Radio and Television

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Radio and Television

Radio and television are the main channels for the transmission of culture and information in Latin America. They are largely privately owned, used primarily for entertainment, and funded primarily by advertising. Television ownership is highly concentrated: four major media groups control (on regional average) more than 70 percent of the advertising revenues and audience. These revenues are bolstered by program exports to countries outside the region, most notably in the form of telenovelas (prime-time soap operas), which in 2003 was a $2 billion industry in exports to one hundred countries in fifty languages and dialects.

Radio and television reach far more people in most Latin American countries than do print media and the Internet. Except perhaps in Argentina and Uruguay, leading print media are largely for those in the middle and upper classes; working-class people turn more to radio and television. Television and radio advertisements tend to feature products for mass consumption, although elite consumer items are advertised as well.


Outside of a few indigenous communities and isolated rural areas, exposure to radio is almost ubiquitous. In major cities, formats on both AM and FM bands are increasingly specialized and their audiences segmented by social class, taste in music, informational needs and interests, and political and cultural orientation. Although radio is largely an entertainment medium in Latin America, it is also the primary source of news for many people. Television usurped this role for national news, but radio is still the primary medium for local news. Being a cheaper medium to produce, radio also reflects more diverse interests and approaches than does television. Over time, commercial radio stations owned by major media groups tend to change the stations' names and formats in accordance with market trends: for example, reggaeton and cumbia are preferred in some Peruvian radio stations where salsa was previously the main musical genre.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, many radio stations carried programs that have since moved primarily to television. These included radionovelas, serial radio programs related to soap operas. These were originally produced in Cuba by Colgate-Palmolive, based on the firm's successful marketing experience with radio soap operas in the United States. Also prominent on early Latin American radio were variety shows, dramas, sports, talk shows, and news.

In recent decades, as radio has accommodated to television, Latin American radio programming has concentrated more on music along with news, talk shows, and sports. Typically AM stations carry news, talk, and local popular music; they frequently reflect the interests of regional cultures and language groups outside the Spanish/Portuguese mainstream. In the 1970s a new phenomenon was that several Lima stations featured ethnic music in Quechua or Aymara for immigrants from the highlands. In the 1980s eighty programs aired Andean folk music and chicha (a combination of Andean and tropical music that uses electric musical instruments), which was very popular among new migrants and the sons and daughters of the first wave of Andean migration. In 2007 two illegal (pirate) radio stations programmed this kind of music and genres of Andean origin on FM in Lima (where a paid hour in commercial stations is expensive), and there are the preferred genres for many radio stations in rural areas, where it is still common to air early-morning programs oriented to farmers.

FM stations tend to carry more music-oriented formats, either national popular music or international music. Foreign popular music audiences tend to be younger and more affluent, whereas national popular music audiences tend to be somewhat older and more working-class. Network radio, especially in news formats, is important in some countries, particularly in the Andean region, but most radio stations are locally programmed.

Major AM and FM news radio networks include CBN (Cadena Brasileira de Noticias) in Brazil, Radio Monitor in Mexico, Caracol in Colombia, and RPP (Radio Programas del Perú) in Peru. All of these have Web sites with live online transmission, so the audience can listen to the programs or follow updates of the news on the screen.

CBN in Brazil is a good example of quality journalism in radio: It has a team of experts in economics, politics, and sports, along with experienced commentators and reporters. A notable program is Los Chistosos (The Fun Guys), a political humor program that began in 1999 on RPP in Peru and is aired from Monday to Friday in the afternoon. The program was an example of democratic struggle against the government of President Alberto Fujimori from 1999 to 2000, when most radio and TV news programs were controlled and censored by corrupt media owners and journalists who supported a government that distributed money to them in an attempt to get reelected.

Latin America is home to hundreds of community radio stations and community-based broadcasters: the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias de América Latina y el Caribe, AMARC) has three thousand members, and almost a third are Latin American. Some community radio stations are also part of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Educación Radiofónica (ALER; Latin American Association of Radio Education), in which one satellite system is shared by 117 affiliates in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Most of these are Catholic or educational stations.

Radio also carries more political discussion and educational programs than does television. Several religious- or government-backed radio stations in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador, for example, have been very successful in delivering formal primary school education to rural areas. In Peru, radio has been the voice against abuses by international mining companies and governmental corruption. Radio stations such as those operated by Bolivian miners have added diverse political points of view. However, efforts in some countries, such as Brazil, to get more licenses for community, religious, and labor groups have been repressed by military governments and ignored by civilian governments in favor of allocating broadcast licenses as political patronage. Among political and development activists, radio is seen as a locally responsive, affordable, and flexible medium of choice.


Television is, by contrast, more centralized and entertainment-oriented. For some years after the beginning of Latin American television in the 1950s, TV was restricted to urban and middle-class audiences. Since the 1960s it has increasingly become a truly mass medium. Estimates for Brazil and Mexico are that 85 to 90 percent of the population has some access to television fairly regularly. In urban areas, more than 80 percent of households have television; the proportion in rural areas is lower but growing. Many rural, small-town, and low-income people still see television primarily at friends' homes and in public places. The ubiquity of television advanced in the 1980s, as satellite dishes linked to repeater transmitters brought television to more and more small towns.

