There’s no end to the closure of radio stations in Venezuela. In recent weeks, Radio Caracas Radio (RCR), the oldest radio station in Venezuela, ended its operations on digital platforms, and the radio station Éxtasis 97.7 FM in Táchira, with 29 years on the air, stopped broadcasting after the government administration ordered its closure.
In 2022, the highest number of radio closures in Venezuela was recorded with at least 95 stations taken off the air. In 2023, the closures have not yet stopped. During the first five months of 2023, the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (IPYS, by its Spanish acronym) had already registered the closure of five radio stations in the states of Portuguesa (2), Táchira (1), Anzoátegui (1), and Bolívar (1). Now, these two most recent ones have been added.
"I’ve seen a new escalation. It probably has to do with the fact that, in the absence of national or regional TV channels posing severe criticism to the regime, people have taken refuge in small spaces of regional radio stations, trying to seek information and opinion on the things that happen to them on a daily basis: issues of electricity, water, crime, traffic, transportation, etc.," Nehomar Hernández, journalist and former broadcaster of RCR, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).
"Radio, especially local and small town radio stations were the last stronghold to glimpse some kind of reality. That’s why this regime, which has a totalitarian nature, seeks to close them down. We’ve been practically left in a news desert," Hernández added.
According to the Atlas del Silencio report by IPYS Venezuela, news deserts are municipalities or parishes where there are not enough press outlets to inform the population. In Venezuela, radio is the medium with the greatest reach, but almost half of its population lives without guarantee of having access to local news. The state with the highest number of news deserts is Táchira with 28 locations, followed by Zulia with 19 and Sucre with 14.
The radio station closures also coincide with the pre-election process in Venezuela. The country's presidential elections for the 2025-2031 period will be held in 2024. In addition, the Venezuelan opposition is campaigning in the primary elections to be held on Oct. 22, 2023.
The journalist and broadcaster of Éxtasis 97.7 FM in Táchira, Yamile Jiménez, said that days before the closing of the radio station she had interviewed two political leaders of the Venezuelan opposition: Karim Vera, coordinator of the opposition party Primero Justicia, in Táchira state; and Delsa Solórzano, candidate for the opposition primaries. Both used terms such as "dictatorship" or "regime" during the interview.
"We assume these interviews could have something to do with the closure decision. But, that was not the allegation used by the regulatory entity. Their reason for closure was the expiration of the concession," Jiménez said.
IPYS Venezuela and other human rights organizations in Venezuela have demanded this regulatory entity to stop persecuting radio media and to promote instead the creation of new media and spaces to spread pluralistic information.
The Venezuelan entity in charge of the regulation, supervision and control of telecommunications is the National Telecommunications Commission of Venezuela (Conatel).
This agency is in charge of granting concessions, or administrative authorization, for the use and exploitation of the Venezuelan radio electric spectrum, which is considered a public domain asset.
Already in 2019, Conatel had taken RCR off the air alleging that its concession to operate in the Venezuelan radio spectrum had expired. RCR did not give up, and following its slogan of "radio you can see," kept broadcasting on YouTube only.
However, the leap to this digital platform did not work out. "A radio station that is not on the dial, either AM or mainly FM, is very complicated to maintain. By going digital, we lost a large portion of our audience," Hernández said.
According to the journalist, this is also because RCR's audience is mostly older. Therefore, they are people who are not as familiar with the Internet ecosystem.
RCR was one of the news outlets still active as part of Centro Corporativo 1BC, a business group to which Radio Caracas Televisión, closed by the Venezuelan government in 2007, also belonged.
Jiménez, as a correspondent in Táchira, lived through the closure of the well-known television station and, 16 years later, he is again facing job loss due to a concession expiration. This time, at the radio station Éxtasis 97.7 FM, where he had worked for more than 25 years.
"Conatel's approach, in recent years, is that they don’t respond to broadcasters regarding concession renewals. So, they have that card up their sleeve to show up whenever they want and say: 'You don't have a concession, turn off your equipment.' Other stations in Táchira have been allowed to submit renewal documents, but not us," Jiménez said.
The radio business is based on advertising and on attracting advertisers. When RCR lost its concession for the use of Venezuelan radio broadcasting space, it began to broadcast exclusively through digital platforms but, at the same time, it saw its advertising revenue decrease.
"Making the transition to digital came at a big cost. Basically, the station lost money for four years, if not much earlier than that. That definitely dynamited the station’s exit from the air because there was no way to sustain it," Hernández said.
As announced to the press by José Luis Rincón, owner and director of Éxtasis 97.7 FM in Táchira, the plan is for the station to continue transmitting via Internet. However, it is a risky bet.
"It’s very difficult for this type of initiative to work in Venezuela, especially in the state of Táchira, because we have drawn out and aggressive power outages. In addition, we have very poor Internet quality," Jiménez said. "I don't know what I'm going to do now. I'm a bit disoriented. Éxtasis 97.7 is my home, it’s my radio station and it’s been my livelihood all these years. Nonetheless, I’m going to support it till the end."