Monday, February 11, 2008

Nicaragua’s Radio La Primerísima and ....

...Still Working for a World Free from Oppression and Exploitation

On December 27 last year Nicaragua’s radio de la gente – Radio La Primerísima – celebrated another anniversary of its 22 years of broadcasting. This AM and FM station belongs to its workers who collaborate as a democratic cooperative. They are outspoken in their allegiance to poor, oppressed, and voiceless people, in their opposition to imperialism and to capitalist exploitation by the country’s oligarchy based on ownership and control of much of the land and in agro-export and finance. They are Sandinistas of long standing, but do not hesitate to criticize our Sandinista governments (at the national and municipal levels) when merited – such as the President’s decision to maintain the illegal status of abortion in the criminal code of the country.

Below is my translation of the 22nd Anniversary Declaration of the station’s workers, done as a courtesy to these Sandinista militants. It was authorized by La Primerísima’s director, William Grigsby.

Radio La Primerisima broadcasts live on the Internet at:

Once you have reached the station’s home page you will find icons on the upper right hand side to select a server to link to the broadcast.

If you are just learning Spanish, or would like to maintain your listening skills in that language, tuning in to Radio La Primerisima is a good idea. I especially recommend two programs - Causa y Efecto, and Sin Fronteras. Icons on the Home Page will get you there. An archive of previous programs is also available. Both programs feature commentary on daily political events in Nicaragua and around the world, along with cultural and even sports criticism. Both project a Sandinista overview, but each with a slightly different attitude towards the Sandinista government of the country.

Felipe Stuart C.

Radio La Primerísima. diciembre 27, 2007

Radio La Primerísima completes on December 27 one more year of broadcasting since our foundation 22 years ago. When we first went on the air we did so with a commitment to serve people.

On a day like this in 1985 Radio La Primerísma was born and named “the station of the people.” It began as a new alternative for the most dispossessed and exploited sectors of the population.

We gained the respect and a place in the heart of people who tune in daily to our frequencies 680 AM and 91.7 FM, or enter our web site at

Our work has not been easy.

Our political line is defined and shaped by not having commitments or ties with parties or organizations. Our only duty is to our listeners.

Our approach to handling news, national topics, and fast breaking events objectively and truthfully has enabled us to acquire a privileged place in the array of radio stations broadcasting in Nicaragua.

This autonomy that today we “proudly” hold on to in Radio La Primerísima has been gained by workers; we have won this through work and sacrifice.

Not everything has been rosy for those who work at La Primerísima. Serving people comes at a price. It means long working hours, low and frozen salaries, and even death threats and assaults.

We still remember the attack we endured on September 30, 1990 when the enemies of freedom of expression blew up our transmitters.

It was a Sunday when a group of masked men entered the installations of our transmitter towers in Santa Clara. They tied up the guard, poured gasoline on the transmitter and installations, and set the place on fire.

Not much time went by before we learned that the intellectual author of the criminal attack was a high officer of the army, now retired and a millionaire entrepreneur who lives in Costa Rica, and who disagreed with the political line of our radio station.The station’s workers found themselves practically out on the street, left only with the hope of recovering and that someday we would be able to recuperate the radio that had been taken away not just from the workers, but also from the station’s “listeners” -- to whom we over everything we have been able to forge over so many years and years.

National and international solidarity reached us, and thanks to the support of unions in Nicaragua, and of our friends in Barcelona, Las Canarias, Switzerland, Canada, Zaragoza, and many other places we managed to get back on the air again, and this time with even more shine. Once again we were on our feet and in the thick of struggle.

Between 1990 and 2006 we managed to skate around the hostility of the neoliberal governments of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Arnoldo Alemán, and Enrique Bolaños – thanks to our outreach to Nicaraguan private business advertisers and to our friends abroad.

Those neoliberal governments, full of revenge, tried to strangle Radio La Primerísima economically, blocking government ads over the last 16 years. We surely hit hard times, but once again we managed to move forward.

