In early 2011, the writer Daniel Alarcon and his partner Carolina Guerrero invited me to start a storytelling podcast in Spanish, something that amazingly has no precedent. We plan to launch Radio Ambulante early next year. It will be a monthly, half-hour-long program of stories from around the Spanish-speaking Americas, including the U.S.
The idea was Daniel’s. The author of Lost City Radio, Daniel was born in Peru but grew up in the U.S. Like many of us who are bilingual and bicultural, he often regretted that there wasn’t something similar to This American Life in Spanish. When he traveled to Peru to make a piece for the BBC in 2007 (his first), he says, “I was very frustrated that the coolest people we talked to I had to do voice-overs for.”
We have a long way to go before we launch, but already we have learned a lot. Here’s a brief summary of our evolution from idea to almost-reality.
Our first step was to choose a name – an ambulante is a street vendor, a fixture in Latin American cities – and circulate a ‘one-sheet’ proposal among people in the world of public radio and print journalism in the U.S. and Latin America. The response was enthusiastic, and we asked some of these people to serve on an advisory committee.
The next step was to come up with a format and a plan for production. We decided to include three reported pieces in every 30-minute episode. The idea is to assign stories to producers around the Americas, who will team up with one of us to write and edit their scripts and then send a rough cut of their piece to an audio engineer in Oakland, who will do the final mixing (note: position yet to be filled!).
Then we bought a few Marantz PMD620 digital recorders and microphones. We began reporting a few pieces ourselves, and loaned them out to a couple of journalists in other countries, as a sort of trial. None of them had made a radio piece before, so we started training them in the basics of radio production—recording, logging their tape and writing a script.
This helped us to see more clearly what we needed to learn. We brought on two people with a lot more radio experience than we have– Mandalit del Barco of NPR West as a senior advisor, and Martina Castro, Managing Director of KALW’s Crosscurrent, as a senior producer. Daniel got an introduction to audio storytelling at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies this summer and signed on to produce a series of radio pieces for the Latino political advocacy group Presente.org. “As a novelist and a print journalist, I didn’t realize how much there would be to learn about storytelling, about thinking in terms of sound,” Daniel said.
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Assigning these first stories also helped us to recognize the need for training. “In Latin America, this kind of audio storytelling doesn’t exist, and Radio Ambulante is an opportunity to help create that,” Daniel says. “We want to teach people how to make radio and by training them, to create a community. That’s a very important part of the project.” We’d like to eventually partner with Latin American institutions to offer radio workshops, and have already made plans to collaborate with U.C. Berkeley’s Journalism School. For the moment, though, we’re hoping to learn from producers with some experience behind them.
For our first episodes, we’re looking for stories on three themes: Moving, Games and Names. For our very first call for pitches and to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website: http://radioambulante.org/en/about/pitch-a-story.
One more tip: An important aspect of getting financial support for this project has been identifying potential listeners. Carolina, an entrepreneur with a background in arts management, researched Latino markets and discovered a new type of media consumer – or at least a new name for it – the “fusionista.” That’s someone living in the U.S. who is fluent in Spanish and English but who consumes media in English for a lack of options in Spanish. While this is not the only type of Spanish speaker we hope to reach, it was useful to be able to name a target audience for the podcast right off the bat.