Brussels, February, 13th, 2018 (SIGNIS). World Radio Day marks the importance of radio in society, today. This year, 2018, UNESCO is dedicating World Radio Day to the theme of radio and sports.  “Radio provides the opportunity to nurture diversity, as a force for dialogue and tolerance.” -Audrey Azoulay.

In the following article, SIGNIS Vice President and SIGNIS Radio desk chair, Fr. Paul Samasumo, reflects on the role of SIGNIS and its work with radio over the years till now. To know more about the SIGNIS Radio desk, do get in touch at this email: Radio.desk@signis.net.

Is old media out?

Has radio still a future? This is a question you sometimes hear from the new generation with smartphones around their neck. Yes, the transistor radio has more or less disappeared and been replaced by new digital receivers, and yes, you don’t see many portable radios either. However, this does not mean that the essence of radio is gone. Radio may be old media, but it is alive and well. Times change, but the way news, information, and entertainment now arrive through radio, is also evolving.

Radio continues to have a special place in the hearts of many, particularly in the SIGNIS association.

SIGNIS is the heir of Unda

As most of you may already know, SIGNIS is the heir of the Unda. SIGNIS was formed in 2001 by the merger of the International Catholic Organisation for Cinema and Audiovisual (OCIC) and International Catholic Association for Radio and Television (Unda).

Unda was founded in 1928 in Cologne (Germany), by Catholic professional radio makers of different countries. The idea was for an organisation that would help the Church face new challenges of a medium which for the first time in history could reach every family and every person worldwide. 

The founders of Unda understood that the influence of radio on culture and religion was enormous with this new ‘super medium’.  As the new medium of the time, radio could easily reach Illiterate as well as literate people.

Radio continues to evolve

Radio continues to survive because it adapts. If we could paraphrase Mark Twain: Reports of the death of radio have been grossly exaggerated. In the past, portability and immediacy helped it survive. While people were performing other activities and household chores, they could listen to their radio sets. For people in business, religious ministers and even politicians, radio opened new opportunities.

Catholic broadcasters saw and continue to see in radio an instrument that can bring people from different horizons together, sharing stories, information and culture. This resonates well with this year’s theme for World Radio Day.

For Catholic broadcasters, radio became an instrument of spirituality, evangelization, and truth-telling –covering news glossed over by state media.

In the Pacific region, with its hundreds of islands, radio as a medium of communication is still one of the essential means of communication.

In Europe Catholic Radio still plays its rightful role.  Many people listen to radio stations, especially in their cars. In Portugal, for example, it was the Catholic Radio Renascença which broadcast "Grândola, Vila Morena" as a signal that eventually led to the democratisation of the country on 25 April 1974.

The Popes and Radio Vatican

The radio inventor, Guglielmo Marconi and Pope Pius XI, founders of Radio Vatican, understood the importance of this medium. On 12 February 1931 when Pope Pius XI launched Radio Vatican, he was looking for a medium that would help him speak to Catholics of the entire world, in many different regions –including totalitarian regimes where freedom to worship was impeded. During the Second World War, Vatican Radio constituted an essential source of information much to the chagrin of Goebbels.

Radio Sutatenza, a trailblazer for Catholic radio

More than seventy years ago, the Catholic radio, Sutatenza, founded by Catholic Priest Monsignor José Joaquin Salcedo Guarin in Colombia started to evangelize with radio programmes about the Bible but also to help reduce illiteracy; provide information on health as well as give agricultural instruction. The Sutatenza radio programming became a model, in Latin America, where radio became the defacto voice of the voiceless for the indigenous people, ‘campesinos’ and even for mineworkers. Catholic radio broadcasters such as Sutatenza became an inspiration for members of Unda worldwide.

Africa: Catholic radio as a pastoral tool for development

In Africa, particularly after the First African Synod, dioceses who could, quickly established diocesan radio stations. Social Communications was a key theme of the First African Synod. The Bishops of Africa resolved to use radio as a tool for integral development and evangelization. To illustrate: Once the regulation hurdles had been overcome, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) launched eight Catholic, community-based radio stations between 2010 and 2016.

In Africa, typically, the radio stations are in rural areas that have long been marginalised and marked by policies of social, economic exclusion. This exclusion over the years translates to poor service delivery; inadequate infrastructure; high rates of illiteracy and morbidity. On scrutiny, these are themes that resonate with Pope Francis’ push for a Church that ministers to the poor and marginalised. They also have a place in Catholic Social Teaching.

After 50 years, Radio Veritas is still making waves in Asia

60 years ago, the Southeast Asian Bishops ‘conference decided to launch a radio international in their region. It became a reality with Radio Veritas Asia in 1969.

Radio Veritas Asia broadcasts in different languages of Asia. The radio station has been at the forefront of broadcasting not only material of a religious nature but also programmes that promote religious and cultural dialogue. Other critical areas of transmission include social and cultural issues; news and information and on community building.  In 2015 UNESCO recognised the radio’s audio files as part of the collection included in the Memory of the World Program and Digital Preservation of Documentary Heritage.

SIGNIS Services Rome

While embracing new media, SIGNIS continues with its traditional support to its vast network of legacy media. Towards the end of the 1950s, a unique missionary service was founded in the Vatican specifically to support missionaries and their media in the missions. This is what is known today as the SIGNIS Services Rome (SSR) office. SIGNIS Services Rome continues to support the Church of the south with sourcing relevant and robust equipment and supporting the pastoral development of social communications in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

SIGNIS Services Rome not only ships equipment to missions but supports and provides aftersales service and assists dioceses and institutions with the pastoral direction in the fast-changing maze of media technologies.

The SIGNIS Radio Desk

One way SIGNIS is supporting the Church’s engagement with media is through the work of six Desks (committees or teams) organised around six major types of media: digital, film, journalism, media education, radio and television. With the Radio desk, the current Radio desk Chair is Fr. Paul Samasumo. The secretary, Edgar Rubio, a member of staff at SIGNIS Brussels assists him. The desk also works with radio professionals on all the continents.

Being a worldwide association for Catholic communicators, SIGNIS has a broad mandate. We aim to engage with media professionals and support Catholic communicators, throughout the world.