‘Town crier’ radio thrives

The sound of music fills a radio studio on a Saturday afternoon. Children’s tiny voices sing Christian songs.

As David Ventura fades out the music and turns on the microphone, the voice of pastor George Contreras travels across the airwaves throughout central Virginia.

The music and voices originate in Henrico County. In January 2012, WBTK 1380 AM radio moved from Richmond to studios in the Glenside area. The station’s tower has always been in Lakeside.

While based in Henrico County, the station hopes to appeal to Hispanic listeners and others from around the region who want to hear Christian songs, a mix of Spanish music and family-friendly programs.

“All of the music that we play, all the programming that we play, it is all targeted toward the family,” said Glen Motto, operations manager. “The lyrics of all of the songs are going to be safe.”

Motto said the station changed formats six years ago. The owners realized the region’s Hispanic community was growing.

“Henrico is the sixth largest county in Virginia in terms of Hispanic population,” Motto said. “When you include Chesterfield and Richmond, the Hispanic population nears 50,000.”

Radio stations play a central role in Hispanic communities in the U.S. and in Latin American countries.

Felipe Korzenny of The Center for Hispanic Marketing Communications at Florida State University writes in his blog that radio traditionally serves “as the town-crier in an interactive way” and the “radio announcer publicizes jobs…and spreads the word about local events.”

That’s exactly what drew WBTK announcer Oscar Contreras to the station.

Contreras, who lives in Henrico County, didn't expect to be working at a radio station.

He came to Richmond to study film and photography at Virginia Commonwealth University after his family moved to Culpeper from Guatemala.

But one day in his car, he heard the new radio station. He liked what he heard and called to apply for a job. He’s been at the station since then.

Contreras considers the station a community resource offering such programs as “Focus on the Community,” which airs each Monday.

“When I came into the radio [station, it] was in my heart to do a community show where we can inform people about what’s going on in the region, events, the services, have interviews with different experts on different topics,” he said. “We open the lines and people call; people ask questions.”

The station works with local governments and nonprofit agencies to share information with its Hispanic listeners. And of course the station connects advertisers with what Motto calls an “underserved market.”

Most of the music and programs are in Spanish, but long-time announcer “Brother Herb” Pollard hosts a morning show Monday through Friday in English.

On a recent Friday morning, Pollard played religious songs and testimonials interspersed with weather and traffic reports.

Pollard, who is black, said one of his roles is to encourage his listeners. Another role he has taken on is to help build bridges between the area’s Hispanic and African-American communities.

“I bridge the gap between two cultures,” Pollard said. “I try to do it by music and by communication. I show equal love to all cultures.”

This story is part of the series "Virginia Tapestry: Reflecting Our Rich Diversity," produced by In Your Shoes Media.
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