In late June, Chicago Public Media (CPM) announced a new partnership with the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) and Radio Arte that includes the purchase of Radio Arte’s station signal, WRTE 90.5 FM. The partnership will help the struggling program to survive after the Museum announced last year that it could no longer financially support it.
The bilingual station has offered a free one-year intensive youth media training course since 1997, as well as a paid short-term After School Matters program. CPM will sponsor the continuation of the youth training program and hopes to integrate the work of the students into their Vocalo programming.
Radio Arte’s focus has been to present youth-driven media that centers around the exploration of social issues at the local level, including programs like the LGBTQ-focused HomoFrecuencia / Q phonic, immigrant rights-focused Sin Papeles, and Primera Voz / First Voice, which covers a wide range of issues, notably the Occupy movement. Radio Arte has won several awards, including a Coming Up Taller Award (2004) and a GLAAD Award.
Graduates are assisted in getting internships, and according to Jorge Valdivia, Director of Performing Arts and General Manager of Radio Arte at NNMA, “We have graduates working in almost every single Latino radio station in Chicago; we also have some graduates that are working in television.”
Valdivia expresses a deep appreciation for the outpouring of community concern and support for Radio Arte over the past year. “The fact that so many people had so many concerns and were so vocal about it is great in my opinion, because it speaks to our legacy, the impact that we’ve had.” He says that while it has been a difficult, even heartbreaking transition, he is pleased about the new partnership and excited to move forward and start a new chapter in the program’s history.
Silvia Rivera, managing director of Vocalo, an initiative of Chicago Public Media and sister station to WBEZ , has a very personal stake in the new partnership; she knows firsthand how Radio Arte’s media training program helps young people learn about journalism: the program is where she got her start back in January 1998.
“I had a wonderful experience,” she says. “My history with Radio Arte goes really deep.” As a young teen from the suburbs, she entered the program thinking she wanted to have a music show “to do shout-outs, to be the next Coco Cortez.” But her perspective evolved. “I started seeing the power of radio. I started to understand the media landscape. A lot of our community stories just weren’t being told. I began to realize, from a more holistic standpoint that this is important. It’s not just about music; it’s about having a voice. So I grew up there.”
Rivera went on to major in Media Management at Columbia College and is now a founding member and Board President of the Latino Public Radio Consortium, advocating for increased Latino participation in public media.
Rivera’s work at Vocalo was heavily informed by her experience at Radio Arte. Like Radio Arte, Vocalo’s programming is designed to help local public radio “cultivate younger and more diverse audiences” by being more “experimental and radical” with a focus on art and culture.
In acquiring the signal, Rivera explains, “We’re going to begin integrating programming inspired by Radio Arte by talking to immigrant communities, the LGBT community, and young people.”
Rivera notes that CPM bought the signal, not the building, which is still up for sale, and the fate of the space is still undetermined. Rivera says that she knows how important the space has been for the community, “I love that space, I grew up in that space,” but “it’s not in our control.” She’s hoping that they’ll be able to have a community space in Pilsen or Little Village to preserve the community presence of the program, to train youth and host meetings and forums as the station has done in the past.