Main Venezuela Menu Venezuela Media Study Main Menu What's New Best of this Site Radio History



In all the cities that I visited, parabolic dishes were frequently seen, but almost always clearly connected to a business, e.g. radio station, higher-end hotels, cellular-telephone offices, etc.

In Merida I saw only eleven parabolic dishes at private homes in the better neighborhoods, with five concentrated in a two block area in a suburb south of town. In fact, I am somewhat hesitant to say that these were all private homes as in Latin America, various organizations or government agencies will sometimes locate their offices in a house in a better neighborhood with only a small sign by the door. Most of these dishes were viewed from buses or taxis and it was impossible to tell if any of these places might have actually been offices. If anything, satelite dishes were conspicuous in their absence in the better neighborhoods of Merida. For example, we stayed in a small hotel in a private home located in an upper-middle class suburb. There were at least two hundred houses in the neighborhood, but no parabolics in sight. There were several other higher-end neighborhoods which I went through and saw no parabolic dishes.

I only saw one parabolic dish in a rural area, and that was a short distance north of Merida at a large home which seemed to be the center of a farm complex. In general, few rural residences appeared to belong to the class of people who could afford satellite systems. In most of Latin America, wealthier land-owners tend to live in the cities nowadays, so as to be closer to the luxuries that they can afford.

In my brief visit to the Valera/Trujillo area, I saw not one parabolic other than those clearly connected with a business. I also saw very little upper-middle class or better housing. Although such neighborhoods surely exist in these cities, they are probably far fewer than in Merida, considering the relative demographics of the Valera/Trujillo area. In San Cristobal I saw several parabolics in higher-end neighborhoods. I did not see as many as in Merida, but I did not spend as much time in there as in Merida. Although San Cristobal does not seem so much a middle class city as does Merida, it is a much larger city with probably just as many middle and upper class inhabitants. I rode through or by several better neighborhoods and, as in Merida, parabolic dishes were generally not to be seen.

I asked several people about satelite reception, but most knew little about it except that it was very expensive and little used. Domingo Tedesco of Globo FM in Valera said that several years ago just as satelite TV began to draw attention among those who could afford it, many US satelite carriers went to encrypted broadcasts. As obtaining decoders and paying fees is much more difficult in Venezuela, that squashed the satelite TV industry before it even got started. That may also at least partly explain why all the private-home dishes that I saw were very large (8-10 feet, I estimate). Admittedly, smaller dishes can be more easily missed than a large dish, but most better Venezuelan homes have very tiny yards with high walls around them. Even a three-foot dish would have to be placed on the roof of a house to be in the open. I suspect that the dishes I saw were all older and that there simply is no or little market for the newer smaller dishes.


Cable television is very much a newcomer to the media scene in western Venezuela. Yet, it appears to be making rapid gains in subscribers and undoubtedly will continue to do so. Each of the cities I visited had cable networks, but I don't know if any smaller cities or towns in the region have cable yet. If not, I wouldn't be surprised if small informal cable networks start popping up, if not true commercial ventures. With a lack of government oversight and a typical Latin American knack towards finding a way to make money, small informal networks (such as those in Belize) would seem a natural progression for the rural Andes.

In Merida I was told varying numbers, between twenty and forty, as to how many channels the cable system had. Besides Venezuelan channels, the system includes a variety of stations from the US, Europe, and other Latin American countries, per several people I talked to. It was generally described as "affordable," at least by my middle-class informants. Two were working college students who had it, so it can't be too expensive. I was also told that many people subscribe to cable, although I suspect that holds true only in the middle class and up. Of course, Merida is a very middle class city. I was told the system is over two years old.

I got a somewhat different picture from Ivan Escobar of the Ecos del Torbes network in San Cristobal. He described the local system as being "expensive for the middle class, impossible for the lower." Installation is over $100 and the base monthly fee about $18 in San Cristobal, which would be expensive for a Venezuelan middle class salary. The San Cristobal system is only slightly over one year old, and perhaps rates will come down. According to Escobar and two others I talked to, the San Cristobal system has about 30 stations, divided more or less equally among US, European, and Latin American stations. The only European stations that people were able to name were TVE (Television Espana) from Spain and "Italy" (I assume RAI). The Latin American ones include stations from Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, as well as Venezuela. Some of the English broadcasts from the US are apparently subtitled. Indeed, I was told that there was a Spanish subtitled version of CNN (which I had never heard of before). The only other US channel specifically mentioned was MTV.