We workers a La Primerísima have been untiring workers. Now we are going through a new stage of modernization of our technical equipment.

Some months ago we inaugurated a powerful 5-kilowatt transmitter that enables us to be heard with a strong signal on the FM band. The 10-kilowatt transmitter we have on the AM band is one of the best. Our signal on the internet is heard loud and clear. Our daily digital web site, La Gente, is second to none.

A few days ago we renovated the audio equipment of the broadcast and transmission booth through the installation of modern computers, enabling us to offer a better service to our listeners.

And that is not all. Next year we have more surprises in store for our listeners because we are a tireless collective that keeps on trying to do better day in and day out.

We workers at La Primerísima continue to stand up and to struggle, and we are certain we will be able to withstand whatever problem hits us in the future. “We are the voice of the voiceless,” “we are the radio of the people,” “we are La Primerísima” (the first and foremost).

This radio’s history has two stages: first, it was a state-owned property until 1990. Then it became the property of its workers through the Asociación de Profesionales de la Radiodifusión Nicaragüense (APRANIC—Association of Nicaraguan Radio Broadcasting Professionals) and has remained so ever since.

Before 1985 the frequency was used by Radio Deportes (Sports Radio) that had less power and range. It was installed in another location and, as its name indicates, only dealt with sports. At that time it occurred to the director of CORADEP (Corporación de Radio Difusión del Pueblo – the Radio Broadcasting Corporation of the People) to set up a Hub Station for all radio stations in Nicaragua.

A 10-kilowatt transmitter was mounted and audio facilities equipped. The programming was changed, but still with a heavy stress on sports.

CORADEP wanted the new radio to be the Hub Station of 18 municipal stations across the country. At that time the problem faced by the municipal stations was that events happening in the provinces were not known in the capital.

Hence La Primerísima had to become the sound box. Its raison d’être was to put out a national news program called “Aquí Nicaragua” (Here is Nicaragua), which came on at 5 in the morning, in addition to offering music, drama programs, and sports.

The station’s name originates in Radio Deportes. “It occurred to us that since the slogan of Radio Deportes was ‘Radio Deportes, la Primerísima’ there was no reason for us to go about looking for a new name; we just called it La Primerísima,” recalls Oscar Oviedo, the first director of the station.

Until then Oscar Oviedo had been the vice general director of CORADEP. “I came on board at a time of labor, union crisis. They transferred me from León to Managua to do the job temporarily, but I stayed on for two year as interim director of CORADEP. When La Primerísima was born I asked them to assign me to head up the radio, which I did for the first two years.”

William Grigsby, current Director of La Primerísima, has another version of how the radio got its name. “They had just appointed a publicist, Juan Bosco Parrales, as CORADEP’s director with the task of saving the provincial radio stations and giving them some coherence. He was obsessed with creating a Hub Radio, and he went for the name La Primerísima because it rhymed with Radio Cubanísima in Miami, which he knew very well. He invented the name, and I opposed it at first. At that time I worked in the Propaganda Department of the Frente Sandinista,” Grigsby recalled.

When La Primerísima was still a state-owned station it had a two-headed management. One side was dependent on CORADEP, a bureaucratic apparatus that served as an intermediary between the political leadership of the FSLN and the radio stations. News policy was settled in CORADEP while administrative issues were handled in the station, directed by Oscar Oviedo.

In 1985 the radio moved to its current installations, a house that had been confiscated by the state at the time of the victory of the Sandinista Revolution. It is located on the borders of three Managua barrios or neighborhoods: William Díaz, Marta Quesada, and Bolonia.

The makeup of the neighborhoods has changed in recent years. To the north lies a comfortable barrio that has a liberal inclination. To the east is a really poor barrio, and to the west a middle class barrio. Within a circumference of about two kilometers from La Primerísima are located eight Managua TV stations and at least seven radio stations and publicity agencies.

