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Lamp Post Radio in a Brazilian Favela

The penultimate session at Transforming Audiences starts with a paper by Andrea Medrado, whose interest is in 'lamp post radio' in Brazilian favelas: speakers which are attached to lamp posts and broadcast local radio programming. Such radio - a form of community radio - needs to be understood within the wider sonic landscape of the favela environment.

Most work on community radio as such tends to be overly celebratory and usually does not focus much on the audiences for such radio programming; listening is assumed to be an isolated, individual practice, which is clearly at odds with the public nature of lamp post radio. Andrea approached her research through media ethnography; this was complicated by perceptions of Andrea as a higher-class outsider entering the lower-class social environment of the favela, and this had to be carefully negotiated in order to gain the necessary access to the local community.

Andrea's case study focussed on Pau da Lima, a favela of some 200,000 inhabitants on the periphery of Salvador. Within the community itself, there are also noted class differences, depending on living conditions and access to services. Within the most underprivileged areas, there are very blurred boundaries between private and public; there is a sense of country living as chickens and other animals are found on the paths. In the intermediate areas, there are both residential and entertainment areas, with some degree of competition for aural superiority between different bars playing different music; residents, too, have to cope with one another's music and are broadly tolerant of one another's need to listen to 'their' music. In the main avenue of the favela, where there is car traffic, too, there are speakers everywhere, and competition between different shop owners advertising their wares.

Within the favela, then, there is a network of 22 loudspeakers which broadcast from 9 a.m. to noon and from 3 to 6 p.m.; they broadcast Radio Pop Som, a programme of music, public announcements and health messages, and related material, as well as commercial messages from local shops. Overall, this seems to be preferred to FM radio as it represents and speaks to the local community, but to keep this running has also proved a struggle as some residents get annoyed and occasionally cut the cables and sabotage the station.

This is a competitive sonic environment with implications for radio, then; public and private boundaries are blurred, and the uncontrollable public noise which it represents echoes the tensions of the environment. There is a constant struggle between attention and distraction, and the radio itself is part of wider uses of sound to create barriers between spaces. Noise, Andrea suggests, is also a marker of the favela community, and thus not necessarily a bad thing. A truly public radio of this form can fit into the sonic rhythms of everyday life - but may require us to develop new, more 'impure' conceptions of community radio.

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