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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998

The Inception and Development of Radio XETAR

Radio XETAR was originally scheduled to operate with 10,000 watts of power on the AM frequency of 880 khz, a frequency also assigned in error to a commercial station in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Radio XETAR began operations with 2,000 watts of power, per the recommendation of the station’s engineer, who ostensibly wanted to prevent interference with the Los Mochis station, but who later was found to be in the latter’s employ.

Radio XETAR’s range was initially intended to reach throughout western and southwestern Chihuahua, northern Sinaloa, eastern Sonora, and as far east as Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua (Urías Hermosillo 1983). However, transmitting with only 2,000 watts of power severely limited the broadcasting range of Radio XETAR, which reached only the Guachochi region with its early broadcasts. By 1982, with a new engineer on board, power was increased to 4,000 watts without interfering with the Los Mochis station. In 1995, the station operates with a power range of 6,000 to 10,000 watts on the AM frequency of 870 khz. The power is reduced to 6,000 watts in bad weather to prevent electrical discharges. The station claims approximately 300,000 listeners in an area of roughly 270 to 300 square miles, which covers most of southwestern Chihuahua and parts of neighboring states (Neri-Cornejo 1991). While the station’s full range was achieved before 1995, a challenge remains to reach communities that have poor receptivity due to their location in deep canyons or behind high mountain ranges (See Figure 1).

Management and Personnel Development

Urías Hermosillo (1991) reported that the station’s original non-indigenous personnel had little practical broadcasting experience, though some held baccalaureate degrees in communication. They were also not trained to install and operate the station’s hardware. Urías Hermosillo, having worked in commercial and public radio stations, had the technical and broadcasting experience to facilitate the installation of equipment and the training of the personnel.

The indigenous personnel, who according to INI guidelines are to play a prominent role in the management and operations of stations, were not knowledgeable of the technical aspects of a radio station and had to be trained in the operation and maintenance of equipment. Urías Hermosillo was very successful in this effort. In 1992, after the directorship of Juan Carlos Trujillo, the station’s personnel consisted of 15 persons under the direction of a pro-active manager, Gabriel Neri Cornejo. By 1994, the former director of research, Victor Martínez Juárez was at the helm of the station. Radio XETAR continues to provide a strong technical development program to its staff.

Personnel Recruitment

On November 3, 1982, Radio XETAR began broadcasting two hours a day, as a new crew strived to master the technical complexities of operating a new radio station while designing and developing programs for linguistically diverse groups. The action plan developed by the INI in Mexico City called for specific topics to be broached by all indigenous network stations:  history, civics, medicine, agriculture, music, and culture, among others. Some topics, such as radio repair, were excluded, as they were not deemed to be viable given the staff’s expertise and the limited interest of listeners.

Program development was initially a major challenge. However, it was met successfully by a dedicated multilingual staff that continues to strive. Bilingual announcers were hard to come by and had to be recruited and trained before broadcasting could take place. Bilingual teachers in area schools were ideal candidates, but federal school authorities were not pleased with the prospect of loosing valuable bilingual educators and there seemed to be some resentment toward a new institution that encroached on the indigenous domain of the federal education bureaucracy — nevertheless one was hired at the onset, with others gradually added to the station’s roster.  

Urías Hermosillo (1991) indicates some federal school officials went so far as to prohibit Radio XETAR’s broadcasts to be received in schools, even though they could have been designed to complement bilingual instructional efforts. Some federal school officials viewed the music to which matachines (indigenous dancers who perform in religious ceremonies, including Catholic ones) dance as an undesirable religious influence, which in the early 1980s was inappropriate in schools due to the prevailing rigid separation of state and church that was strongly inculcated in teacher training programs in Mexico and legally enforceable.

An operational dimension of the recruitment and training of bilingual announcers was to instill in them confidence in their ability to broadcast in their native tongue. Some felt inadequate for the task while others perceived the translation and use of technological terms that do not exist in their native tongues to be very challenging. For example, one announcer initially wanted to be hired only as a janitor, claiming limited ability in Tarahumar as a result of assimilation and limited contact with her native tongue. She was finally persuaded to try her hand at program development and announcing, which she successfully mastered, by recouping her native tongue proficiency, as well as improving her Spanish proficiency in the process.

Initial Community Perception of Radio XETAR

The attitudes of the Sierra Tarahumara inhabitants toward the establishment of Radio XETAR varied depending on how they perceived its effects on their status and daily lives, according to Urías Hermosillo (1991). Some of the mestizos (individuals of Caucasian and American Indian ancestry who are referred to as “Chabochi or Chavochi”4 by indigenous people in the region) in Guachochi, who are overwhelmingly Spanish monolinguals, thought the station’s format should be geared to them and were offended by broadcasts in indigenous languages5. Guachochi is approximately 30 percent Rarámuri, some of whom are relatively acculturated.  Indigenous groups in the region, on the other hand, perceived the station as a source of cultural and linguistic enrichment, a source of important information on topics such as health care and agricultural technology, and a medium of personal communication, particularly in remote and less accessible areas.

The non-indigenous population was cognizant of the station’s potential to provide technical information of importance to the economy of the region and musical entertainment, but also realized the political empowerment potential of the station for indigenous groups and its implications for the status quo in the region. Discord between majority and minority groups over the broadcasting format of the only radio station serving a multilingual population with day-time broadcasts is not surprising.

In 1995, television broadcasts in the Sierra Tarahumara were available mostly to individual owners (typically mestizo) of satellite reception systems, not the general public. At night, strong stations from urban areas in the state of Chihuahua can be received in some communities in the Sierra Tarahumara.  However, Radio XETAR remains the primary source of daylight radio broadcasts in the Sierra Tarahumara.