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In the past, many Latin American radio stations have used international shortwave broadcasts as a way to supplement their programming. This was especially true with newscasts, where stations would either listen in and then report on the news as broadcast on foreign stations, or directly relay the foreign stations, especially in times of crisis. In my travels in other countries, it was common to see quality shortwave receivers (sometimes old tube models) in the control room or offices at radio stations visited. The more remote stations were even more likely than large city stations to have shortwave receivers.

Most of the Venezuelan stations that I visited also had shortwave receivers. For example, Radio Trujillo had a Kenwood R-300 and Radio Mundial Los Andes a Yaesu FRG-7000. At Ecos del Torbes there were two FRG-7000s, one in the main control room and one in the newsroom, while co-owned Radio Tachira had an FRG-7000 in the control room and another in the technical department. (The third AM station in the Ecos del Torbes chain, Radio San Cristobal did not have a shortwave receiver.) Radio 1560 in Merida had two FRG-7700s, one in the studio control room and another in an administrative office. Radio Mundial Turismo in Valera had an FRG-7 built right into the control console.

However, although I saw many quality shortwave receivers, they were either gathering dust like the SX-110 mentioned above in Radio San Sebastian's newsroom or being used as a studio monitor for the AM signal, as at Radio 1560 and Radio Mundial Turismo in Valera, among others. Oscar Caseres at Radio San Sebastian told me that the station had used its shortwave receiver for newsgathering until it got a satelite dish. At Ecos del Torbes, journalist Edgar Fabala said that they had monitored and recorded shortwave broadcasts in the past for news, but stopped several years ago. Now they rely on press services, Television España on cable, and their relays of Radio Rumbos news. I heard similar stories at other stations.

In a few cases, station personnel did say that they still used shortwave information or relays for special occasions, although the receivers were dust-covered, even on the tuning knob. The only station that seemed to be actively monitoring shortwave and foreign sources was Merida's Radio 1560. On the bulletin board next to the FRG-7700 in the control room was a sign listing the shortwave frequencies of Radio Nacional de Venezuela, Ecos del Torbes, Radio Rumbos, and CARACOL of Colombia, plus the main AM frequencies of CARACOL and the other big Colombian network, RCN. There was no listing for any international broadcaster. Program Director Oswaldo Rondon mentioned that they monitored CARACOL during recent elections in Colombia and Panama, as well as during the last US presidential election.

Of course, it wasn't that long ago that transcription programs from international broadcasters were more commonly used. Radio Valera manager Roque Torres Aguilar showed me a huge stack of dust-covered old transcription records from the VOA and an accompanying phonograph to play these oversized (15 inch?) records. They were no longer used and he invited me to take as many as I would like. (I would have taken some as souvenirs, but I had no way to safely carry them or play them at home.) At Radio Frontera, two oversized records, one each from the VOA and Radio Netherlands, were among six records decoratively nailed to the wall over the secretary's desk. However, the records are not only no longer used, but there were none left in the record library. The announcer there guessed that they had been thrown out when the station moved to its new location about a year ago.

With audiences for shortwave broadcasts apparently diminishing in Latin America, placement of programs or newscasts on local stations presents a possible alternative for reaching listeners. Unfortunately, I see little evidence that placement is or will work. While in Venezuela, I spent many hours monitoring the AM band, mostly during hours of darkness (including several middle of the night and very early morning sessions). I heard over 80 stations from Venezuela, over 140 from Colombia, and a few more from Central America and the Caribbean. I listened closely for signs of rebroadcasting from international stations, but without success. I paid special attention to newscasts, listening for reports that may have come from international sources but heard nothing that could be attributed to such foreign sources. All news items were read by local or network announcers, as the case might be, and there was no mention of foreign sources (excluding a few mentions of CARACOL on Venezuelan stations, to whom it was foreign).

