Suppressed Voices Given a Chance to be Heard: Introducing ‘Looney Radio’

By Angela Low

By Angela Low

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”49″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]R[/mks_dropcap]adio La Colifata, an Argentinian slang for ‘Looney Radio’, is the first radio station to be broadcasted inside a mental institution. Every Saturday for the past 23 years, patients and visitors alike gather at the courtyard of Hospital Borda in Buenos Aires to participate in the live broadcast of the radio show.

Each week, Hospital Borda receives approximately 20 visitors, interested to participate and observe the Radio La Colifata programme. Patients and visitors sit in a circle of chairs and the boundaries between the patient and visitor are not distinct. The visitors are always approached with a microphone and encouraged to be a part of the show, which helps create a dialogue between the patients and visitors. Between 2pm to 6.45pm, the staff at the hospital helps to organise the broadcast of the programme. Not only does Radio La Colifata has its own FM, listeners could also reach the radio station via Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and on its own website. After each broadcast, edited sections of the programme are being played on mainstream radio stations throughout Argentina and Latin America, reaching approximately 12 million people.

create bridges where there are walls

Where did it begin?
The conception of the radio programme first begun when founder Alfredo Olivera, was a psychology student, doing his training at Hospital Borda. During his stint at the institution, many friends and family members asked him what his experiences were like. Therefore, he came up with an idea to let his patients do the explanation. With that, Radio La Colifata was born.

The purpose of the radio station has always been therapeutic and to create bridges where there are walls. Radio La Colifata has also provided these people an avenue to speak freely, and to have uncut and uncensored voices, a stark contrast to how institutionalised most radio stations have now become.

patients produce and present their own show

Uncensored ‘looneys’
Each week, patients produce and present their own show on topics such as politics or sports, to millions of Argentinians who faithfully tune in. Under the shade of one of Argentina’s oldest psychiatric hospital, voices are heard and stories are shared. The presenters give their own unique perspective on topics that concerns them, completely uncensored. They share certain vulnerabilities on air too, such as poems, personal struggles, even rants about the terrible food served at the hospital.

Through hearing the voices of these patients, often stigmatised as ‘looneys’, the public’s opinions of the mentally challenged have been changed, and have even grown to be more affectionate towards these patients. In addition, the patients regularly receive letters of encouragement from all over the world, which makes them feel valued.

More than just a radio show
The radio station has given these patients, some who might have even lost all connections to society outside the walls of the mental institution, a platform to be heard, at a time when mental illness is considered a taboo. For the people who lost all connection to society, the station helped to serve as a tool to bridge the divide between the two realities, and to help destigmatise mental illness. To the millions of listeners who repeatedly tune in to Radio La Colifata each Saturday, the radio provides them with conversations that are completely genuine and voices that speak to their hearts.

This radio show has often been described to be therapeutic for patients and its listeners. For the patients, allowing them to communicate with ‘outsiders’ is a vital part of their recovery process. Many of these patients, who suffer from loneliness, have found friends to connect with, thanks to the radio. Seeing the benefits of such a programme, countries such as Chile, Germany, and Spain, have created similar programmes, which have been successful at helping their patients at mental institutions.

Radio La Colifata has quietly revolutionised how we view mental health and opened a new world of possibilities. It provides listeners an opportunity of an encounter, one you cannot usually experience unless you are inside of a mental institution. The radio station has challenged the (mis)conceptions of the public of what ‘normal’ is and is not. Most importantly, the presenters at Radio La Colifata have now reclaimed ownership of the word and is using it to remove its power to offend people.

Cover: Radio La Colifata / Final Editor: Ivo Martens

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