San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Radio Project Connects Artists, Rural Communities

AN upstart Texan country-music singer or fledglingCeltic-music band from Scotland might cut their musicalteeth on airwaves piped to bean farmers in the Los Chilesregion, near the Nicaraguan border, and cattle ranchers inCoto Valley, near the Panamanian border, before gaining afollowing in their home countries.Foreign musicians struggling to break through the radiobarrier back home have some help in the Costa Rican boonies,and rice farmers, indigenous communities and campesinosof all stripes in backwoods corners of the country arelistening not only to musical genres they have never beforeheard, but fresh, little-known groups most of the world hasnever heard, thanks to the Costa Rican Radio Project.Canadian Bruce Callow created the project in 2003,inspired by a sincere desire to share his love of music withthe people in his adopted country. The program is Callow’seffort to provide a wide variety of unique content to small,mostly rural radio stations in the country, including musicby international independent artists representing severaldifferent genres. BBC documentaries and historical musicproduced by the syndicated radio show WoodSongs wereeventually added to the content.AS an independent songwriter and recording artist,Callow knows firsthand how difficult it is to get airplay oncorporate-controlled mainstream radio, and sought alternatives.In 1998, he began producing other artists, arrangingconcerts and distributing CDs to the radio station at theUniversity of Costa Rica in San José.As he searched for another outlet for the steadilyincreasing supply of CDs, he came across an old acquaintance,Manrique Sánchez, who happened to be the musicdirector of Radio Los Santos in San Marcos de Tarrazú, acoffee region in southern Costa Rica. Sánchez was morethan glad to accept the large overflow of material and subsequentlyintroduced Callow to Ronald Cubillo, coordinatorof the Costa Rican Radio Education Institute (ICER).Cubillo proved to be the key to gaining access to affiliatesin remote and rural areas of the country, and the programgrew quickly after contact was made with the other stations.The CDs Callow distributed initially consisted of bothhis own original material and that of his musician friends.After the project started to pick up, he began to request thatacquaintances and their fellow musicians send him CDsthat could be shared with the radio stations.AROUND this time, a former band mate from Canadapublished an Internet ad for the program in the Indie MusicNewsletter, after which Callow began to receive an averageof 50 inquiries per day through e-mail. A huge influx ofCDs began pouring into the post office, and Callow had touse several large bags to collect them all. Once the ballstarted rolling, the music of many additional independentcomposers was distributed and broadcast to the rural communitiesserved by the affiliates. The dominant genre wasrock, but many other styles were also represented.As the import taxes and warehouse fees piled upbecause of the huge volume, Callow was befriended byfirst lady Leila Rodríguez, who managed to obtain anexemption for him in 2003.Word has now spread to other popular Internet sites,and Callow continues to receive a steady flow of CDs,which he sends out in batches approximately once everythree months. Callow personally writes to most of themusicians to inform them of the names and locations of theradio stations giving airplay to their material.The musicians have been encouraged to not only submittheir music but also to record special greetings for individualaffiliate stations and their listeners. The gesturecaught people’s attention, as listening to a song from aninternational artist followed by the artist addressing theaudience directly was something completely new to the listeners.Some musicians have also sent biographies inSpanish, allowing listeners to become better acquaintedwith their favorite artists. Others have made the extra effortto make brief tours to the areas, giving performances andvisiting the radio stations.THE success of the project has led to other joint venturesbetween the artists and several of the affiliates. Forexample, Callow organized a music festival at the independentfilm venue Sala Garbo, in San José, in partnershipwith eight bands and the La Cruz Cultural Radio System,which operates near the northern border in the northwesternprovince of Guanacaste. The proceeds were donated toan environmental education project.At present, most of the radio stations are in the AMband; however, ICER has obtained an FM frequency(88.3), and there are plans to acquire up to eight additionalfrequencies, for a total of 20 radio stations associated withthe project.In addition to the satisfaction of having a successful ongoingproject under his belt, what other benefits has Callowreceived from the Costa Rican Radio Project? According toCubillo, the Canadian has quite a fan base now. He told TheTico Times that Callow’s continual communication withsome of the stations prompted female station employees tocall ICER to inquire who this person was with such an oddmanner of speech. They were very curious and wished tomeet him. After encountering him in person and listeningto him perform, Cubillo said some of them fell in love.

Comments are closed.