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Bringing powerful audio stories to Spanish speakers across the Americas, that’s the goal of Radio Ambulante. The California-based show is a home for long-form, sound-rich radio features driven by strong characters and compelling voices – a format that is not very common in the Spanish-speaking world.
The show was inspired by a reporting trip novelist Daniel Alarcón made to his native Peru on assignment for the BBC. While investigating migration there, Alarcón travelled across the country recording personal stories from a wide range of people. But when he later heard the final mix, he was disappointed that the producers had largely highlighted the English speakers he talked to, leaving out much of the compelling material in Spanish. He wondered what the result would be if there was a place where Spanish-language voices could be heard.
In 2012, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Radio Ambulante was born. Programs have featured a transgender Nicaraguan woman living with her wife in San Francisco, a Peruvian stowaway describing his frightening journey to New York, and an Argentine who was jailed during that country’s dictatorship and given the choice to either work or to die. “Ambulante” can mean traveling or itinerant but also refers to “ambulantes”: street vendors who sell all kinds of wares in many Latin American cities.
While Radio Ambulante has a growing list of terrestrial stations that carry it, the show is largely distributed digitally. In early October, Radio Ambulante was awarded the Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Award in the innovation category. onMedia put a few questions to Radio Ambulante’s co-founder and executive director, Carolina Guerrero, about how the show’s format has been received in Latin America and where the show wants to go to from here.