“This was the house of the Somoza dictatorship’s Head of Security, Coronel Bayardo Girón. People were tortured here. They brought captured Sandinistas here and tortured them. In what is today the sound room, there was a concrete table to which prisoners were tied down. Don Carlos Trejo , one of the neighbors told us this,” William Grigsby says.

One interesting aspect of this first stage is that everyone who worked at the station, whether in administration or in the news and writing work, were boys and girls who were just starting out, just out of university. Oviedo says: “The only well known participants were the announcers; all of them were triple or double A’s, that is, they were sacred cows accustomed to work the best time slots. That gave rise to a conflict between the experienced old guard and the new crew of young people.

Despite all that, we still managed to achieve a radio station that was able to compete with the others and attain over the course of years the second place in audience preference that it now enjoys. This impulse came from dynamism, good will, and the desire to do things. No one thought about who gained more or less. Everyone pitched in. We created attractive programs with good audiences, above all for young people. With the incorporation of William Grigsby it became possible to structure the whole apparatus for news and information that is now so essential for this station. “

Technical limitations were no obstacle to achieving the goals that the initial team had set forth. “At the time we got started, even though we had no resources, we did live broadcasts, using mobile units that gave the impression we had the capacity to transmit simultaneously from five different places in Managua. However, what happened in reality is that we had five compañeros (comrades) who climbed up telephone poles and robbed a phone line for a while, and transmitted from there, recalled Oscar Oviedo.

We decided on two basic things regarding the information work: first, to offer news breaking information that had to be broadcasts live, from where it occurred, using the most appropriate modality (a borrowed or rented phone, whatever); and second, to offer a news program with a national perspective that took into consideration the population in different areas of each province and region.

On the political side – says Oscar Oviedo – we have always maintained the criterion that this radio had to be critical, but objective. Here, when criticisms are made they are grounded, based on solid information in hand.”

The second stage of the radio began in March 1990 when the workers of Radio La Primerísima founded the Asociación de Profesionales de la Radiodifusión Nicaragüense ((APRANIC—Association of Nicaraguan Radio Broadcasting Professionals). They asked the Sandinista government to donate to them the frequency, the equipment, and the furniture where the station operated. In April 1990, René Núñez Téllez, Minister of the Presidency, signed over the requested property. That is how La Primerísima was born as a radio whose property and frequency belong to its workers.

Oscar Oviedo recalls: We had already tried out what was the state radio, and a combination of radio supported both by the government and also through profitable commercial activity. So given the change in government following the elections we saw that if the radio continued to be state owned it would run the risk of being dismantled by the incoming government because it was a definite project of the revolution. It would not have been just to turn it over so they could destroy it. The most practical thing was to have the workers, who had developed it with so much effort, take on legal status and the responsibility to carry on. That’s when a non-profit association was envisaged, and APRANIC was founded. The statutes were submitted to the National Assembly (Parliament), and, once approved, were published in the Official Gazette. The property of the radio was then turned over to APRANIC.”

The Gazette, the official daily publication of the State, in its edition Number 73, of Monday, April 16, 1990, published National Assembly Decree No. 219 in which the legal status of APRANIC (Asociación de Profesionales de la Radiodifusión Nicaragüense) is recognized as a “non-profit association, with a 50-year concession.” The statutes of APRANIC affirm: “The main goal of the Asociación de Profesionales de la Radiodifusión Nicaragua is to promote technical training programs to increase the professional level of its associates; to promote participatory and community-based broadcasting in Nicaragua; to develop radio programs all over Nicaragua and outside the country; to support academic teaching of the art of radio broadcasting in order to create professionals in this field; to promote and strengthen the unity of artists, technicians, announcers, journalists, and radio workers in Nicaragua, helping to cohere them through special projects carried out by the Association.”

To be able to realize those objectives, APRANIC counts on two superior organs: the General Assembly whose membership is made up of all the workers and also of other persons who identify with the goals of the Association; and a Board of Directors that is renewed every two years, elected by the Assembly.

