Fiddlin' AroundNancy Buchan

Radio in Costa Rica

Living here is often challenging.  Try to find decent violin strings that aren’t already rusted.  Locate a drum head that hasn’t been on a shelf for 4 years soaking up the abundant moisture in the air.  Figure out how to find the music for a Bach piece without a credit card or a computer.  Ah, but these are petty little issues compared to the fear factor and annoyance factor of driving and owning a car here in Costa Rica.  Especially in the rainy season.

My ancient Dodge Raider blew up recently and I have one of those stupid choices of whether to fix it – again – or to move on to something else.  That would be motor number three inside of body number two, and boy does that just sound dumb or what?  So I borrowed an old pickup truck from a friend till I can sort it all out, and lo and behold, the radio works!   Don’t think I’ve ever had a car here where not only does the radio work, it sounds great!  I have re-discovered the mindless pleasure of listening to what’s on the airways, plus it covers up those weird clunky noises coming from underneath the car.  It’s also not a bad way to practice my Spanish and to hear artists that I am totally unfamiliar with.  Radio is big all over Central America, and the stations here do what they were originally built to do – entertain and inform their listeners.     

Older gringo types fondly remember those carefree days of driving around listening to and singing along to the songs on the radio.  The future and the road in front of us seemed endless and full of promise and fun.  Life was simpler and we were never going to grow old.  Well.  Sometimes the stations only played lame pop stuff being promoted by the lame record labels, and sometimes it was experimental and exciting and became the sound track for our lives.  Radio stations also provided breaking news, and pork belly reports (whatever those are), and weather conditions, but in the states we soon moved on to TV and newspapers and the internet to give us information.  Now every rental car has satellite radio, and we travel with ipods and headphones and tune into Bob Dylan hour or light jazz.  Shoot, Bob Dylan’s songs were all too long and controversial to get played on the air back in the day, and light jazz was something you were subjected to in an elevator.    Plenty of stations in the states (maybe a majority of them) only play syndicated and pre-recorded stuff now – there’s no real dj in that booth, just some guy flipping switches occasionally.  But here in CR there are still plenty of people who listen to their favorite station to be entertained and informed.  

There are over a hundred radio stations in Costa Rica.  Some are small, with a very localized broadcast range, some are ‘talk’ radio, some are religious in nature, some are about sports, some are only news, and some are college stations whose programming is geared to the students.  The ones that play music cover just about every style from Classical to Trova to Reggaeton to American pop hits to Mexican Rap to Mariachi music.  Radio Dos, at 99.5, and Jazz 95.5 are the only ones here that have English speaking djs, and lots of Ticos listen to them to improve their English.  

My friend Margie Scott, who is married to former DJ, blues singer, songwriter and author David Scott, has worked in live radio for many years and does the 6 to 9 show on Radio Dos every weekday morning.  She is the source of traffic news for thousands of folks driving to work, and most of her information comes from people out there driving and calling her to warn the other people out there driving which routes are clogged or closed or blocked by a strike.  Nobody’s relying on some guy up in a helicopter to tell them what to do.  She picks through the international news sources for material that otherwise might be ignored to find items that are relevant to here or just plain bizarre and interesting.   I love her sense of humor – after giving the stats on road closures for China’s President Xi’s recent visit, she played the Tears for Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”,  followed by Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”.   Xi had just dumped off a bunch of money here in return for 9 agreements with Costa Rica, and many Ticos are pissed off about this selling out of their country.   I got it and I’ll bet a lot of other listeners did too.   At least 30 stations here stream live over the internet – that’s how I listen to Margie, as there’s a couple of pesky mountains between us interrupting the signal.  The jungle telegraph is still radio, as she’ll get calls from folks trying to get in touch with their aunt, who always listens to her show, or callers from Europe asking her to send out a song to some specific Tico friend.   I remember when I lived in Belize years ago the only way to find out about somebody dying and when the wake would be held was to listen to the radio.  It’s personal.  

There is an independent and non-profit organization here called CANARA, which acts as a watchdog for freedom of the press.  They broadcast a 20 minute show Monday through Saturday starting at 7 am called Panorama.  They use a radio drama format to discuss a wide range of topics, from environmental issues to political shenanigans to dengue prevention.  Not just talking heads, but real dialogue.  When Chavez shut down a radio station in Caracas for his private political reasons, CANARA asked all stations to observe 2 minutes of radio silence in protest and solidarity.  Not all stations belong to CANARA, but those that do must broadcast Panorama every day, and they are all about information and freedom of speech.  As America celebrates the 4th of July, we might do well to remember there are all kinds of ways to make sure we keep our freedoms – and the airwaves have always played a big part in that. 

Get out there and listen to live musicians utilizing their freedom of speech through music!   Ben Orton and I play most Friday nights at the wonderful Roca Verde just south of Dominical, so start your car, turn on the radio and drive!

“Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair – well the night’s busted open – these two lanes will take us anywhere.”                  From the song Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen 

“Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?”      from the song Drive, by the Cars 

“And I had a feeling that I belonged.  I had a feeling that I could be someone, be someone.”    from the song Fast Car, by Tracey Chapman

2 thoughts on “Radio in Costa Rica

  • Love it & love you & Charley
    Your friend,,Carra

  • always love to read your stories Nancy…..hope you and Charley are doing well. Mark, Cody, and I are happy and well. Regards to Charley for us.

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