Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Latino USA: Constructing a News and Public Affairs Radio Program

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Latino USA: Constructing a News and Public Affairs Radio Program

Article excerpt

In 1991 the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS), a part of the University of Texas at Austin, received a grant from the Ford Foundation to begin producing a news and public affairs radio program dealing with issues relevant to the Latino community. Gilberto Cardenas, Executive Director of CMAS, pointed out that "the program will focus on the muIti-cultural composition of the Latino population" (" UT's Mexican American Studies Center awarded $500,000," 1991, p. 3). Plans called for news, features and commentary to make up the half-hour radio programs. An important aspect about this public radio production targeting the Latino audience was that it would be presented in English. "It is obvious to us," said Christina Cuevas of the Ford Foundation, "that Latino populations--both generationally and geographically--have clustered in new groupings throughout the country in the last decade" ("UT's Mexican American Studies Center awarded $500,000,"1991, p. 3).

Latino USA is a half-hour radio program that typically opens with a news segment of about five minutes in length. This may be followed by one or two segments that may examine an issue relevant to the Latino community or profile someone in the Latino community. A commentary or review of Latino art--film, books, theater, music--may be included near the end of the program. According to the Latino USA website, the radio program is distributed by National Public Radio and the Longhorn Radio Network to 172 radio stations in 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. In addition the program is carried by Radio Bilingue and the Armed Forces Radio Service. The development of Latino USA, offers an opportunity to critically examine the dynamic relationship between some of the factors that contribute to the construction of a cultural product like this nationally and internationally distributed radio program. In broad terms production for a mass medium like broadcast radio depends on capital, an audience, and technology. How changes in these three areas influenced the production of Latino USA is the focus of this paper. Studying how the interaction of these factors influenced the development of Latino USA can highlight how members of an ethnic minority in the United States can gain access to a non-commercial, public system of mass communication.

However, it must be kept in mind that the production of a cultural artifact like Latino USA is much more than the sum of capital, demographics, and technology. Such a reductionist view of cultural production fails to explain the subtle process through which marginalized groups organize and take some control of the information that is used to define their experiences. In the process of taking such control, compromises and concessions are often made which themselves contribute to new interpretations of cultural experiences (Cottle, 1998). In this sense Latino USA reflects a political as well as a cultural process that goes far beyond what can be explained solely by economic, demographic, and technological developments.

Nevertheless, study of the development of Latino USA in terms of capital, demographics, and technology can lead to a better understanding of the relationship between the social environment and minority cultural products. A consistent problem with minority issues in the development of radio is that often they are presented in what has been referred to as a "static" view of radio history (Schement and Flores, 1977, p. 56). That is, accounts of minority produced radio are often presented in a decontexualized and a-historical context. Such an approach promotes a lack of understanding and appreciation for the unique factors that lead to the production of a program like Latino USA. Such a view fails to relate the development of minority radio to the larger social setting.

The growth of the Latino population in the US is another reason for studying the production of cultural artifacts like Latino USA. …

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