In south Florida, if you tune in on the right frequency (1320 AM), you can hear the liquid sounds of creole language lilting from your speakers. It brings to mind images like the one above, island scenes couched in lush greenery. That is the sound of Haitian radio, a sound that is celebrating thirty tumultuous years on the air. Trenton Daniel at The Miami Herald describes its genesis:
A high school graduate from Port-au-Prince was looking for a college education. A New York nightclub owner wanted to please his wife who preferred the tropical climate. And a newscaster had grown tired of the climate of fear under the Duvalier regime.
They each landed in Miami for different reasons, but these strangers’ lives would intersect in March 1978. By June, the trio produced something unparalleled: A radio program for South Florida’s then-tiny Haitian community, Express Publicite. The dial was 1490 AM, WMBM.
Thus began the long and politically charged tenure of Haitian radio on the south Florida airwaves. Alex Saint Surin, of WRHB-AM (1020) Radio Mega, calls it “the beginning of everything.” Rooted in a goal of regime change in the days of “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s rule, Haitian radio has evolved into an ongoing source of information and commentary for Florida’s growing Haitian community. Mr. Dainel claims it has more than 275,000 listeners in the Miami-Dade/Broward area of the state.
One of the aspects of this niche programming that I find quite interesting is found in this quote from Mr. Daniel’s article:
Haitian newcomers in South Florida welcomed the program. Already widely popular in Haiti, radio news could reach the illiterate masses. Double-A batteries — cheaper than a generator, better value than a daily French newspaper — kept radio humming through Haiti’s frequent power outages.
Once again we see radio as a tool for crossing the digital divide, and also for reaching across the vast information gulf of illiteracy. Without the need to access the Internet, or even be able to read, a populace can still keep informed about the events pertinent to them.
For more about the amazing history of Haitian radio go investigate Mr. Daniel’s article. If you leave a comment, be sure to wish them a Happy Birthday!
Photo courtesy of leynmarie, used under its Creative commons license