Alternative, mainstream or ?: The case of Radio Bilingue
by Dorothy Kidd — University of San Francisco
December 14, 2007 – 04:01
This clip comes from “Linea Abierta” (Open Line), the national Spanish-language call-in show of Radio Bilingúe. For twelve years, the program has been the only live network-distributed talk show on Spanish language radio, airing on 56 stations (34 in the US, 20 in Mexico and 2 in Puerto Rico). It’s produced by the six-station network Radio Bilingúe, the national Latino public radio network headquartered in Fresno and San Francisco, CA.
I picked this clip for a couple of reasons. First, the blank screen visually represents the general black-out of the Latino population in the dominant English-language media. This invisibility began to change in May 2006, when nearly two million people, marched in towns and cities across the U.S. to oppose pending immigration legislation, the largest demonstrations for immigrant rights, and of Latinos, in US history. An important milestone of that struggle was the recognition by English-language media –both the corporate commercial and the alternative media sector–of the power of Spanish language radio stations, such as Radio Bilingúe, in the mobilization.
According to SF State researcher Graciela Orozco, Radio Bilingúe brought “listeners together in a virtual space where they felt united, empowered to express their values and opinions and informed by the minute-by-minute information that they themselves were producing.” In her recent study, she noted five common themes in the calls – Latinos Unidos (statements of solidarity), A organizarse, (calling for organizing), Ya basta (comments against discrimination and oppression), What’s happening, (specific suggestions and reports) and We contribute to this country (reflecting pride and future impact).
How do services such as Radio Bilingúe fit into definitions of alternative media? In one sense, they are alternative, as they provide programming missing from the mainstream (public service information and news, music and commentary) and from the perspectives of populations usually mis-represented. In another sense, that of Latin American scholar Rafael Roncagliolo, they are alter-ative, their programming acts to change the status quo.
However, they do not fit a third definition of alternative —produced and distributed by alternative networks distinct from commercial or government media, as their programming is in fact distributed by commercial and public stations.
And, in another important sense, they are actually the mainstream channel for many people.