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Free Radio in Brazil:
A Book Review

By Don Moore

The following article appeared in Review of International Broadcasting issue number 129 (mid-1989).


While visiting the University of Iowa library recently, I stumbled upon a interesting book on something we are not too aware of in North America: pirate radio in Brazil. The book is Radios Livres: A Reforma Agraria No Ar by Arlindo Machado, Caio Magri, & Marcelo Masagao and published by Editora Brasiliense S.A., Sao Paulo, 1986, 181 pages. My Portuguese is only so-so & I only had about an hour to look at the book, but I did photocopy a few interesting parts & tried to digest the main points in the rest of it.

Most of Radio Livre's details free radio activity from 1981-1985 in Sorocaba, which apparently is, or at least was, the center of Brazilian pirate radio. As of 1982 Sorocaba had 30 FM pirates, and by 1983, there were over 40. These included Radios Estronico 90, Columbia, Alfa 1, Fenix, Star, and Centaurus. There was even a short-lived TV pirate station in Sorocaba. Later FM pirate radio appeared in Sao Paulo, where the first station, Radio Xilik, appeared in July, 1985. It was soon followed by others, including Radios Itaca, Molotov, Toto, Ilapso, Trip, & Tereza.

The authors clearly see pirate radio as a political act, although, (at least with my Portuguese) it was hard to see what they thought the ultimate aim of pirate radio should be. For example, the part of the title about "agrarian reform on the air" is hard to understand - all the Brazilian pirates they write about were either in Sao Paulo or Sorocaba, an industrial city of about 150,000 not far from Sao Paulo. Agrarian reform may be a worthwhile goal, but what does it have to do with pirate radio in industrial cities? I saw no place in the book where they attempted to reconcile this, and with low power FM transmitters, these stations probably couldn't be heard anywhere near a farm.

The one thing which is clear, is that the authors see a need to challenge the exisiting order of broadcasting in Brazil. An example of this is the saying O povo nao e bobo, fora Rede Globo. Roughly translated, The people are never fools, except on Rede Globo. Rede Globo has the world's fourth largest TV network, in addition to running two SW stations, in Rio & Sao Paulo, and numerous MW/FM stations elsewhere in Brazil, per International Handbook of Broadcasting Systems. That the pirate stations have at least a measure of public support can be seen in photos showing hundreds of people marching and carrying signs in support of several stations.

When these pirates began coming on the air, in 1981, Brazil was still under right-wing military rule, although slowly returning to democracy. The book points out that the first stations went on the air very tentatively, and that there was a fear that their presence might cause some sort of violent repression. The stations were left-wing, and looking for a replay of the movements of the 60s. However, apparently nothing has ever happened. The book doesn't mention even one case of a pirate being closed down.

In addition to the information on Brazilian pirate radio, there is also a chapter on pirate radio in Europe (especially France & Italy), which apparently has highly influenced both the writers and the Brazilian pirate radio movement. Another chapter, on Bolivian miners stations, seems out of place, in that these are legal stations. Still, they do have a 'people's radio' nature about them, and the section is interesting. I suspect, however, the main reason the Bolivian chapter got in the book, was that the authors had some excellant referances on the subject, as can be found in their bibliography. The entire bibliography lists some interesting sounding articles, in Portuguese, Spanish, & French - if only they can be found in North America.

For the aspiring reader who would like to join in on the act, there are instructions and circuit diagrams in the back of the book for constructing a low power FM transmitter. In fact, this is the same transmitter used by Radio Xilik, and there is even a photo of it, mounted in a metal garbage can. Overall, though, the book ignores the technical aspect of broadcasting. Such things as powers, frequencies, and broadcasting schedules are never mentioned. There is no telling if these stations broadcast once a day, once a year, or what. There is not even a complete list of stations.

Despite that shortcoming, I think it's fascinating to know that pirate radio has a strong foothold in at least one corner of Brazil. I have to wonder to what extent to may or may not have caught on in other areas of Brazil. For us in North America, it's unfortunate that these stations are on FM, and not SW. I do recall that some Brazilian DXers reported a Brazilian pirate around 48 meters in 1988. From the DX standpoint, it would be nice if that's a sign of the future. After looking at this book, there's no question that pirate radio is alive and well in Brazil.

1996 Addendum: Until setting up this article for placement here, I hadn't read it since it was published about seven years ago. I immediately noted two flaws in my original writing. First, I now understand the reference to agrarian reform. The writers are making a comparison between reform of the airwaves and reform of land ownership. The latter breaks up large land holdings so that more people can own their own farm land. Reform of the airwaves takes power away from media conglomerates so more people can have a voice. The second flaw was my statement that Bolivian miners' stations are legal. In reality, some are and some aren't.


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