Nobody's Listening

A new survey of Cubans finds that Radio Mart''s island audience is shrinking by the day

The September survey wasn't all bad news. Researchers reported that Radio Marti remained the most popular foreign station in Cuba. The BBC, Radio Exterior de Espana, Radio Canada International, Radio France International, Radio Netherlands, and the Voice of America all had audiences of one or two percent. And 45 percent of those interviewed were aware of Radio Marti, even if they didn't listen.

John Nichols, associate professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University and an expert on international broadcasting, is willing to believe that Radio Marti listenership in Cuba is declining, but he says that's almost irrelevant to the politicians who fund the operations. "Radio Marti was offered up as a mechanism to bring down the Castro government and was a symbolically hostile act," Nichols says. "If somebody did the hard figures they would discover a net loss [in listenership] by replacing the old [Voice of America] with Radio Marti. VOA dedicated programming to Cuba starting in the Sixties and continued until the transmitter in the Keys was turned over to Radio Marti. I can recall sitting on a Cuban bus and everybody was listening to VOA. It wasn't frowned upon. Castro listened. The relevant question is not whether the Martis' audience figures are going up it's, Are they greater than VOA's were? And I think not. That indicates the real reason for broadcasting is less Cuba and more domestic politics. We've spent a huge amount of money for a huge operation with what is probably a smaller audience."

kathy_glasgow@miaminewtimes.com

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