At APRANIC’s first assembly meeting it was decided to have an independent, revolutionary, anti-imperialist, and democratic personality. As well, it was agreed that the administrative priority was to pay the unpaid utility bills and taxes, and next, to pay off back wages. Those big initial decisions have guided the entire history of the radio station.

APRANIC is a non-profit association. It has 70 members, workers of the radio and others who were linked to the radio at some point and still keep ties despite no longer working here. Legal status was obtained before the 1990 change in government, but the statutes were approved a year later during the government of Doña Violeta Chamorro.

“In the beginning not only did they turn over the radio to us, but also the electrical workshop that serviced all the stations, along with an important lot of tools and vehicles. But in that time of confusion following the defeat [of the FSLN in 1990] the staff of the workshop occupied it and pillaged it. In less than a month we lost capital value of approximately 300 thousand dollars,” recalls William Grigsby

“Other properties are also part of our patrimony: the building where our training center operates; the local where the workshop functioned is now where we have the APRANIC offices (and we rent out a part of it to other organizations), and the transmission plant outside Managua. We had a fifth property that was the central building of CORADEP, but we turned it back to its former owner when he demonstrated to us that the building had not been confiscated and really belonged to his mother. We returned it on the condition that he would compensate us for what we had spent on upgrading and maintaining the property. With the money he turned over to us we built the offices where today APRANIC functions, where before there was only a workshop warehouse.”

The members of APRANIC include not just journalists, but also administrative personnel and people who have never worked at the radio. Grigbsy explains that full members are “the support staff, receptionist, the administrator, the accountant, the head of sales, control technicians, engineers, drivers, and the plant technicians, or ‘planteros’ as we are wont to call them.” The only requirement to be a member of APRANIC is to work in the radio for no less than six months, or demonstrate an interest in the radio which is the case with some friends of La Primerísima.”

For example, Señora Maximina Laguna, who since the radio was founded has come every day to sell quesillos, chicharrón, and tortillas. “She knows everyone, she has seen us grow, and that’s why we invited her to be part of APRANIC. She lives in Nagarote, 45 kilometers from here, and she goes about the surrounding barrios on foot every day carrying the stuff she is selling.” Also there is Don Carlos Trejo, a neighbor and mechanic by trade. “For many years he has defended and helped out, for example in repairing vehicles during the times when the radio had no money. He was also the first to arrive when we were threatened, and offered us arms and that kind of thing. Another señora, Dominga Rivera, came here to sell clothes, cosmetics, etc. She became a friend of everyone and we brought her into the assembly,” Grigsby adds.

All the workers, from the support staff and the night guards to the director are members of APRANIC. “All have the same rights, including Maximina who comes everyday to sell her quesillos, and our neighbor Don Carlos Trejo. This is a collective that brings in everyone,” says Rigoberto Solís, a sports reporter.

When the radio was threatened, and when strong rumors were flying about that the “Danielista” sector of the Frente was going to occupy and sabotage the radio, Don Carlos Trejo came around to defend it. “That’s why we decided to incorporate other people who now are part of the radio family. The same happened with some people from abroad who in one way or another expressed their solidarity and collaboration through projects and efforts to help financially. Among the members now are some journalists who no longer work here, but who continue to participate.”

According to the statutes if one let’s six months go by without participating, they can lose their membership status, “but we are flexible about this,” Oscar Oviedo, the current president of the Board of APRANIC, explains. “We had to deal with normal problems stemming from lack of ads, limited ad budgets in the private sector, so that nothing came easily for us. On the other hand, the political situation was such that we were no longer in government, but out in the boondocks. The pressures were strong, the rejection from the right and efforts from the left to influence us. But we said: we have to offer attractive programming, and we will win the support of our audience and sympathy from international solidarity, through the channel of the association, Oviedo” explains.
- fin -

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