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volume 3
january 2001

"Colifata means crazy"


  An Argentinian radio station by and for psychiatric patients
by Jorge Basilago
  Insanity and psychosis have been defined as a retreat into a private world and a withdrawal into a private language. Broadcasting, in reverse, addresses the public by adopting a public voice. Will running a radio station help psychiatric patients to recover their lost language? Jorge Basaglio tells the story of Radio La Colifata in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
1 Several patients and Alfredo Olivera (far right) during the airing of the anniversary broadcast

La Colifata. To some people, a station run by psychiatric patients could be considered unorthodox. But not Alfredo Olivera. In addition to being a psychologist, Olivera is director and founder of La Colifata, 100.1 MHz, which is run by and for the patients of the Hospital Neuropsiquiátrico Dr. José T. Borda in Buenos Aires. The station serves a dual purpose, according to Olivera. "The station provides a voice for those excluded from the social process," he said. "It also expands on the idea of radio as a therapeutic tool, because it allows the patients to return to being the protagonists of what they say."

2 The station name was selected by patients and listeners; "Colifata" means "crazy" in Lunfardo, the local idiom. Last September, the station celebrated its ninth anniversary. Various members of the Teatro Colón ballet troupe performed for the party, as did members of blues guitarist Miguel "Botafogo" Vilanova's ensemble. In the hospital garden, tango dancers and musical groups like Schanzenbach added to the festive atmosphere.
3 La Colifata got its start when Olivera started recording the hospital patients talking about various issues for a weekly broadcast on FM Comunitaria S.O.S. in the city of San Andrés. The weekly broadcast reached a wide range of listeners and eventually blossomed into a full-fledged station broadcasting live every Saturday, 14:30 to 18:30, from the heart of Borda Hospital.
4 Patient Angel Villa is interviewed by a cable television station

Format choices. The station format includes typical program offerings, such as the "Tribuna Deportiva" (Sports Tribune) program presented by patient Daniel López. But there also is the "Borda Tango Club," the focus of which changes at whim of the patient/presenter, currently Angel Villa. In addition to Olivera, who also serves as the station engineer, the La Colifata staff includes licensed psychologists Cecilia Acri and Laura Gobet; psychology students Laura Kohan, Adela de los Santos and Nelson Canale.

5 Soon, two journalists, two film students and a high school psychology teacher will join the team. All will collaborate with the hundreds of Borda patients that pass through La Colifata. Olivera said he believes La Colifata has aided in the recovery of many of the hospital's patients, and it has raised public consciousness about mental pathologies.
6 "Lost language". "One approach to the definition of insanity or psychosis indicates that those stricken have lost language, that is to say they do not utilize language as we do or that they speak nonsense," said Olivera. "Radio permits the patients to begin to reconstruct this aspect. In addition, by improving understanding of the problematic of insanity, we are able to change the idea that all people in psychiatric facilities are dangerous," he said.
7 Other psychiatric facilities in Argentina and in Uruguay, Chile, Germany and Spain have copied the La Colifata model with similar successes. However, despite the popularity of the station, there are no plans to increase its broadcasts. "Of course it would be good to transmit every day. But, apart from the increase in costs, we volunteers would have to dedicate ourselves exclusively to radio and let our other work slide," said Olivara. "We would lose the magic of 'abticipating the moment of the program. We would cease to be La Colifata and would become something else," he said.
8 A completely noncommercial station, La Colifata relies upon the solidarity of its volunteers and small donations to carry the project forward. "Almost all (our support) comes from individual donations and from the fundraising benefits that we have held," Olivera said. Equipment manufacturer and distributor M-31 donated transmission gear to the station, while the television program "Sorpresa y 1/2 (Surprise and a Half) gave La Colifata an antenna. As for government support, it received a governmental subsidy from the Secretary of Social Development in 1996 and another from the Buenos Aires city government in 1997.
9 The Teatro Colón ballet troupe performed at the anniversary party

Donations and gifts. The laudable intentions of the station have inspired generosity from famous and not-so-famous listeners. Lalo Mir, a famous announcer in Argentina, and Oscar Ruggeri, a former football player for the Argentine national team, have promised support to the Borda station. Ruggeri, together with the Organización Ecológica Utopia, will finance the construction of a studio for La Colifata, which presently broadcasts from makeshift studios where ever space can be found.

10 Upon learning that Olivera traveled by bus with all of his equipment, an elderly couple donated an unused automobile that became the first "crazy mobile unit." Station gear includes a 300 W transmitter from the M-31; a four-dipole Total Quality NHC antenna; Tascam M-6 six-channel stereo console; Technics RS-TR575M2 and Teac W515R compact disc recorders; a Technics RS-TR575 double cassette player; a Ken Brown AX20 Phonomatic record player and Shure SM57 and SM58 microphones.
11 "We record with a Sony TCD-D8 portable DAT and later do the editing work at my house with a Sony MDS-S37 MiniDisc deck, a Tascam M-08 console and SoundForge software," said Olivera. "My editing criteria respond to both therapeutic objectives, looking for effects at the individual and group levels, and to social objectives, looking for effects in the audience."
12 The station reaches beyond the Borda Hospital by producing four hours of "microprograms" each week that are distributed to nearly 60 radio stations in Argentina and other countries. "It is important to note that we do not charge for the microprograms. We only ask that stations share with us the public response, because that is very useful to us in therapeutic terms," Olivera said.
  Jorge J. Basilago, a free-lance broadcaster and journalist, lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo's © by Ricardo Turano.
  2001 © Soundscapes