Editor's note: The Pulitzer Center is pleased to serve as the fiscal sponsor for Radio Ambulante. Here, Daniel Alarcón, the executive producer of the show, tells us about the evolution of this important new initiative.
I first had the idea for Radio Ambulante back in 2007, when the BBC asked me to host a radio documentary about Andean migration to Lima, Peru. They sent a producer from London, Gavin Heard, who took care of all the recording, and who was always there with a insightful, nuanced question to help me shape the story. It was an incredible learning experience, but when the final piece was edited I found myself just a little frustrated. I noticed that some of the most interesting voices hadn’t made the cut—they’d given way to other voices, in English. While I understood this as an aesthetic, editorial decision, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be done with rest of the tape, those Spanish speakers. I wished there was a place for them.
As is the case with a lot of ideas, the notion of a Spanish language storytelling radio program sat on the shelf for many years. Then, it so happened that I mentioned it to my wife one day while we were sitting at a coffee shop in San Francisco. We were talking about projects we wanted to do, and Carolina’s eyes just sort of lit up. I think she got it right away, but we knew nothing about radio, and so we spent the first few months learning everything we could about this world. We spent a lot of time on websites like Transom, and reading radio blogs, and calling people we knew to ask for advice. It was a lot of work, but we learned a great deal, and it was very exciting.
A year ago, this was just an idea: now we have a network of producers and journalists all over Latin America and the US. We have stories in production from Mexico, Honduras, Cuba and Colombia. We’ve produced an audio sampler (you can listen to it here) which includes pieces from Peru, Spain, Argentina, the US, Chile, and places in between. We’ve matched great print journalists with great field producers, and introduced a lot of listeners to a new way of telling Latin American stories in sound.
We’ve spent a lot of time as a team thinking about where Radio Ambulante is headed. We’ll start by focusing on the quality of each piece, each episode; this is our core mission. Everything else—including what we expect will eventually be a large, transnational audience online and on the air—will depend first on the quality of the stories we produce. So many of the people whom we spoke to about our project would say things like: “This American Life in Spanish—that doesn’t exist already?” They were incredulous, and, to a certain extent, we were as well. As we envisioned the kind of program we wanted to create, we did our homework, and found that there was nothing out there quite like Radio Ambulante. This means we have a great opportunity, and a great responsibility. We think this is the right moment to create a show like ours: one that implicitly challenges borders, tells compelling human stories, and uses all available technologies—from podcasts to terrestrial radio—to build an international community of listeners. I have a lot of ideas and a lot of energy, and I honestly can’t wait to see how it all develops.
We’re thrilled to introduce our work to supporters of the Pulitzer Center. If you have any questions or comments about the project, please feel free to be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.