Days of Radio, Lives of Drama

Media Impact profiled in El Diario Newspaper
Oct 19, 2009 8:00 AM ET
Press Release

Days of Radio, Lives of Drama

Silvina Sterín Pensel [2009-09-06] El Diario NY

From a community radio in the Department of Petén, Guatemala, various characters talk about sex and condoms.  In another radio station in the small Nicaraguan town of Somoto, near the Honduran border, a fiery dialogue is heard between Don Guillermo, a rich land owner that recklessly exploits the land, and his son, Willy, who follows in his father’s footsteps, degrading the environment and sexually abusing girls from the area.  Meanwhile, in Ecuador, in the city of Jipijapa, Manabí, those that tune in to Radio Alfaro 96.1 hear the story of a young girl overcoming the challenges of teen pregnancy, on the weekly broadcast of “Domingo 7.”

These stories are not recounted by a narrator, but rather radio soap operas, acted with passion and fervor by cast members from the community, the majority of who have no theatrical background.

“Many of these individuals are peasants or Indigenous people that live in rural areas where our partner radio stations are located,” explains Brenda Campos, 31, from her office in Manhattan.  As Program Manager at PCI-Media Impact, she coordinates all the details to create the radio soap operas that broadcast messages about sex education, HIV/AIDS prevention, family planning, environmental issues and citizen participation.

The key component that enables the radio dramas to achieve their mission - changing certain behaviors of the listeners - is that the radio soap operas are entertaining. “I would say that they are 30% educational and 70% entertaining.  If the product is super professional but only educational, the people will get bored and switch the channel or turn it off. We want our audience to be hooked and to keep listening,” Brenda says.

 Since 1985, when PCI was founded, Entertainment Education format has been their formula and it has proven to be a successful tool to reduce the occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases, motivate women to be independent and to fight for their rights, and to strengthen radio programming in the most remote villages in Latin America. “It’s amazing to see how they function with so few resources,” Brenda mentions.  “In El Alto, Bolivia, in an immigrant zone of La Paz near the airport, there is a radio station with cords of PVC hanging and wire antennas; they make do with what they have.”

 Brenda left Mexico City, her birthplace, seven years ago to come to New York to work as a volunteer in the Association Tepeyac. Today, Brenda travels throughout Latin America training and assisting community organizations that have been previously selected and given grants from Media Impact.  “We select the organizations that best know the problems of their communities and can offer the best solutions and responses. We are not interested in designing posters that say you should get vaccinated. We are interested in sharing information, and then offering the people everything they need so they can go to the hospital to get vaccinated.”

 “Simply Maria,” a Peruvian soap opera of the 1960s where a humble domestic worker is able to turn around her fate with hard work and transform herself into a successful businesswoman, was the spark that motivated the creation of PCI Media Impact.  “The series shot the sales of sewing machines through the roof amongst low-income women. The soap opera motivated them to want to better themselves.” By the 70s, here in the USA, the Mexican Miguel Sabido and psychologist Albert Bandura from Stanford University analyzed the concept of using soap operas as a vehicle for social change. 

 Enamored with the documentaries and the power of storytelling via images, Brenda would not resist working on soap operas for television programming, but quickly explains why radio is the chosen medium. “Latin America is tainted by poverty and in many of the places where we work the people do not have televisions, but everyone has a radio at hand. That is why we insist on radio soap operas.” Alliances with NGO’s native to the established place allow the characters and dialogue of the soap operas to be a loyal reflection of the young population of the communities, the principal group we want to reach. “They are the ones that know if Bolivians dance to more cumbia or reggaeton, or whatever the trend of the moment might be amongst the adolescents.”

For now, everything takes place from the border below, but Brenda is eager to expand the programs here as well.  “Once we broadcast in California a soap opera that we made in Guadalajara, where the characters dealt with the topic of how to better invest the money they received from their families working in the U.S. Many people use remittances for quinceañeras (Sweet Fifteens) or to buy the latest car, but there are ways to make the money go further, money that was earned with a lot of sweat and tears.”  For now, Brenda travels the Latin American continent and is a witness to how the people listen and begin to live soap opera lives.

 To view the original article in Spanish, please visit El Diario:


About PCI-Media Impact:
Since 1985, PCI-Media Impact's programs have addressed the root causes of poverty and have encouraged people to make choices that lead to better health and sustainable development. Working with local partners worldwide, PCI-Media Impact produces carefully researched and culturally sensitive radio and television dramas that combine the power of storytelling with the reach of broadcast media. For more information, please visit PCI-Media Impact's website, join their Facebook Fan Page, or follow them on Twitter.


  For more information please contact:
Michael Castlen
  Executive Director
  PCI-Media Impact, Inc