Most countries have developed at least two or three commercial television networks and often a government or educational channel, although the latter stations are usually underfunded and produce relatively little, except in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, where state stations have larger budgets than others in the region.

Television networks have tended to dominate the landscape because of the high costs of production, which require the economies of scale made possible by centralized program production and network distribution. In the 1980s and 1990s the number of networks and independent stations, and the number of their productions, increased because of a reduction in the cost of production technology, an increase in trained personnel, and the development of program genres.

There are four major media groups in Latin America, considered monopolies by most academics and experts: Televisa (Mexico), Globo (Brazil), Cisneros (Venezuela), and Clarín (Argentina). In Mexico, Televisa's main competitor is Televisión Azteca. In 1996, reforms made in the Mexican Federal Law of Radio and Televisión and the Federal Law of Telecommunications favored Televisa so much that it became known as the "Ley Televisa" (Televisa Law).

Televisa is the major Spanish-language media company in the region, producing about fifty thousand hours of transmission per year. It has participation in Univision, the main Latino network in the United States. In 2001 Televisa signed a contract to provide content to Univision until 2017, but they want to cancel it; the judiciary will decide in 2008.

Globo, Brazil's largest TVand radio content producer, has more than a million cable TV clients and owns part of the satellite operator SkyLA. The international cable signal of Globo advertises U.S.-based firms that serve the Brazilian population living in this country.

The Cisneros Group holds the Venevisión network in Venezuela but also some others such as Chilevisión (Chile) and Caracol (Colombia). The group is a large shareholder of Univision and Galavisión (Spain) and is a partner of DirecTV (satellite TV) and AOL Latin America.

In 2007, Venezuela's opposition TV channel Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) was denied the renewal of its license, its equipment was seized, and RCTV journalists lost their jobs because they refused to support the Hugo Chávez government. Months later, RCTV reappeared as a cable news channel, but the government responded with plans to stop these transmissions too by changing some laws.

The Argentinean Clarín Group publishes Clarín, one of the country's two leading newspapers. The group owns Radio Mitre, Canal 13, and Multicanal, the main cable operator in the country, with more than 1.5 million clients.

In terms of programming, telenovelas remain the best known of Latin America's characteristic program genres, which also include live variety shows, live regional music, and solo and ensemble comedies. Telenovelas appeared after the 1950s in several countries, which developed different forms of the genre. Mexican telenovelas are considered to be relatively more melodramatic and romantic; Brazilian telenovelas are somewhat more realistic, cinematic, trendy, and social-issue-oriented; and Colombian telenovelas have tended to use historical themes.

Since the mid-1990s, however, a number of telenovelas have moved beyond the genre's traditional formulas. For example, Ugly Betty, a Sony Entertainment TV series produced in the United States in 2007, was inspired by Yo soy Betty la fea, a Colombian telenovela that triumphed in several Latin American countries after being a ratings success in Colombia in 1999. The traditional stereotype of the nice, submissive young girl usually featured in a telenovela was broken with Betty—an intelligent girl who knows how to deal with numbers, paperwork, and business decisions but lacks a sense of fashion. The Mexican version of the story was produced by Televisa in 2006.

In Brazil, Senhora do Destino (Mistress of Destiny), which aired there in 2004–2005, obtained the best ratings of any program in the early 2000s; for the final episode, 83 percent of Brazil's televisions switched on were tuned in. It was the first telenovela in history to show two homosexual women sleeping together and to show the family's acceptance of this kind of relationship. Senhora do Destino was based on a true story that occurred during the military dictatorship in Brazil, and it included some scenes that revisited the riots and repression against civilians in the streets.

Variety shows are also characteristic of Latin American television. These are usually presented live, before a studio or theater audience. They rely on the pattern and interaction of the host (animador) with the audience. Key elements are games, music, comedy, amateur performances, contests, and discussion. Particularly notable is the marathon version, two to eight hours in length, which generally appears on Sunday afternoon and in the evening; an example is Siempre en domingo (Always on Sunday), which was broadcast in Mexico from 1969 until 1998. Domingão do Faustão (Big Fausto's Big Sunday), a three-hour program on the Brazilian network Globo, debuted in 1989 and is still on the air.

Talk shows became popular in the 1990s. Some famous hosts have included Cristina Saralegui (the Cristina show), Jaime Bayly (El Show Jaime Bayly, "Jaime Bayly's Show"), Marcelo Tinelli (Videomatch) and Laura Bozzo (Laura en América, a reality show). Most of Bozzo's programs were known for using false facts that were dramatized by common people. Even so, her show was popular among low-income urban people in times of low-level content in Peruvian television. In Brazil the leading late-night show is Globo's Programa do Jô, hosted by Jô Soares, who from 1988 to 1999 had an interview show on SBT. Soares has reportedly interviewed ten thousand people for his Globo show between 2000 and 2007.


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                                     Joseph Straubhaar

                                      Jacqueline Fowks