I had an extensive list of scheduled VOA placements on Venezuelan radio stations. Most of those, unfortunately, were either on coastal region FM stations, with obviously limited coverage, or coastal AM stations. As the above figures indicate, Colombian stations are very dominant in Andean Venezuela, and I had difficulty hearing the Venezuelan AM stations at the indicated times due to either propagation factors or Colombian interference. The only one I may have heard was Radio Industrial, 1160 kHz, which did not carry VOA musical programming at the listed time. However, I was unable to 100% positively identify the signal that I believed to be Radio Industrial, so it may not have been them at all.

Only twice did I hear international broadcasting programming on the domestic radio bands. One was the VOA/BBC relay over Radio Montserrat on 930 kHz which is received with marginal signals in western Venezuela. The other was at 1016 UTC January 12 on 1470 kHz when I heard an announcer say "Aqui es el BBC de Londrés" (Here is the BBC from London). There were several Venezuelan and Colombian stations on the frequency, however, and I quickly lost the signal before I had any chance of determining what kind of program it was, let alone who was relaying the BBC.

This is not to say that placement does not exist in Venezuela. At Radio San Cristobal, announcer Consuelo Farfón and her technician told me about the three VOA "micros" on themes like medicine and health that the station carries each weekend. They enjoyed them and thought their listeners did, too. They said the tapes arrive each week from Caracas to the main network office at Ecos del Torbes, around the corner, and are then hand-carried to Radio San Cristobal.

The main rebroadcaster of placement programming in San Cristobal is Radio Cultural de Tachira. According the group of station personnel I spoke to, they rebroadcast programs from a number of sources, including the VOA, BBC, Radio Netherlands, RAI, Radio Television España, and Deutsche Welle. As the name implies, this is a state-supported cultural station (in fact, it is located in the Civic Center one floor above where the state legislature meets). As with similar stations in the US, funding is tight and they appreciate the diversity that foreign-produced programming brings. They said that their station and the one in Caracas are the only large cultural stations in the country.

The only other user of foreign programming was Merida's Radio Universidad, which as mentioned above is actually commerical broadcaster. As manager Dr. Dubuc lived for twenty years in Europe, she appreciates European culture and her station relays programming from various European broadcasters including the BBC, RAI, and Radio Television España. I asked if she had ever carried anything from the VOA and she dismissed that possibility quickly. The US, she said, has far too much commercial and cultural influence in Venezuela already, and she certainly wouldn't want to add to it.

At every station that I visited I asked if they were doing any rebroadcasting of programs from international radio stations. Everyone knew what I meant, even those who were not shortwave listeners themselves. But, with a few exceptions the stations carried no programming from foreign stations and had no interest in doing so. Many not only couldn't see doing it on their own stations, but also couldn't see other commercial stations in the region doing it either.

Oswaldo Rondon of Radio 1560 said that maybe stations in Caracas might be interested in this, but not stations in the Andes. Several people, such as Edgar Fabala of Ecos del Torbes and Jorge Rodriguez of Radio Mundial Los Andes pointed out that that is something for cultural stations to do. Radio Trujillo announcer Jose Ramon thought that stations would "lose the individuality that they try so hard to achieve" by relaying foreign broadcasts or programs. In these competitive times, he went on, there is a lot of emphasis in making one's station different from others and in serving the local audience foremost. Radio Trujillo's owner echoed similar comments. Domingo Tedesco at Globo FM put it bluntly, "This is a business. We would lose money if we gave away time to outsiders."

Certainly one key to this is news and information programming. Some stations, such as Radio Trujillo and Radio Valera, do not have good news coverage, but they also see no point for it, considering their audience. Those stations that place an emphasis on good news programming are either already carrying Radio Mundial or Radio Rumbos news, or are creating their own in-depth newscasts, such as Radio San Sebastian. Ecos del Torbes does both. Besides shorter newscasts throughout the day, these include lengthy newscasts of one to two hours length in the early morning, around noon, and again in the late afternoon. These newscasts are not without their faults - they have a lot of commercials, are somewhat entertainment oriented, and probably carry a certain amount of bias. But, this can be said of commercial broadcasting anywhere. However, in terms of the amount of items covered in the news and time given to it, Venezuelan domestic radio with these three daily hour-or-longer newscasts puts US commercial radio to shame.

