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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
By HANS MARDY
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
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.
Copyright 1999 Miami Herald