According to the staff at Radio Globo, a cable subscription in Valera costs about $120 for a year. Nobody was sure how many channels there were, except that it was "a lot" and that there was a mixture from the US, Europe, and elsewhere in Latin America. "Italy" was the only specific foreign station mentioned. The Valera system is also about one to two years old. Radio Globo's Domingo Tedesco said that several years ago before large-scale cable came to town, there were a number of informal cable networks where someone would get a satelite dish and wire the neighboring houses for a price. Apparently some of these informal systems still exist. I've read of similar systems in Belize and this makes me suspect even more, as mentioned above, that informal networks could be popping up in the smaller towns. On the other hand, I saw no evidence of that (in terms of satelite dishes) in the dozen or so small and mid-sized towns that I traveled through on bus rides.

As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I travel very simply. Therefore, I was more than surprised when my budget hotel room in El Vigia had a small color TV connected to the local cable system (my first hotel room TV in my Latin American travels). The El Vigia cable system, however, is rather modest. It has only ten channels on the standard VHF dial, but an impressive selection for such a small system. It includes six commercial Spanish-language channels, TVE from Spain, ESPN, the VOA's Worldnet, and an unidentified and undubbed English language movie channel. I was told that this was the regular cable system for the city, and not just a hotel service. In any manner, there was no satelite dish in site at the hotel. I was told basic subscription cost about ten dollars a month. Of the commercial Spanish-language channels, the two that I watched long enough to identify turned out to be Venevision and Radio Caracas Television, Venezuela's two biggest TV networks, which I would have assumed to be on the network anyway.

Aside from the one night in El Vigia, the only other time I watched TV in Venezuela was about thirty minutes of a TVE newscast from Spain while visiting in the home of Ivan Escobar. Two days later I watched their newscast again in El Vigia. I found TVE's newscasts to be very good in both quality and quantity of international news presented. They did not dwell for a long time on a particular story, as is the case in the US, but rather covered many stories from many different countries on all continents. I have never seen a more wide-ranging newscast on television. However, one time I saw only one brief US story and the other time nothing at all about the US, which helps explain how they cover so much international news.

I asked several people if radio stations were carried over the local cable networks, but not one had ever heard of this. Of course, many Americans do not know that this is done on US cable systems. However, I was talking to people working in radio, including technical areas, and I would think someone would have heard of this if it were being done at the moment. My guess is that since cable is still young here, it is concentrating only on video feeds.


By all appearances, video-cassette recorders have permeated the Venezuelan middle class and perhaps even to some extent the lower classes. There were numerous video rental stores in the cities that I visited, and they seemed to be doing a good business. Late one afternoon in Merida, about the time people would be going home from work, I walked by several video stores in the main business district and noted that each had several customers browsing. While going through the high Andes from Merida to Valera, I even spotted a sizable video rental store in one small town that couldn't have had more than three or four thousand inhabitants.

All the video rental stores that I saw or visited appeared to be individual stores, and not part of a chain. Although a few stores sold school supplies, candy, or other odd items, in every case rentals (and to a lesser extent sales) of video cassettes was clearly the primary business of each store. I did not once see a supermarket, drug store, or other such business with a small video section on the side, as is found in the US. On the other hand, all the video stores I saw were small by US standards. There was nothing like Blockbuster Video, for example. Even in big-city San Cristobal, the stores reminded me of store-front video rental places I see while driving through rural Iowa.

At two typical places that I checked in Merida, rental fees were sixty cents a night. Videos were also available for purchase. New for-sale videos were generally displayed in the windows of video rental stores. Prices of American made films were somewhat more expensive than list prices in the US, and about double what one pays in a discount store here. Therefore, I suspect that private purchase of videos is far less common than rentals, as compared to the US market.

Continue to next part -- Return to Table of Contents


This article is copyright 1995 by Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without written permission. Permission is granted for all interested readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article or to print it out for personal use. In such case, your comments on the article would be appreciated.

This website is maintained by Don Moore,
Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995

My Address Is In This Graphic