Spanish radio station launched on campus

Spanish radio station launched on campus

URBANA – If you long for radio in your native Spanish or just want to brush up your language skills, say "hola" to 1660-AM.

A new Latino Radio Service has been broadcasting at the UI since Jan. 3, though you may have to drive to campus to hear it.

WGN it's not. The low-power station has no studio or even a microphone, and its broadcast range is limited. The station transmits from a 12-foot antenna on top of Bevier Hall, and the control room is a desktop computer in a campus office.

Sponsored by La Casa Cultural Latina, the Latino cultural center on campus, the station may be the world's only fully automated campus radio station with programming from the Internet. It's "almost certainly" the only one broadcasting in Spanish and Portuguese, said founder and station manager Gary Cziko, an education professor fascinated with language, radio and the Internet.

"I've been here for 14 years, and we've been longing for this. It's well overdue," said La Casa Director Giraldo Rosales, who is also chair of the Champaign County Latino Partnership.

Cziko, who has a ham radio license, grew up in New York City listening to stations from Cuba to London on a short-wave radio given him by his father.

Later, he became intrigued with the Internet's ability to stream audio from radio stations around the world. He tinkered with low-power FM transmitters that could broadcast from an Internet-fed computer. He then set up a computer in the Foreign Language Building that transmitted French-language radio onto the Quad using an antenna taped to an office window.

He recently discovered that federal law allows educational institutions to set up low-power AM stations without a license. Last summer, he approached Rosales, who brought the Latino Radio Service proposal to the chancellor's office and obtained $6,000 in funding.

Cziko and Rosales brainstormed with staff at UI Extension and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, who provided technical and programming support.

The current programming schedule includes "Nuevos Horizontes," or New Horizons, a weekly program produced by UI Extension for a Latino audience. The station also airs programs from Radio Canada International, the United Nations, Voice of America and others. The format is mostly news and information, with some Latino and world music mixed in.

For a current schedule, check the station's Web site at faculty.ed.uiuc.edu/g-cziko/lrs/.

Rosales said the next phase will be to obtain microphones, a CD player and mixer so students at La Casa can produce local programs. Cziko said some Spanish-speaking journalism students are also interested in doing segments for the station. And he's already thinking about the potential for other languages, working with UI foreign-language programs – if they can scrounge up funding.

As an unlicensed station with limited technical reach – Cziko jokingly equates the roughly three-watt signal to three or four cellphones combined – the station can't really broadcast much beyond campus. It's best heard outside on a portable or car radio. And because of its shoestring operation and dependence on the Internet, it will have its share of dead air.

"My goal is to provide a decent signal on campus," he said.

For those off campus, La Casa has a two-hour program from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturdays on WEFT-FM with music, news and other programs. And it's been working with WILL, the UI's public radio station, to air Spanish-language programs.

Another group is raising money for a low-power FM station called Radio Free Urbana (WRFU, 104.5-FM), which would include Spanish-language programming, Cziko said.

The growing Latino community makes up about 4 percent of Champaign-Urbana's population, and the number of Latino students is up to about 1,900, said Rosales, an assistant dean of students who sits on a campus diversity committee.

"It's about creating community and creating an atmosphere that is welcoming," he said.

You can reach News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth at (217) 351-5226 or via e-mail at jwurth@news-gazette.com.

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