Radio – A Human Connection for Prisoners



It seems that I repeatedly find instances of radio being used to connect people. As I dig through the world news each day, there are always tales of radio broadcasting across national borders to the subjects of repressive regimes. I discover how radio has been used to bring messages of hope to people held in hostage situations. Now that trend continues with an article I stumbled upon about radio being used to communicate with the inmates of the Massachusetts prison system. Not only that, but since the show in question is streamed, they also broadcast messages to troops stationed overseas.

“Con Salsa” on WBUR 90.9 FM in Boston has long had a tradition of highly personal, targeted dedications like this. Confessions have been made, marriage proposals offered, and simple messages of love and compassion spoken through the one medium of connection available: over the air.

I think this is a great example of one of the ways radio has more in common with social media than any other traditional medium does. It is the interaction, a sense of person to person connection that makes me say this. Messages like these, call-in shows, the ability to make requests all are part and parcel of radio and have been the basis of its social nature ever since both radios and telephones became commonplace. In addition, in the case of “Con Salsa,” there is a cultural aspect as well.

Via Russell Contreras at the Associated Press:

“There’s a strong oral tradition in Latino communities,” said Mari Castaneda, a communication professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. “And these shows allow people to tell the world what they are going through, that it’s possible to love someone who’s been placed outside of society for whatever reason.”

Castaneda said the shows are popular particularly with Latino listeners because the hosts don’t judge and they allow callers to speak freely — sometimes asking for forgiveness for infidelity or even breaking up over the airwaves.

For many families, it’s the best way to get out a quick message because prisons may be far away or limit visits. In Massachusetts, for example, visitation rules vary among institutions and phone calls can be made only during certain times, said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction. But prisoners are allowed to listen to the radio through headphones, she said.

A human connection. That is the truth that underlies both radio and social media. The ability to interact causes a fundamental change in the way that people both use and relate to the medium in question. It is  the difference between being in a cafe talking to someone and listening to a speech.

Photo courtesy of Gabu Chan, used under its Creative Commons license


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