CHHA 1610 AM
Before 2003, the Latin American community in Toronto needed a forum, other than print media, to express its opinions, share its aspirations and voice its needs. Since it is a community that is still often described as “significantly to extremely disadvantaged” according to levels of unemployment, education and poverty, the need for a platform to express issues, views and opinions was vital. Furthermore, for the community to integrate with the Canadian society, access to mass media was essential.
The pre-existing Spanish radio initiatives were significantly restricted by airtime. This compelled them to adopt a purely commercial character and thus fail to address the essential areas that a full-time grassroots community radio would cover; areas such as legal initiatives, political decisions, new laws, employment issues, social issues and immigration. In addition, while the airwaves were inundated with chart-busters, the magnificent pool of local Latin jazz, mambo, salsa, merengue, bolero bands and Andean musical talent went unnoticed.
In order to make the community”s presence felt, Fr. Hernan Astudillo realized that it was crucial for Canada to hear their voices, and hence was born Radio Voces Latinas 1610AM, the first Spanish-speaking community radio station in Canada.
1610 AM: Hope On Air
Voces Latinas is truly the result of one man’s tireless efforts and tenacity along with the support of the San Lorenzo Latin American Community Centre members. In 1998, Fr. Astudillo went to the CRTC office in Toronto to investigate the possibility of establishing a radio station for the local Spanish-speaking community. The amount of technical information required to complete the application was daunting. Frustrated but not defeated, Fr. Astudillo’s desire to establish this radio station gained more momentum than before.
In 2001, he once again explored the potential for a Spanish-speaking radio station. Unfortunately, the devastating earthquakes which struck El Salvador that year, took precedence and the radio project was once again shelved.
Being the persistent man that he is, Fr. Astudillo would not forsake the dream of a Spanish- speaking radio station and in 2002, he once again returned to the CRTC office to inquire about a Spanish-speaking radio station where he was introduced to radio consultant, Wayne Plunkett… and the dream was revitalized!
Fueled by Fr. Astudillo”s passion, the community toiled to make this dream come true. Many volunteered their time to research, write, edit and compile the final application and the community danced, sang, cooked and played music all for the purpose of fundraising for the radio. To further substantiate the need for a community radio station, over 1,000 community signatures were collected at the Inti Raymi festival in July of 2002. Many letters of support from politicians, individuals, groups and organizations aided in the application process.
Finally, all the efforts of so many came to fruition when on April 17, 2003 Fr. Astudillo on behalf of the San Lorenzo Latin American Community Centre, was granted a radio license.
Voices on Air
Voces Latinas brings the community together through a consistent effort by combining cultural and social issues with a focus on politics, immigration, health, Latin America, sport, seniors, gender, youth and children”s programs and music. Programming is in a number of languages – Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese and Tagalo and reflects the attitudes, opinions, ideas and artistic abilities of these cultures.
Programming focuses on integrating different cultures by encouraging words and music to become bridges between people and places. The content consists of programs that provide:
- news analysis of current topics in Latin America and Canada
- a forum for community groups
- the opportunity for each country in Latin America to have a voice
- coverage of local upcoming events
- sports coverage
- music and promotion of local talents and that of Latin America
- religious reflection
- interviews and discussions on: education, art, women”s issues, drug and substance abuse,
immigration, housing, childhood and adolescence issues, environmental concerns, citizen involvement, acceptance and appreciation of multi-cultural ism
Voices in Harmony
To broadcast these voices daily, the station depends on volunteers. In fact 93% of the radio station’s program staff are volunteers. With the help of workshops, these volunteers acquire and improve their skills. While these workshops impart theoretical skills on how to run a radio station, they also serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas on the content and purpose of a community radio station.
A radio station team is responsible for coordinating and managing on-air programming, technical duties, as well as supervising the volunteers. Interested individuals and groups, who have participated in the workshops, are given the opportunity to be part of this exciting community project in many ways: e.g. hosting programs; researching local and international news; operating the console etc., as long as they comply with the station and the community”s objectives.
On November 27, 2005, Voces Latinas celebrated its first anniversary and honored radio staff, volunteers, artists and the community, all who have supported the radio station since its inception.
Voces Latinas strives to build a bridge between cultures and in turn create a foundation for the integration and development of a community that is struggling to find its place under the Canadian sun. And these voices are being heard! From the diversity, the dream of unity is coming to fruition in the Hispanic community of Toronto.
Voices over the Water
The creation of the first Spanish language community radio station in Canada is a historic event . As we have evolved, so has the need for a more powerful antenna and it has therefore become necessary to re-locate and replace the present antenna to meet the needs of the wider Hispanic listening audience.
Over the past year, Fr. Astudillo has met repeatedly with various municipal departments and councillors from the City of Toronto. With the tremendous efforts of Councillors Howard Moscoe, Joe Mihevc and Paula Fletcher, the motion to permit the building of the antennae on city land was approved in February 2006. With a new antenna, Voces Latinas will be heard from the GTA all the way to Hamilton and Niagara Falls. San Lorenzo would like to express our thanks and appreciation to these Councillors for their support.
Radio Voces Latinas 1610 AM, has been in operation for more than 13 years. The dreams of the founder, Fr. Astudillo and the San Lorenzo community, have been actualized in the flip of a switch. Voices silenced because of language, cultural or societal barriers have found their way to the airwaves of Toronto. Issues long overlooked have surfaced through the programs presented. Groups excluded from the mainstream media – the handicapped, the senior, the local Spanish speaking musical talents, the abused victim and the illegal immigrant; all have their time on this newest of radio stations in Toronto.
With respect and appreciation to coordinators, program hosts, volunteers, artists and the Spanish-speaking community for their continuous support of, belief in and commitment to the radio. It is with hope, gratitude and joy that Radio Voces Latinas looks to the future.