Chicago – Radio Arte de Chicago runs the risk of disappearing for lack of funds, and with it, a unique opportunity in the United States for young bilingual Latinos to get free training in radio program production.
The community radio station that began broadcasting 14 years ago in the Latino neighborhood of Little Village "is a sinking ship," one of the young volunteers that work on its programming told Efe.
Under notice that the funds that keep it going have dried up, and that the financial crisis could seriously affect even the National Museum of Art that has been its owner since 1997, WRTE-FM (90.5) urgently needs to be rescued.
"We need a plan to avoid losing the license and to keep the station on the air," said Jatziry Garcia, one of the volunteers who asked for an urgent meeting with the museum's founder and president, Carlos Tortolero, "in order to know exactly where we are and what we can do."
A satisfactory solution appears remote since Tortolero announced this week that the cost of maintaining Radio Arte's operations and the building housing its studios was "unsustainable."
The museum wants to sell the building and the frequency, in which the universities of DePaul and Northwestern have shown an interest.
The building houses the Radio Arte studios and the Yollocalli art program, where young people learn painting and photography and exhibit their work in the building's own gallery.
Radio Arte provides 18-month training courses for students between the ages of 15 and 21, who get the chance to operate technical equipment and experiment "on the air" with programming that ranges from politics, immigration and sports, to literature, gender and subjects of interest to the LGBTQ group.
Every year 20 aspiring broadcasters are chosen to learn to do scriptwriting, research and interviews, and host programs live as announcers.
The majority are first or second generation immigrants who can practice on the First Voice program if they are best at English or on Primera Voz if they're better at Spanish.
The radio station also promotes Latin music, rock in Spanish, urban and electronic sounds and more.
"Sounds that inspire change" is its slogan, and its program content seeks to promote "responsible journalism and social justice."
The station has won journalism prizes and honors including one awarded by the White House in 2004.
Tortolero says that the training of young people will not be lost but will rather be transferred to community centers and other places in the city that have offered their cooperation, while the art classes will be moved to Harrison Park next to the museum.
"We want to form a cooperative to keep the frequency, the name, the license and transmitter," Martin Macias, another of the volunteers in the campaign seeking financial aid, said.
The frequency matter is critical, Jatziry Garcia said, because Chicago no longer grants radio licenses.
With its 73-watt transmitter, Radio Arte currently covers an area of about 20 sq. kilometers (12 sq. miles) that is home to more than 500,000 inhabitants, most of them Latinos.