When the age of streaming services descended from the technological skies, it seemed like a blessing to adventurous-minded listeners. The potential to discover new sounds looked infinite in those early, innocent days. But it is becoming more apparent that like other forms of music patronage, one has to dig past the industry-anointed standard bearers to get to the lesser-heard gems. Streaming services, it turns out, have just as much if not more potential to lead one into well-worn listening habits as Top 40 radio. How many times this summer has “I Like It” came up on your Youtube autoplay?
Luckily, there is an antidote; a global uptick in smart, informed digital radio programming caused in part by increasingly accessible broadcast technology. Perhaps you have a handful of podcasts you follow religiously. But there is a different feel of an independent radio station, something comforting in the thought that if you poke a few buttons, fresh content will be waiting for you, curated by experts who love what they do. (At a reasonable hour — not all of the stations below have the budget or wherewithal to withstanding a 24 hour schedule.)
For your listening pleasure, we have assembled this lineup of independent radio stations from the Spanish-speaking world. They were founded for many reasons; to promote a little-heard local genre, to serve as a townhall of information in rural regions, to voice dissent within a repressive regime, even to provide founders with gainful employment. Included are conglomerations of podcasts and channels that do only minimal amounts of archiving. What they have in common is that they are avenues to a specific place that may not be your place, except the DJs, hosts, and commentators are lending it to you for the length of a show. Use them to connect, use them to get smarter, use them to listen up.
In 2012, Mexico was in a bad place. Labor reforms and the return to the presidency of ruling party PRI that helped inspire the #YoSoy132 movement were two reasons that compelled a motley crew of academics and ne’er-do-wells to form NoFM Radio. They saw the project as their chance for a dignified workplace and an opportunity to share media outside the “güeritocracia tibia,” as the collective explained to Remezcla. “We live by the lie that there is one culture, that we have to idolize skinny white YouTube influencers. That is false.” Today, they broadcast a rich array of music and talk programming — “todo menos miedo” is their tagline — Monday through Sunday 9 to 1 a.m. from an undisclosed Mexico City location.
Those looking for a 24 hour fix of “música fresca” can turn to Puerto Rico’s Radio Red, founded in 2015 by Paola “Payola” Isabel and Etienne Cardona as part of a mission to better connect their island to its independent sounds. “Our audience depends on the show,” Isabel told Remezcla. “There’s hip hop and rap fans from all generations, like those who listen to ‘Street Dreams’ with DJ Figgy Starks, and rock lovers who listen to ‘El Culto de Jota Vigilante.’” This year, the channel opened a café in the Santurce neighborhood stocked with vinyls, cassettes, and CDs — collaborations with local label Discos de Hoy — perfect for those who want to sit, drink a beer, and watch talented DJs slang sound.
Digital media makes it possible to unite music curations from across the world on a single channel, a tactic being taken by Venezuelan WIDE founder Nikols Latuff. In 2017, Latuff evolved her event production company into a home for music podcasts. WIDE now features regular curations from collaborators across Latin America and Europe. New listeners would do well to check Venezuelan producer Subdata’s program ‘Club Jamz,’ a Friday night tour of grime, bassline, juke and more, delivered from the beatmaker’s home of Valencia. Latuff says her goal is for participating program hosts to “create new connections and opportunities to grow internationally through the community generated by the project.”
Radio Gladys Palmera
It seemed a shame to Gladys Palmera to leave her vast collection of rare Latin American recordings on the shelves. But starting in 1986, when she got her first radio show in Madrid, the Spanish music fanatic has been sharing her catalogue with the general public. These days, you can catch her channel Radio Gladys Palmera on the internet, where a variety of DJs assemble unique programs and there is an ample supply of playlists culled by music journalists and artists from the vast archive. Sample sounds include the cubano tradicional of Amaranto Y Su Orquesta Copacabana and nostalgic Colombian singer-composer Esther Forero. The website’s editorial content offers interviews and clips from new generation stars like La Perla and Nathy Peluso.
Colombians Silvie Ojeda and Andrés Aceves created Mixticius as a series of podcasts in 2011 and two years later, morphed the project into its current form as an online radio channel fit to explore the international music panorama. Check Mixticius to find your new obsession in soul, tropical psych, funk, or salsa, among a host of genres. Programming stand-outs include “Girl Side Of The Tunes,” a program dedicated to female musicians both in and out of Colombia, its sonic reach indicative of the channel’s slogan “encuentros sonoros transcontinentales.”
This Ecuadorian radio collective employs the airwaves to broadcast indigenous voices in pursuit of social justice. Listeners can tune in to talk of environmental issues on “Tambores Suenan,” in addition to programs like “Descolonizar El Coco,” a talk show that occasionally breaks for punk protest moments (check the Facebook Live broadcasts so that you can enjoy the firey music videos of chosen songs.) Wambra’s movement is nothing if not inclusive. On Mondays it airs “La Pornógrafas,” a queer-friendly feminist roundtable that features local activists as guests. The station’s website also provides ample editorial inches on people’s struggles through South America, if you prefer to read your revolution.
Cut down Calle Rosas Moreno in the San Rafael neighborhood of Mexico City and you’ll see a storefront window framing the live recordings of this station, a new kid on the block that only recently started transmitting with the help of technology provided by community broadcast project mensajito. Radio Nopal has garnered a reputation for young voices delivering essential chisme from the CDMX arts scene and intriguing sounds from dinner time drone to dark club. Programming gems include bi-weekly Monday sets by DJs Oly and Cami Muriedes a.k.a. Phaedra, plus Tuesday morning’s Concha Electric, whose host Andrea Villalón offers a chance to check in with female artists across all mediums.
That arts and culture are being repressed in Venezuela is a given to anyone who has given a half-glance at the headlines from a country dealing with inhumane inflation and potential economic collapse under the administration of Nicolas Maduro. Perhaps that gives you an idea of how importantthis non-profit sponsored radio station is — an oasis for dissenting opinion for Venezuelans, a touchstone for those outside the country who want to stay informed, and a treasure chest of rock ’n’ roll history. For immediate proof of the latter, browse Humano Derecho’s online archives, dedicated to preserving work on vinyl of beloved Venezuelan groups like 1960s band Los Impala and heavy metaleros Grand Bite.
Argentina is a country that subscribes to the power of community radio. In many of its less-populated regions there’s a real need for local media that focuses on daily news and current event analysis — a perfect fit for independent radio. Founded in 2016, Red Radios Rurales unites 22 thriving mini-stations in a coalition that fights for diversity in media voices and gender parity in rural communities. The network also administers a website that showcases its member affiliates and allows listeners from across the world to find out where they can tune in to hear campesinos discuss the issues affecting their communities.