HOOD RIVER, Ore. (KOIN) — The bilingual community radio station Radio Tierra has been broadcasting out of Hood River for close to 20 years, bringing entertainment and education to people on both sides of the Columbia River and even south of the U.S. border.
A few friends started the station back in 1999, according to Juan Reyes, president of the Radio Tierra Board of Directors. If station lore is to be believed, they originally tried to do a Spanish-language show on a different radio station.
“I guess after the first show, we don’t know if it was content or if it just wasn’t popular, but they were asked to not do a show anymore,” Reyes said.
So they solicited donations from local businesses, rounded up some volunteers, and got to work. Two decades later, the majority of the station’s funding still comes from donations.
“The station is community funded, community run,” Reyes said.
They aim for about half Spanish content, half English. Providing valuable information to listeners is also key.
“Radio Tierra was created to give the Spanish-speaking community a voice, but it’s become one of the major sources of information for the Spanish-speaking community,” Reyes said.
That includes shows hosted by immigration attorneys, interviews with local organizations, a regular segment with Hood River County Sheriff Matt English, and even English and science lessons from the station’s youngest hosts, who also happen to be Reyes’ daughters.
All three of his daughters have hosted shows at some point. Stephanie, the eldest, got roped into reading stories several years ago.
Soon, middle-child Alexa followed suit after her dad overheard her teaching her younger sister Spanish and thought it could make an entertaining show (she switched the language being taught to English, and now her segment is even broadcast on KBOO in Portland).
The youngest, Allison, started her show “All is Science” about a year ago when she was 8.
She told KOIN 6 her favorite episode so far has been on the life cycles of stars, and that she likes doing the show because she gets to learn new things.
The books Allison uses to research for her segment come from fellow host Yeli Boots, who works at the local library and does a weekly, pre-recorded show called “Cuentos Con La Biblioteca” (Stories With the Library”).
Geared toward younger listeners, it features songs, stories and library announcements. Boots has been running the show for almost two years.
“I was actually very nervous,” she said. “At first it was difficult piecing everything together like the sound waves … now it’s really easy.”
Radio Tierra has plenty of music in its rotation, including Mike Nichols’ bluegrass show “A New Kind of Lonesome.” He’s been a fan of the genre ever since he first heard it on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Nichols used to host a show on a community radio station in Colorado, and when he moved to Hood River, he wanted to continue.
“Everybody down here has just accepted me and my show, like it was meant to be,” he said.
The station has been growing, Reyes said, and at some point he’d like to see Radio Tierra get its own studio (right now they broadcast out of The Next Door, a local nonprofit) as well as some paid employees. They have about 20 hosts and are always accepting more.
In 2018, they started streaming their broadcast online, reaching listeners as far away as California and Mexico (Reyes suspects they are friends or relatives of some of the DJs).
Even in an increasingly digital age, Reyes said the majority of their listeners are still tuning in to the FM broadcast since a large number are agricultural workers.
We’re getting information directly “to the Spanish-speaking community while they’re out there working in the orchards or packing houses, whatever that may be,” he said. “Radio Tierra has become this example of what can happen when people from different backgrounds, different ages, different races, different sexes can, it doesn’t matter, come together and build something amazing.”