Radio loyalty in the digital age

Author: Victoria Irisarri, postdoctoral researcher at Instituto de Altos Estudios Sociales/CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas). Lecturer in Anthropology at University of Buenos Aires.  

FieldsiteVictoria is conducting research among producers working in the cultural sector in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Argentina has been on a strict lockdown for COVID-19 since March 20th. The cultural sphere is one of the most affected sectors in terms of economic damage. As it will take a long time until face-to-face encounters in recreational public spaces and massive events could happen again, many people who work in production in the cultural sector have been thinking about converting their works into digital ones, thus being able to generate some ad-hoc income out of them. In their everyday lives, the producers are staying tuned when it comes to the latest information about coronavirus, finding their own ways of accessing reliable news. In this volatile scenario, maybe quite paradoxically, radio has remained for many of them, one of the –if not the– main sources of information. As Agustín Espada’s research shows, the radio industry, like the rest of the media industries, is going through a process of change regarding its production, marketing strategies and relationship with its audiences.

For many producers, radio has been an attractive and interesting medium for staying informed before and during the quarantine. Diego Bulacio, a.k.a. Villa Diamante, has been producing and playing mashups, a type of music that combines different songs producing a new one, for more than fifteen years. He was the co-founder of the ZIZEK parties and record label, a collective association that took its name after the Slovenian philosopher as a form of tribute for his way of analysing contemporary culture in a sort of “mashup” that mixes theoretical arguments with pop culture. Radio has become a great companion for Diego, especially since he moved from Buenos Aires city to a small community in the north area of Buenos Aires province 40 minutes away. Before the pandemic, he would spend a lot of time in his car going back and forth. Now, while staying at home in lockdown, radio has also been his main source of information, primarily Radio con Vos, a relatively new radio station that emerged five years ago. This radio station has become Diego’s most trusted source of information. As he says “all programs tend to include interviews with virologists and other specialists who are quite reliable and consistent”. Yet, he prefers not to share a lot of online information regarding COVID-19, arguing that everyone should navigate their own way across the huge amount of data going on around. Still, he suggests that overexposure to television is not necessary, and could be even negative, especially since what we see on the horizon is not very encouraging. He doesn’t get along with television because, as he points out, “you can find anyone talking about anything, mixing important virologists with a guy on the street who has a butcher shop in Spain or New York City”. In this case, it turns out mashups are not so attractive.

Villa Diamante. Source:

Trustworthy information has been a key area of dispute in public social life in Argentina over the last ten years. In 2009, a new media regulation law was passed in Congress. This bill sparked several debates with regards to media owners, their conflicts of interest, ideology and the ways in which they build hegemony. In December 2015, with the arrival of an administration on the right of the political spectrum, the law was revoked. However, awareness about how media works, and their editorial viewpoints had been widely installed across the population. In this context, Diego’s favourite radio station introduced a new positioning by ironically calling themselves “Centre Korea”, neither North nor South, which in Argentinian terms, would read as not responding to the ideology of any of the two major political parties.

Until December 2019, Ángel del Re was a co-partner at 432 Hertzios, a small but powerful record label company in Buenos Aires. Then, he took office as Buenos Aires province’s Director of Creative Industries and Digital Culture at the Ministry of Production, Science and Technological Innovation. Basically, his current job is to engage with the music sector while encouraging the development of digital tools, particularly in the video games area, not only the most powerful in the field but also a great source of employment, income producer and foreign exchange earnings. In his role of cultural state agent, the information that he has been producing for the artists during the pandemic is related to generate ways of helping them with their incomes. A key activity has been giving advice on public policies available for cultural producers, especially since they do not easily recognize themselves as part of the productive apparatus and, thus, do not gain access to the economic tools that already exist. An activity that was rolled out from the Creative Industries Direction is “My Life in Quarantine”, an initiative that targets Buenos Aires province’s producers and artists. Through a selection process, artists are encouraged to submit their work, either a music show or a workshop addressing music or audiovisual producers, actors or playwriters.  The chosen ones get a monetary payment. The shows or workshops are shared with the audience as a way of continuing their social bonding through digital technologies.

“My life in quarantine” initiative – logo

When the quarantine started, Ángel set up a Google Alert with the key terms “corona virus, creative industries” to get information that cuts across both topics. He also relies on social media, especially Twitter, as a source for news. Despite “all the trolls and fake news” that circulate across digital media, he believes that this particular platform can be really powerful if you know how to deal with it. Thus, he mainly follows users who specialise in topics relevant to him, such as communication studies, creative industries and trans-media among others, as a way of engaging with coronavirus-related themes and exploring how the outbreak may affect the new task he is now in charge of. Like Diego, Ángel also listens to radio, particularly Futurock, a station he associates with a new generation of young journalists with backgrounds that suggest they are reliable. If he needs to verify any data, he goes to the Internet to check on specialised sites.

Quite surprisingly, in the digital media era, traditional radio listening remains one of Argentina’s favourite means of consuming media. Based on the latest national survey, 70% of the population listens to radio for as long as three or four hours a day, with the majority using analogue and portable radios as the main way of accessing it. This percentage is equally high among young adults. New radio stations like the ones mentioned above have also started online transmission becoming a radio frequency station in order to appeal broader audiences through digital devices. Argentina has a long tradition of radio broadcasting and a century after radio was originally launched, and more recently its digital expansion, this medium continues to play a key role in the way the Argentinian public obtains information.