strength and consolidated by wars in which women formed part of the booty, allowed men to maintain half of humanity in a regime of labor and sexual slavery. It allowed abuse, rape and maltreatment with impunity, as these crimes occurred “behind closed doors.” And nobody could interfere in the private arena, according to the sexist law. To justify this arrogant inequity, men invented laws, institutions, and even warrior gods to replace the goddesses that gave life. Yahweh, the Biblical God, is one of them.

Ancient and modern history is littered with illustrious men who left their female partners in their shadows. The female partner invented, but the male applied his signature. Ada Byron designed the first computer… but the books mention Charles Babbage. Dr. Edward Jenner is praised for the smallpox vaccine, discovered in fact by Lady Montagu. Camille Claudel sculpted, but the applause went to Rodin. Even Albert Einstein has a mathematical debt pending with Mileva Maric. Previously excluded from arts, sciences and technical subjects, reduced to the private sphere, women have now broken through the barrier of gender inequity in the virtual sphere. This indisputable presence on the Internet adds to the feminist struggles, their social and political conquests, and their bursting into universities, particularly the communication departments.

On the Internet, women don’t have to ask permission from their husband, boss or anyone to express themselves, to read what they want to and to talk to whomever they want. On the Internet, women dodge the censure of churches and defend abortion or discuss sexuality. Women build networks and interconnect. They make radio and tell stories. And they propose changing the sexist male language for another inclusive kind that doesn’t leave half the population invisible.

They are on an equal footing on the Internet. Or better said, they play with an advantage. Since 2001, statistics have shown a predominance of females among its users. In both the USA and Canada more women than men are surfing in cyberspace, a tendency that has spread through Europe and Asia.

As computer engineer Lourdes Muñoz, head of the women’s area of the Socialist Party of Catalonia and creator of the first electronic network for political women, explained, “Due to its original design and conception, the Internet is an ideal arena for female excellence. The Internet was conceived as a flat network; all nodes are the same, there are no hierarchies, anyone can generate and disseminate information the same way, and the capacity will depend more on a good strategy and knowledge of the Internet than one’s power in the non-virtual world. The conception of the flat network makes it an arena in which we women can act and relate more comfortably...”

Inclusive, non-sexist radio stations

Due to the more integrated “wiring” of their brains, women have a more circular, contextual way of thinking that is particularly suited to the Internet, to the multimedia culture. And the same could be said of their capacities in the radio medium. It’s time we recognized it: radio is a highly female communication medium. Radio is audio, sound, words that come and go. And women outdo men on the side of both reception (listening) and broadcasting (talking).

This difference has to do with work specialization. We men evolved to be hunters rather than communicators. Pursuing a bison or a mammoth, our great-great grandfathers used signs. They sat silently observing their prey for hours. Women, on the other hand, were constantly talking about their young with their female friends and relatives… The care and development of the littlest ones, the newborns, depended on them. They talked among themselves as they gathered food, and they teased out conversation from their quiet male partners when they returned from their long hunts. The women were and continue to be the great communicators, the ladies of the word.

The barrier already broken on the Internet still persists in open signal radio. Men still reserve editorial opinion for themselves. The sources of information are mainly male and women are relegated to crime reports. The “female subjects” are still cooking and show business. And the image of women is greatly undervalued, whether through vulgar songs or the Don Juan-style comments of certain male colleagues.

The machismo that still prevails in our radio stations can’t be resolved by simply contracting more women, which obviously has to be done as well. The voices have to be balanced, forming pairs in news and magazine programs, gradually transferring technical operations—traditionally reserved for “the technical boys”—into female hands. But it’s not enough to complete the payroll with women even if they occupy managerial posts, because the main problem isn’t related to sex, to having testicles or ovaries. It’s a “gender-based” problem. It’s a question of reviewing the business’ entire programming—and management—with a new, equitable eye.

The new radio, the radio of the third millennium, whether on open signal or in cyberspace, will be an inclusive, non-sexist radio, one with marked protagonism for women. And what about us, the men? Rather than getting defensive, trying to maintain our stone-age privileges, it would be better to learn from them, from their superior sensitivity.

The great digital challenge:
Civic ethics with a radio esthetic

Seven sound barriers—spatial, time, legal, commercial, ideological, generational and gender—all broken. Faced with this, what should we, the public and citizens’ broadcasters, be doing? The challenge is arduous but impassioning and there are no great mysteries about it. It’s a question of exploiting the unsuspected opportunity offered to us by the Internet: making better radio, competing on the basis of production quality and winning over an audience and influence with increasingly professional programming. It’s about using radio’s own language to place civic contents and values on the Internet and in listeners’ hearts; using a radio esthetic to position citizens’ ethics.

Given the competition, we public and community radios could really help ourselves if we learn to network in the Internet. More than ever before, our institutions’ communication strategy is being defined by exchanging productions and collaborating based on solidarity and generosity. Let’s be honest. In addition to our live daily programs, how many of us radio broadcasters produce other materials, such as reports, radio plays, comic sketches, spots or editorials? Besieged by the big radio chains, and with an evident lack of staff and income, we produce less and less and resign ourselves to a musical offering with a few slots for news programs, dialogues and improvised entertainment, all with very limited contents.

Another radio is possible

The solution lies in Internet’s challenge; in exploiting to the full the opportunities provided to us by this marvelous inter-communicator. I work in a radio production center, Radialistas Apasionadas y Apasionados, from which we send out daily radio clips free of charge on human rights, ecology, gender, sexuality, vital harmony, and on radio training. To date, we’ve tallied over 120,000 visits a month, with around 3,000 audios downloaded from our web page every day.

What does this mean? It means that radio people need to exchange productions, not just music and news. And that radio people can and want to network. Many colleagues are self-convening a virtual community of radio broadcasters in which we can wage and win the battle for universal access to new technologies, democratic distribution of the radio electric spectrum, freedom of expression and culture… and bring about that other possible world where justice is the bread we share at the people’s table, not just a word spoken into the microphone.

José Ignacio López Vigil is a radio broadcaster and trainer of communicators.

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