Radio Arte lets students try their
hand at broadcasting and serve
as voices for the community
Tune your radio dial to WRTE-FM 90.5 within a 14-mile radius of Pilsen, and you might hear a Beatles song. Or classic merengue. Or a public-affairs show addressing Latino transgender issues.
Radio Arte, a small, 73-watt nonprofit station serving Pilsen and Little Village, has programming that includes all of this and a lot more. Operated out of a studio at 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue as a department of the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, it’s the only bilingual youth-run radio station in the country, and the mix of public-affairs and music programming is dictated by student broadcasters enrolled in Radio Arte’s free one-year training program.
“We cover things that we have connections to personally or things that are important to the community,” says Jennifer Juarez, a 20-year-old communications major at the University of Illinois at Chicago who is enrolled in the program. “As long as it’s useful and informative, we can air it.”
The six-year-old training program, open to students ages 15 to 21, provides a unique, hands-on learning opportunity for young people interested in the medium, according to Silvia Rivera, the station’s general manager and a graduate of the program herself. Within a year’s time, she says, students go from a classroom to the studio, eventually getting the chance to create their own shows on the station, which broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and streams online. But while some students start out with big dreams of becoming hot-shot DJs, along the way many become aware of the opportunity to use radio as a tool for social change.
“As part of their training, we encourage our students to research and produce radio pieces on social issues that are important to them,” Rivera says, noting that the music/public-affairs mix is about 60-40, respectively. “By doing that, they see radio as a medium they can use to deal with societal ills.” It’s something the community has responded to as well, she adds. “I definitely feel that we have become a safe place for a lot of youth,” says Rivera, pointing to the popularity of Homofrecuencia, a show that focuses on GLBT issues, and La Femme, which takes on women’s issues. “We address things that aren’t talked about elsewhere in the community, and listeners come to us and tell us they’re thankful for that.” The eclectic music—everything from contemporary Spanish rock to old-school blues—is important to the community, too. “The Hot Mix Show [a Friday-night urban-music show with live DJs] is something that’s very well known in our neck of the woods,” she says.
Any initial concern among students that no one’s listening to such a small station quickly disappears, according to Juarez. “Someone will come up to you and ask, ‘Can you please say this on the radio?’ They know their friends and neighbors are listening. We’re an important part of the Pilsen community,” she says, adding that she’s been inspired to pursue a career in community-based public-relations work because of her experience at Radio Arte.
The program, which accepts 15 students each into separate Spanish- and English-speaking courses (a similar adult class is offered for a fee) twice a year, has gotten a reputation as one of the top radio-career training grounds in Chicago. “Every commercial radio station in the city has at least one graduate of our program on staff,” Rivera says. “They tell people starting out to come to Radio Arte before they think about submitting a résumé.” And people seem to heed that advice: Rivera counted more than 400 applications for the program that starts this spring.
Many students who have completed the program stick around to mentor the new ones. “This is a place where you can adhere to your own style and do things that you feel are important,” Rivera says. “People grow up at this radio station.”
Applications for the Radio Arte program beginning in late summer will be available soon. Go to www.wrte.org for details.