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Is This the Oldest Catholic Radio Station in Latin America?

By Michael Dorner, MikeD509@aol.com, Editor, Catholic Radio Update (No. 44), January 10, 2000  (Brought to our attention by Nicolas Eramo-Argentina and Horacio A. Nigro-Uruguay, and reproduced with the permission of Mr. Dorner)

In old radio station directories, I've discovered that, in Costa Rica in 1936, the Church began to broadcast over its own station, TIRCC, 6550 kHz shortwave.  From what I can discover, it is the oldest Catholic radio station in all Latin America!  It has no competition for the distinction from what I can find; the second oldest is Radio Fides of La Paz, Bolivia, which appears in historic directories for the first time in 1937.  The old Radio Guide Directory for 1936 lists "TIRCC 6550 kHz, San José, Costa Rica, Costa Rican Catholic Radio Station, Box 1064."   The guide does not list an AM station.

The Radio Guide Directory for 1942 (I do not have those for 1937-41) has this information:  TIRCC 6185 kHz, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 6 pm-9 pm, Sundays 8 pm-10 pm.  The owner is "Acción Católica," "Catholic Action," which is the slogan used around the world and by Pope Pius XII in promoting evangelization by and for laymen.  The broadcast schedule possibly represents the times that DX listeners in the U.S. could hear the station, and that TIRCC broadcast many more hours than these.  The 1942 directory also lists TIRCC 1200 AM.

The Radio Guide Directory for 1946 adds that TIRCC, 1200 AM, had a power of 500 watts, and that the shortwave transmitter had changed to 6180 kHz with a power of 300 watts.  It is important to note that, back then, Latin American countries preferred the shortwave bands and not the AM band because there were few stations, and outside of the cities and larger towns, few receivers; further, shortwave propagation is superior to AM in terms of static suppression and range.

It was only after the Second World War that there were many more stations, both secular and religious, because it was impossible during the war to obtain electronic equipment to construct a station.  Thus, Radio Guide Directory for 1946 lists new Catholic radio stations in the Dominican Republic (HI2D, "La Acción Católica Dominicana") and in Ecuador (the Salesian station HC1CC).  Both were shortwave stations, and I don't believe either has survived.

In conclusion, is the existing Radio Fides in Costa Rica the same station as TIRCC?  If so, clearly it is the oldest Catholic radio station in Latin America and, because the oldest American Catholic stations have not survived--TIAC/Radio Fides is the oldest in both North and South America.  Only HVJ/Radio Vaticana is older--it began broadcasting on February 12, 1931.  (Another very old Catholic station, that of the Bishops of Portugal, Radio Renascença, began on January 1, 1937.)  Thus, in conclusion, if TIAC/Radio Fides is the same as TIRCC (the call letters, TIAC, "Acción Católica," seem to confirm it), then it is the second oldest Catholic station in the world!  Soon the Costa Rican Church will be celebrating the station's 65th birthday.

Today:  TIAC Radio Fides 1040 AM (10,000 watts) and TIAC-FM 93.1 FM.  Archdiocese of San José.  Curia Metropolitana, 2nd floor, Box 5097, San José.  According to the website of the Costan Rican broadcasters association, the AM covers the central mesa of the country, the FM 70% of the nation, from Santos to San Carlos, which seems to indicate that the antenna is on the Irazu volcano antenna farm.

CP12, Radio Fides, in La Paz, Bolivia

The second oldest Catholic radio station in the New World, and the third oldest in the world, seems to be CP12, Radio Fides, in La Paz, Bolivia.  It does not show up in the Radio Guide Directory for 1937, but Bolivia assigns call letters with sequential numbers.  By its number, 12, it's easily concluded that the Catholic station received its license around 1937.  Allowing time for construction, it is probable that the station began broadcasting the following year.  The Radio Guide Directory for 1942 reports "CP12, Radio Fides, La Paz, 6255 kHz shortwave, hours 7 pm-9 pm," but clearly these are hours when the station could be heard in the U.S.

The 1946 directory reports its frequency as Radio Fides, La Paz, 6150 kHz, 250 watts, and a new AM station, CP29, on 1350 AM (100 watts).  Interestingly, the owner is reported for the first time:  San Calixto High School.

