To make a community radio

Two walls form a corner at the rear of Conjuntos Santos Dumont, São Paulo. A shadowy figure stands with their back to us, affixing posters to the wall.

Radio Santos Dumont launched on Saturday 17 September 2022. Andrew O’Conner installed FM transmitters located at three different stations along the internal roadway, including in Tarcisio’s bar and Liduina’s fruit and vegetable shop. These are broadcasting interviews Andrew had recorded with residents some months earlier, effectively collecting some oral histories of this particular enclave in the megalopolis of São Paulo. Andrew and Todd Lanier Lester from Lanchonte.org had invited Marina and Fernanda of Publication Studio to run a poster-making workshop using stamps to engage with local children. The night before I’d assisted Liduina and her daughter Rosa in making trays of ‘gnocchi’ (made with flour, milk, salt and oil, but not potatoes!).

Two images of an elderly making pasta.  She is wearing a black jacket and jeans, with her hair under a net The first image she is needing the dough. In the second she is displaying a tray full of freshly made gnocchi.

Friends of Lanchonete.org came by during the afternoon, including Carol Godefroid who took photographs and her son Gabriel Carnelós who will also join our upcoming event on October 1 & 2. Todd and I have been out talking to residents and putting up posters promoting the event that alongside Andrew’s radio installation also features: Itinero Grapho’s Kombi printing press, a DIY/DWO percussion instrument making workshop with New York-based documentary film and radio maker Amber Cortes, a songwriting workshop with musicians Gabriel Edé and Vitor Wutzi from São Paulo and BYO t-shirt screen printing that I’m learning via trial and error and will manage on the day with illustrator and animator Carl Nelson, who will also be arriving from New York. There will be music — I’m working on Ketchupe DJ — and we also hope to make some more recordings on the day around these different activities.

I’ve also been thinking about how this radio intervention — our festa do rádio – is a critical urban practice. There has been some discussion around lumbung radio how online radio occupies and reclaims digital space, with minimal bandwidth and audio formats that don’t demand the same kind of attention as (audio)visual media. fugitive radio often claims that these days ‘everyone has a podcast but who is listening?’. The notion that ‘noone is listening’ shifts fugitive radio’s emphasis on radio making as a social practice with technology rather than as a production task. fugitive radio aligns with Helsinki Open Waves in its interest in migrant voices and with collaborators such as {openradio} and the aforementioned lumbung radio in emphasising open content and using free and open source tools. As such, fugitive radio may not make what by convention constitutes ‘well-produced’ radio content, but rather has made a political decision to work with certain people and technologies. Indeed community-based media in itself could be understood as a critique of corporate media, and especially media monopolies such as Grupo Globo in Brazil.

So how do such ideas arrive in Conjuntos Santos Dumont, where I have only a rudimentary grasp of the language; where I have been introduced to only a handful of people who may not have any interest in or access to such technologies? What is fugitive radio doing here?

Certainly fugitive radio has had an interest in Brazil since it began, inspired by the ‘barraca’ beach bars in Rio and protest sound systems that I experienced when I was here during the last presidential election in 2018. It also makes reference to a recent independent feminist server movement emerging out of Latin America that includes vedetas in São Paulo. Lanchonete.org provides an (urban) art context that fugitive radio has entered into and is continuing its practices that include: field recordings, riddim production, conducting interviews and experimenting with live broadcast formats (such as rádio caminho)… and now simple simple silk screen printing. But what does this mean for the residents of Conjuntos Santos Dumont?

Radio Santos Dumont installs a novel radio infrastructure in the lane that threads through the buildings. While Andrew has interviewed locals and has presented a version of what local radio can do, I wonder how they might also access it; perhaps initially as listeners and also as participants/producers? In short, to make community radio first you need a community…don’t you? So it is striking that none of us involved in initiating Radio Santos Dumont actually live there — indeed we are by-and-large gringos, not even from São Paulo. So is Radio Santos Dumont for the (arts) community who support Lanchonete.org? Certainly it is employing locals (both from the conjunto and the city more broadly), so it might pique some interest in a context where funding for experimental social practices is scarce. So then, will a community of sorts emerge from the task of producing the event?

A hand drawn handbill promoting Radio Santos Dumont, encouraging people to ‘bring their talent’, ‘bring their memories’ and ‘bring a t-shirt’.

I am struck by our efforts to engage residents with our radio intervention. After seeing the Radio Santos Dumont design conceived by Todd and finalised by Carl and Thiago Correia Gonçalves, I was compelled to make a silk screen, convinced that if I would want it on a t-shirt, so would others. (I recall Todd mentioning that he thought t-shirts might promote a sense of identity for residents, and that differs from its lingering reputation for drug traffic.) Furthermore, Todd printed off a stack of handbills that I am now giving to people I meet in the elevator at 14 Bis. I am renting out a ‘kitchenete’ in this tallest building of the conjuncto, overlooking the internal laneway — which I’m assured is a quintessential São Paulo experience.

Finally, I must mention the Presidential Elections on October 2, which is arguably the reason so many of us gringos are convening in Conjuncto Santos Dumont — to get a sense of what it is like on the ground and to experience what happens during this historical moment. Brazilians are polarised by the presidential candidates, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and a former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and friends here say they are anxious about the consequences of the election. From what I’ve seen, Conjunto Santos Dumont is no different. While we have not made the elections the focus of Radio Santos Dumont, it will invariably set the context in which it occurs.