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#141; Growing Role of Creole On Miami Airways (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

Published Sunday, July 11, 1999, in the Miami Herald 


Creole radio grows in South Florida
Herald Writer 
Never was the growing prominence of Creole language radio more evident 
than in May:

The airwaves of AM and FM stations in South Florida sizzled with debate 
over the hotly contested North Miami mayoral race.

Haitian American Josaphat "Joe'' Celestin faced off against North Miami 
Councilman Frank Wolland in what many saw as the latest test of Haitian 
voting clout in South Florida.

Though Wolland defeated Celestin, many counted it as a victory for the 
emerging Creole-speaking electorate.

Through it all, radio -- more so than newspapers or any other medium -- 
was the vital link between candidates and Haitian voters.

"Creole radio is a very important tool for the Haitian community,'' 
said Jean-Claude Exulien, a Haitian historian and former president of 
the South Florida Haitian Press Association.

For thousands of Haitian immigrants living in Miami-Dade, Broward and 
Palm Beach counties, news of the latest events from the homeland, 
updates on local social and political events and advertisements for 
local businesses air -- all in their native tongue.

Many local working class Haitians say they don't read newspapers and 
rarely watch television because they don't have the time or don't 
understand English well enough. Thus, at home and work, in their cars 
and often in the wee hours of the night, listeners tune in.

It's a tradition that for many dates back to their days in Haiti.

When the flow of Haitian refugees came to the shores of Miami in the 
early 1980s, a majority came from countrysides where their main source 
of communication was radio.

But back then, there were few stations providing Creole content and 
members of the Haitian community quickly realized the need for more.

"Several of the Haitians who came in the early '80s ended up at the 
Krome Avenue detention center with no way to communicate with their 
relatives in Miami or in their homeland,'' said Carmelau Monestime, 68, 
who started the first Creole radio show in South Florida 21 years ago. 
"Others didn't have relatives in Miami. The community needed to stand 
up and organize demonstrations to get them released. It's at that time 
that the radio [shows] found their space.''

Monestime had moved from New York to Miami in 1978 when the Haitian 
community consisted of maybe 4,000 people. There were only a couple of 
Haitian businesses, located in the Sabal Palm area near Northeast Second 
Avenue and 54th Street.

Haitians in the city had no way of communicating in Creole on a mass 
level. Those who wanted to reach out to the newly arriving immigrants 
who did not yet speak English did so by passing out fliers.

"It was a struggle to find a radio station to let us say something in 
Creole to our community,'' said Monestime. "I went to several radio 
stations before, finally, WMBM 1490 AM agreed to rent to us one hour on 
Saturday nights from 7 to 8 for about $100.''

Monestime and his staff spent days passing out fliers announcing the 
show -- Radio Express Publicite -- which went on the air at 7 p.m. June 
10, 1978.

Henry Claude Marcellus, a veteran Haitian radio personality who hosted a 
popular New York radio show, Radio Club Haitian, called in to the studio 
that first night.

"When I came from New York in 1978, I planned to run a Creole radio 
show here, but when I heard Carmelau's first show air that Saturday 
night, I called the station to congratulate him,'' said Marcellus. 

Radio Express started what would become a long -- and controversial -- 
history for Creole radio in Miami.

One of the most dramatic episodes in Creole radio history occurred in 
the early '90s when three Haitian radio personalites were killed in 
Miami. Fritz Dor, Jean Claude Olivier and Donald Saint Plit were shot 
after supporting democracy in Haiti.

Marcellus had his own show -- Radio Club Culturel -- on WDNA 88.9 FM in 
Miami. His program, which has since been discontinued, also aired on 
Saturday nights at a time, he said, when he expected most Haitians would 
be at home.

His show was later joined by those of well-known Haitian journalists 
Marcus Garcia and Elsie Etheart, who co-hosted a 15-minute Creole 
language news program on public radio station WLRN.

Today, there are more than 100 Creole radio shows in South Florida. 
Among the most popular and longest lasting are Radio Pep La, Radio 
Kalbas Des Ondes, Radio Carrefour, Haiti Antennes Plus, Radio Compas, 
Radio Miami Inter, Radio Pa W, Radio Cacique International and Radio 
Piman Bouk. All are on WLQY 1320 AM, a 24-hour all-Creole radio station 
located in North Miami.

Other shows include Radio Ke Poze, a Creole show on WACC 830 AM run by 
the Archdiocese of Miami and Haiti Amerique on WHSR 980 AM, a 24-hour 
station based in Boca Raton run by well-known Haitian journalist Lesly 

But Creole radio programs are very different today than they were 20 
years ago, said Marcellus.

"Radio shows used to be a way of life,'' he said. "In the early '80s 
our job descriptions as radio hosts weren't over once we left the 
microphone, but we got involved in every single aspect of the community. 
We had to provide social services to the newly arrived immigrants and 
educate them about their new home.''

Today, in most instances, the hosts of the shows are Haitian radio 
personalities who buy air time from the different radio stations.

For an hour of air time, hosts pay between $200 and $300, depending on 
the time of the day. Most programmers pay for their shows by selling 
advertising to local businesses.

Depending on the business, advertising rates vary from $20 to $30 for a 
30-second radio spot.

Currently, there's no Haitian-owned radio station in the region. Some in 
the industry say that if all the independent programmers pooled their 
resources, the money they spend individually renting air time on various 
stations could be enough to buy two stations.

"It's a lack of vision from radio personalities,'' said Jean-Robert 
Lafortune, a veteran radio programmer who hosted one of the oldest 
Creole radio shows in Miami.

Earlier this year, WLQY was purchased by Z-Spanish Media Corp. for 
nearly $5.5 million, said Raul Salvador, a company spokesman.

"Every year our community spends more than $10 million renting air time 
on AM radio stations,'' said Monestime of Radio Publicite. "That money 
went to other communities. It won't be back in our community.''

He added: "It's true there is freedom of speech in Miami, but we do not 
speak for free.''

Jacques, who runs WHSR 980 AM, spends $15,000 every week for the air 
time -- that's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "My station is 
different from other stations because I am in charge of the program. I 
pick out who I want to rent my time to.''

Aside from a few Haitian radio personalities who came from Haiti with 
journalism backgrounds, most of the hosts have had little preparation in 
broadcasting. Some are business owners -- real estate and insurance 
agents, doctors, immigration lawyers and car dealers -- who have decided 
to buy air time either to promote their businesses, to have fun on the 
air or to support social life in the Haitian community.

There is no requirement to rent air time. Any one who has money can buy 
air time and discuss whatever or say whatever he or she wants.

During the North Miami election, mayoral challenger Wolland demanded 
equal time on WLQY because opponent Celestin had a show, Radio Koze 
Politik, on which he was campaigning for office. They worked out a 
compromise that allowed Wolland on the air.

Exulien, the Haitian historian, said more controls are needed.

"Radio hosts need better preparation,'' said Exulien, who helped 
organize several workshops, the last one in 1995, for people interested 
in getting into Haitian radio.

"It's very dangerous for the community, especially the way station 
managers rent out air time with no background checks,'' Exulien said. 
"They do not care. It's all about money. As long as the shows are not 
in English, the [non-Creole speaking] community is not going to be 

Salvador, the WLQY spokesman, said they are very concerned about the 
fairness and content quality issue and plan to take measures to better 
monitor what airs.

"Although our local manager, Sandra Herzberg, does understand Creole, 
we are going to design a translation system to allow us to hear what is 
being said in Creole,'' Salvador said.

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