Today:  CP29, Radio Fides, 760 AM (18,000 watts), CP12 on 4845 kHz (5,000 watts) and 9625 kHz (15,000 watts), and 101.5 FM, and Radio Laser 98.1 FM.  Box 9143, La Paz.  Brother Jaime Calderón M., Director.

ZP11 Radio Cáritas in Asunción, Paraguay

The third oldest Catholic Radio station in the New World, and the fourth or fifth oldest in the world, depending on when it began broadcasting (see the item on Radio Renascença, above), is ZP11, Radio Cáritas, in Asunción, Paraguay.  As in Bolivia, Paraguay assigns its stations call letters with sequential numbers.  Thus, Radio Cáritas received its number, 11, around 1940.  In the Radio Guide Directory for 1942 it is reported as "Radio Charita [sic] ZP1 [sic--ZP1 is Radio Nacional], 1200 AM, located at 134 L.A. Herra Street in Asunción.  The Radio Guide Directory for 1946 lists it as ZP11, Radio Caritas, 1200 AM, 100 watts, and the owner as "Juventus Antoninus"-- which seems to be a youth group dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua.  I wrote the director an air mail letter well over a month ago regarding the antiquity of Radio Cáritas, but, as is the usual case with correspondence to Latin American Catholic radio stations and dioceses, I received no reply.

Today:  ZP11, Radio Cáritas, 680 AM, 10,000 watts days, 1,000 watts nights.  Located at the intersection of Calles Azara y Kubitschek.  P.O. Box 1313, Asunción.  Padre Cristóbal López, Director.  4 am-midnight.

The Others

The 1946 directory lists three other old Catholic radio stations:  HI2D in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, on 6026 and 6900 kHz, "Acción Católica Dominicana."  I do not know if this station survives today on AM, but it disappeared from the shortwave bands many decades ago.

The directory also reports HC1CC in Cuenca, Ecuador on 7461 kHz with a mighty 4 watts of power.  The owner is "Comunidad Salesiana," the Salesian Order (founded by St. John Bosco).  The Salesians continue to use Catholic radio around the world in their high schools, mission stations, and universities, but I do not know if this station survives with another name on AM or FM.  It, too, disappeared from the shortwave bands decades ago.

Finally, in Caracas, Venezuela, or as it is now called, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the 1946 annual lists YV5RH, 710 AM (1,000 watts) and YV5RX, 3430 kHz in the tropical band (750 watts).  Padre J.M. Pallin is listed with no title.  There are Catholic radio stations to this day in Caracas, but I do not know if this station survived.

Note: The radio guides in this article are reproduced in Tom Kneitel's Radio Station Treasury, 1900-1946, published by CRB Research of Commack, NY 11725 (P.O. Box 56). (Mike Dorner)

More via Mike Dorner

1.  From Catholic Radio Update (No. 46, January 24, 2000):
  The above information about the oldest radio station in the Americas was picked up by Diario La Nación of San José, Costa Rica and written up as follows by Gloriana Gómez Hidalgo on January 13, 2000:

The Seed of Faith By Radio:  The seed of Catholic broadcasting in Latin America began in our country with Costa Rican Catholic Radio, the first station of its kind in Latin America, reports the news agency ACI Digital, which belongs to a group of mass media headquartered in Rome.

According to ACI Digital, Costa Rican Catholic Radio, which broadcast at first on 6550 kHz shortwave, began its operations in 1936, thus leaving in second place Radio Fides of La Paz, Bolivia, which went on the air in 1937.

The presbyter Armando Alfaro Paniagua, Director of the weekly Catholic Echo, said that that Costa Rican station was famous in our country when it started broadcasting its program "Catholic Action," under the direction of Monsignor Carlos Borge Araya, then the parish priest of La Soledad and canon in the metropolitan curia.

"In 1941, Monsignor Borge was sent to Nicaragua, and the station was in the hands of Father Arie, treasurer of the same curia, until 1942, when it completely stopped operating," he recalled.

Eight years later, the priests Victor Manuel Arrieta, Armando Alfaro, and Antonio Troyo--today the auxiliary bishop of San José--started the Catholic Radio Network in Costa Rica, with programs that were broadcast from various local stations, until 1952, when Radio Fides appeared.

