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A long-standing fascination with radio and languages ​​led Gary Cziko (right), professor of educational psychology, to found the UI’s Latin radio service. Giraldo Rosales, director of La Casa Cultural Latina, secured funding for the station, which aired this month.

Photo by Kwame Ross

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The radio station has no studio – not even a microphone – and a coverage radius measured in blocks rather than miles. Its control room is a desktop computer in the corner of a campus office, monitored remotely by an education teacher with a passion for languages, radio and the Internet.

But for those who want a taste of Spanish in their radio diet, the new Latino radio service at the University of Illinois at

Urbana-Champaign may be exactly what they were listening to.

The new low-power voice of the Spanish-language radio on the Illinois campus, 1660-AM, went into full-time service this month, broadcasting from a 12-foot antenna recently installed at the top by Bevier Hall.

Sponsored by La Casa Culturelle Latina, the Latin cultural center on campus, the station “may well be the only fully automated campus radio station in the world broadcasting programs obtained via the Internet,” according to station founder and manager Gary Cziko (SEE-ko), Professor of educational psychology. “It is almost certainly the only station on the US college campus to do so using programming in both Spanish and Portuguese.”

The roots of the project can be traced back to Cziko’s childhood fascination with radio, when his father bought him a shortwave radio and he listened to stations from Cuba to London to Moscow. The experience stimulated his interest in languages ​​and cultures, which led him to a research interest in language acquisition, as well as learning French, German and Spanish.

With the advent and development of the Internet, it was only natural that Cziko was intrigued by the new medium’s ability to stream audio from radio stations around the world. “I just thought it was really amazing that you could listen to thousands of different programs from anywhere in the world in all these different languages,” he said.

Cziko tinkered with low-power FM transmitters that could broadcast from an internet-powered computer, trying it out at home first. He then installed a computer in the office of French teacher Peter Golato in the foreign languages ​​building who transmitted the radio in French to the Quad by means of an antenna taped to the window of the office.

He then found out that federal law allowed educational institutions to set up low-power AM stations without a license, and last summer he approached La Casa director Giraldo Rosales about the creation. of such a station that would broadcast programs in Spanish. Rosales brought the proposal to the Chancellor’s office and secured $ 6,000 in funding for the project. Then Cziko enlisted the help of Paul Hixson, Ralf Moller and Ben Mueller in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences to get everything set up during the fall semester, including the installation of the transmitter and antenna at Bevier Hall.

To program the station, Cziko said he had a lot of choices. “There is a lot of great international programming, especially in Spanish, from all places,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding it and putting it together, and getting clearances.”

The current schedule, displayed on the Website, includes programs from Radio Bilingüe, Radio Canada International, Radio Netherlands, United Nations and Voice of America. Also on the program, “Nuevos Horizontes” (New Horizons), a weekly program produced by the University of Illinois Extension for Hispanic populations in the United States.

The station’s format is mostly news and information, with Latin and world music mixed together.

Cziko makes no secret that the station will experience its times of dysfunction and dead air, due in part to its internet addiction and the restricted nature of its operation. (He’s recruiting volunteers to help watch the station and get it back up and running when it goes down.)

The antenna on Bevier Hall is about a tenth of the size it should be for the station’s frequency, and its low signal strength, perhaps three watts at the moment, “may be equal to the power of three or four cell phones all turned on at the same time, ”he laughed.

Still, the station’s signal does the job of reaching the campus and a little beyond, and Cziko believes it adds diversity and another resource to the campus environment. He is already thinking about the potential of other languages.

Cziko invites interested listeners to help her find other Spanish shows to add to the schedule. And Mueller, executive director of “Nuevos Horizontes”, is interested in helping Spanish-speaking students who want to produce and broadcast campus radio programs.

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