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Spanish language radio broadcasting on the University of Illinois campus

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor


Gary Cziko (right) and Giraldo Rosales
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Kwame Ross
A lifelong fascination with radio and languages led Gary Cziko (right), a professor of educational psychology, to found the UI's Latino Radio Service. Giraldo Rosales, director of La Casa Cultural Latina, obtained funding for the station, which went on the air this month.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The radio station has no studio – not even a microphone – and a coverage radius measured in blocks rather than miles. Its control room is a desktop computer in the corner of a campus office, monitored remotely by an education professor fascinated by language, radio and the Internet.

But for those wanting a taste of Spanish in their radio diet, the new Latino Radio Service at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign may be just what they’ve been listening for.

The new low-power voice of Spanish language radio on the Illinois campus, 1660-AM, went into full-time operation this month, transmitting from a 12-foot antenna recently installed on the top of Bevier Hall.

Sponsored by La Casa Cultural Latina, the Latino cultural center on campus, the station “may well be the world’s only fully automated campus radio station playing programming obtained via the Internet,” according to founder and station manager Gary Cziko (SEE-ko), a professor of educational psychology. “It is almost certainly the only U.S. university campus station doing so using programming in Spanish and Portuguese.”

The roots of the project go back to Cziko’s boyhood fascination with radio, beginning when his father bought him a shortwave radio and he listened to stations from Cuba to London to Moscow. The experience stimulated his interest in languages and cultures, which lead to a research interest in language acquisition, and along with that learning French, German and Spanish.

With the advent and development of the Internet, it was only natural that Cziko would be intrigued by the new medium’s ability to stream audio from radio stations around the globe. “I just thought that was really amazing that you could be listening to thousands of different programs from anywhere in the world in all these different languages,” he said.

Cziko tinkered with low-power FM transmitters that could broadcast from an Internet-fed computer, trying it first in his home. He then set up a computer in French professor Peter Golato’s office in the Foreign Language Building that transmitted French language radio onto the Quad by means of an antenna taped to the office window.

He then discovered that federal law allowed for educational institutions to set up low-power AM stations without a license, and last summer approached La Casa director Giraldo Rosales about setting up such a station that would broadcast Spanish language programming. Rosales brought the proposal to the chancellor’s office and obtained $6,000 in funding for the project. Then Cziko got help from Paul Hixson, Ralf Moller and Ben Mueller in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences to set things up during the fall semester, including installation of the transmitter and antenna at Bevier Hall.

To program the station, Cziko said he has a lot to choose from. “There is a lot of really excellent international programming out there, particularly in Spanish, from all different places,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding it and pulling it together, and getting permissions.”

The current schedule, posted on the station’s Web site, includes programs from Radio Bilingüe, Radio Canada International, Radio Netherlands, the United Nations and the Voice of America. Also on the schedule is “Nuevos Horizontes” (New Horizons), a weekly program produced by University of Illinois Extension and geared toward Hispanic populations in the United States.

The format for the station is mostly news and information, with some Latino and world music mixed in.

Cziko makes no secret that the station will have its moments of dysfunction and dead air, based in part on its dependence on the Internet and on the shoestring nature of its operation. (He is recruiting volunteers to help monitor the station and kick it back into operation when it goes down.)

The antenna on Bevier Hall is about one-tenth the size it should be for the station’s frequency, and the low power of its signal, perhaps three watts right now, “may be equal to the power of three or four cell phones all on at the same time,” he said with a laugh.

Still, the station’s signal does the job in reaching the campus and a little beyond, and Cziko thinks it adds diversity and another resource to the campus environment. He’s already thinking about the potential for other languages.

Cziko is inviting interested listeners to help him find other Spanish programming to add to the schedule. And Mueller, executive director of “Nuevos Horizontes,” is interested in assisting Spanish-speaking students who want to produce and broadcast campus radio programs.