Its founder was Monsignor Victor Manuel Sanabria who, under the slogan, "We want our own Catholic radio station," proposed to make his dream a reality, together with two more co-founders:  [the now Bishop] Antonio Troyo and [Father] Armando Alfaro.

In actuality, the Catholic Radio Network includes, in addition to [Radio] Fides, [Radio] Sinaí, [Radio] Santa Clara, [Radio] Emaús, [Radio] Nueva de Guápiles, and [Radio] Chorotega.

Note from Mike Dorner:  As I wrote Alejandro and Fernando at ACI in Lima, I am greatly honored, first that they picked up the story and rewrote it in better Spanish, and secondly that one of their clients, Diario La Nación, chose to run it.  It should be noted that this is not the first Catholic Radio Update story they have used.  I hope that what comes out of this is a growing mutual recognition by Catholic broadcasters throughout the Americas of how they are in this together, and an even keener sense of just how important is the work all of you are doing.  Thanks to everyone for their great kindness in receiving my newsletters. 

2.  From Catholic Radio Update (No. 48, February 7, 2000):  Radio Cáritas (AM) of Asunción, Paraguay, took exception to my article when it was picked up by the Peruvian Catholic news agency ACI Prensa.  The director of Radio Cáritas says that Radio Cáritas (AM) was founded in late 1936, and is therefore older than Radio Fides of San José, Costa Rica, and claims to be the oldest in Latin America.  I have not heard from Radio Fides in La Paz, Bolivia, which is in the running and itself may well be the oldest, or second oldest, or third oldest.  The ACI Prensa article follows:

Radio Caritas in Asuncion Says It Is the Oldest:  Asunción, January 18 (ACI)--New information shows Radio Cáritas of Asunción as the oldest in Latin America, passing up Costa Rican Catholic radio which, until some weeks ago, was considered the oldest on the continent.

According to information furnished by Padre Cristóbal, station director, Radio Cáritas was founded on November 22, 1936, by the Franciscan priest Father Luis Lavorel, and it continued under the ownership of his order until 1986, when it was given to the Archdiocese of Asunción.

Some months ago, Radio Cáritas, which broadcasts on AM, was given to the Catholic University [of Paraguay], which now operates it, keeping its Catholic identity.

According to Father Cristóbal, "Cáritas must be the only station in the world, apart from Radio Vaticano, that has exclusive recorded messages of two Supreme Pontiffs:  John XXIII because of the 25th anniversary of the station, and John Paul II on its golden anniversary."

The priest says that the history of Radio Cáritas "is perfectly documented" in a book published on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, written by Paraguayan historian Margarita Durán Estragó.

Note from Mike Dorner:  In an air mail letter sent to Father Cristóbal on November 28 last year, I gave him the details of what I had discovered regarding the oldest Catholic station in the New World, with the expectation that he would answer.  Unfortunately, there was no answer.

3.  More from Catholic Radio Update (No. 48, February 7, 2000):  The following note from Don Moore, Iowa, January 20, 2000, was originally published in the Spanish-language electronic newsletter Conexion Digital.

The First Catholic Stations:  More on Radio Fides

The original equipment of TIRCC [the first Catholic Radio station in Costa Rica and thought, some weeks previously, to have been the first in all Latin America] in Costa Rica was constructed by Senor Armando Cespedes Marin.  Don Armando also constructed the first Costa Rican radio station (on AM), his own TI4NRH, in January 1927 [on 948 AM, 75 watts].  In May 1928, he began regular transmissions on shortwave.  TI4NRH was the first shortwave station in Latin America and the fifth in the world.  TI4NRH ended transmissions at the beginning of the Second World War, but the equipment, papers, etc. still exist in the home of the Cespedes family in Heredia, Costa Rica.  I visited the place in 1990.  I have some books written by Senor Cespedes (he died in 1976) and in one it gives the history of TIRCC.  There is an article (in English) over TI4NRH in the menu of Costa Rica on my "Patepluma Radio Home Page." There are also images of various pages (principally in Spanish) of a magazine published by TI4NRH in May 1933.  I have some photos of the TI4NRH building and of an original QSL in my menu of images of Costa Rican Radio. When I have the time, I hope to add more images and pages on TI4NRH and Senor Cespedes.