At the stations which take news coverage seriously (i.e. not the Radio Trujillos or Radio Valeras), the personnel I talked to were proud of the amount of time their station devoted to news coverage. They were also proud of the quality of their news coverage, whether from a network source or locally produced. It is easy to see why no one is interested in relaying newscasts from foreign sources (even though, in reality, the foreign sources are better).

The use of international broadcasters as a source of news information and even audio feeds is, of course, another matter. As I did not visit the network headquarters in Caracas, I can not comment on how they produce the news. But, from monitoring several newscasts, I heard no mentions of international broadcasters nor any feeds that might have come from them. As to Radio San Sebastian and Ecos del Torbes, which produce their own lengthy newscasts, other media have replaced shortwave as a source. Whether traditional international broadcasting stations could compete as a source via satelite, remains to be seen. I suspect that unless they go to round-the-clock Spanish news coverage, as do the commercial competitors such as CARACOL, international broadcasters are unlikely to meet much success in this area.

Finally, there is the issue of radio versus television. As a lifetime shortwave hobbyist, it is difficult for me to accept that shortwave is losing its importance as an international communications medium. Yet, it clearly is. Considering the rapid expansion of the cable television industry in Venezuela (and many other places in Latin America), it is easy to see that the future of international broadcasting lies in television. Indeed, the placement of Worldnet, Television Espana, and RAI television on Venezuelan cable networks is a very positive sign. On the other hand, the skeptic in me wonders just how much of the local audience these stations can draw away from the soap operas and variety shows of commercial Spanish language television.


The changing role of AM versus FM radio in Venezuela may offer international broadcasters their best chance for placement on domestic radio stations. As noted above, AM radio does seem to be moving away from music to a talk-and-information orientation. There are few, if any, all news/talk stations in Venezuela at present (none that I visited). However, this can be a labor-intensive format, and as some stations move towards this there may be a demand for quality low-cost or free supplemental programming. However, I suspect the demand will not be for news, as stations seem to be satisfied with what they have. Instead, they would probably be interested in reports in areas like science, international music and cinema, medicine, etc, which are not as well covered by the domestic networks.

While most of the station personnel I spoke to dismissed the idea of rebroadcasting international stations, they all allowed that they might do it for certain special occasions. Of course, to do this it helps if the station knows in advance what will be on and when. If it is not done already, perhaps international broadcasters need to notify select local stations in advance of programming connected to major events such as coverage of US elections and international sporting events. While the people I spoke with were talking about news events, I wonder if it might be possible for international broadcasters to create special events through special programs such as interviews with well-known individuals (especially popular culture figures, if possible), special documentaries, etc. Again, local stations would need to be notified of these well in advance.

Of course, the idea of special programs brings back the question of shortwave versus satelite. While most of the stations I visited had satelite dishes, they might not have the capability or expertise to retune or reposition their system to pick up something other than Radio Mundial or Radio Rumbos, or whatever else they are using. In this case, they would have to relay from shortwave, which they may be unwilling to do because of considerations of audio quality.

For those domestic radio stations that do rebroadcast international stations on a regular basis, it might be worthwhile to advertise this in local or national newspapers. The stations would certainly not object to the free publicity, and it might draw the attention of new potential listeners to whom AM or FM is less intimidating than shortwave. Of course, this takes a considerable budget. Advertising in regional newspapers might be less expensive than in national newspapers, but they would be harder to contact than ones in the capital.

In Africa, some international broadcasters have been able to construct low-power FM relays in several countries. I wonder if there is a possibility for this in Venezuela (or elsewhere in Latin America). It would probably be impossible to do this as an outside party because of laws restricting foreign ownership of media. However, it might be possible to make agreements where local organizations such as American cultural centers and universities sponsor the station. Venezuela's new "Class D" FM licenses could make it possible for international broadcasters to spur the growth of public radio in Venezuela by giving these type of organizations small FM transmitters which could be used to relay the outside broadcaster(s) during part of the day and locally produced programming at other times. It would probably be easier to do this in smaller cities like Merida and Valera than in larger places like Caracas where the FM band may already be crowded and where the demand for frequency space is greater.

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