About Kidnap Radio
I was 19 when my father was kidnapped in Colombia. It was 1999. My mother came to my college campus to deliver the news and I flew to Bogota to be with my family for a few weeks. (My mother is American, my father’s Colombian and they divorced when I was 5.) After that, except for brief trips for a wedding and a funeral, I didn’t go back to the country where I was born until I traveled there to report this piece in the spring of 2009.
I was able to make the trip thanks to Jay Allison. I met Jay in Woods Hole through Ibby Caputo, a dear friend and a former intern at
Atlantic Public Media. After hearing part of the story of my father’s kidnapping and rescue, Jay suggested I undertake this project and
guided me along the way.
I asked my father to meet me in Bogota for a long weekend in April so that I could interview him. I had heard bits and pieces about the kidnapping in the intervening years – when I would visit our family– but in the course of our interviews I realized I had known very little about what he’d endured: All I knew was our family’s side of the ordeal.
My father’s kidnapping began on November 22, 1999 and ended August 13, 2000. He was kidnapped by the FARC and kept in 38 different places, spending the first months of his kidnapping alone, with only his guards and a radio, for company.
After talking to my dad, I went on my own to the radio station in Bogota, Caracol Radio, that had sent out messages from my family to my father, and continues to send messages to hostages from their families every Saturday night from midnight to 6 a.m. The show is called Voces del Secuestro, or Voices of Kidnapping. (There are several other stations in Colombia that send messages out on other days of the week). The host, Herbin Hoyos, is a journalist who started this program in 1994, after he was briefly kidnapped and scolded by another hostage for not using the radio to reach out to hostages.
Since then, Hoyos has broadcast messages from the family members of the kidnapped every weekend, despite threats from the FARC and assassination attempts (the most recent sent him into exile in Europe this fall). Today, around 50 messages go out on every show; at the height of the kidnapping craze, there were as many as 100, much shorter messages.
As I sat in the radio station listening to the messages, which are somewhere between prayers and diary entries, I noticed that many of the people calling in to the station were talking to relatives who had been gone for several years, sometimes for as long
as a decade. Like my dad, they were kidnapped because the FARC and other groups, including right-wing paramilitaries and gangs with no political agenda, had made kidnapping a major industry in Colombia. Unlike my dad, these people hadn’t come back.
Some were almost certainly alive, like the soldiers and policemen held as political prisoners in the war between the FARC and the Colombian military. But others whose names were on the radio – civilians, by and large – were missing and unaccounted for.
Their families became the focus of my piece. Thanks to Maria Isabel Campos, the producer of Voices of Kidnapping, I was able to reach more than a dozen of these families in Bogota, including Ismael and Amalia Marquez. This couple has been keeping track of all the kidnapped families since their son, Enrique, was kidnapped in 1999. When I asked Amalia for help reaching others, she took out a tattered address book and turned to a page with my own family’s name and phone number.
It was chilling to uncover this corollary to my life – our life – this family of people who are bound only by the loss of a family member and a radio show. I dedicate this piece, Kidnap Radio, to them. They opened their doors to me, and taught me whatever it is that I have tried to convey with it.
From Print to Radio
This is not my first encounter with radio – in 2006 I took a radio workshop at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (co-taught by Rick Karr and Tony Dec) – but it was the first time I set out to produce a long documentary. It changed the way I engaged with my subjects, the way I interviewed and the way I thought about story-telling.
A lot of the work I’ve done as a print reporter has been hard news reporting – on crime and court cases, for example – in New York City. This invariably involves talking to grieving family members, so I came to the task of interviewing the family members of the kidnapped and disappeared somewhat prepared. However, I was not prepared for the intimacy of a radio interview. I anticipated more reserve on the part of my subjects and I was surprised to find that they were more comfortable talking on mic than I was. It took me some time to relax into interviews and not worry constantly about my levels. But in the end I found recording allowed me to maintain eye contact and have a conversation with my subjects, to listen closely to them, and to give them more time to talk.
Another aspect of the transition from print to radio was changing the way I interviewed, for example, asking one simple question at a time and avoiding yes/no questions that don’t yield good tape. I interviewed around two dozen people in Colombia, and by the end I think I got a little bit better at it. (Note: I knew I wanted to mostly use interviews in English, to avoid excessive translation, and this helped narrow down my subjects).
The biggest challenge came when my reporting was done and I started working on the script. I had to resist the urge to present the facts, and what they mean, at the outset of the story, and to think more about story-telling. I also became conscious of the importance of simple and straightforward prose, of writing for the ear.
All the audio from Colombia was recorded using a Marantz 660 and a Beyer MCE58 mic. I edited the show using Audacity, and then Pro Tools. I recorded my tracks at a studio with Jay Allison, who edited them into the piece using Pro Tools.
About Annie Correal
Annie Correal is a metro reporter for El Diario/La Prensa in New York City, where she covered the same beat as a stringer for The New York Times. She attended Princeton University and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. This is her first radio piece.
Thank you to Jacob Silberberg for providing the photos from Colombia.
Given the sensitivity of their situation, there are no photos of Annie or her family.
Additional support for this work provided by
with funding from