As the English language grows on Costa Rica like an invasive but all too useful fungus, the market for material produced in the language has also grown.
The increased interest comes not only from the throng of tourists and expatriates who come to the country, but also from a Tico population eager to learn and practice the language.
And while the best way to learn a language is, undoubtedly, through the written word, preferably that of a weekly newspaper (there are no statistics to back such an argument), English-language radio stations have become increasingly popular in the country among more than just the extranjero segments of the population.
According to Margie Flaum, the morning show host on Radio 2 (99.5 FM), close to three-fourths of her callers are Ticos, despite the fact that some 95 percent of the programming and music is in English.
“You really develop a rapport with the listeners,” Flaum said in a slightly raspy voice that seems made for morning radio.
“There is a bit of the difference in language, in that not everything translates … but people want to learn English, and that’s partly why I’m here.”
There are three predominantly English-language stations on Costa Rica’s radio spectrum: Radio 2, Beatz 106 (105.9 FM) and Real Rock (107.5 FM). That means three stations to cover more or less the past half-century of music in English – in all its glory and all its shame. Everything from the rock movement that began with The Beatles to the tragic re-emergence of ’80s hair bands and Brat Pack-era soundtracks to the most recent hip-hop produced can be heard over Costa Rican frequencies.
Both Radio 2 and Real Rock have been around for nearly two decades, while Beatz 106 started in June 2006. Each has its own style, though Radio 2 and Real Rock seem to share a similar demographic. Radio 2 plays everything from rock to pop, while Real Rock focuses more on rock, even if the term becomes blindingly vague when referring to the entire history of the genre.
Beatz 106, on the other hand, is almost exclusively about hip-hop and Top 40 hits, said station president Joseph Raymond Krieg. “We don’t really have any competition,” Krieg said. “No one else really has our format.”
The format is taken from the big hip hop stations in the United States, but with a Latin influence in between songs. According to Krieg, about 75 percent of Beatz 106 programming is in English. In comparison, Real Rock is 100 percent in English except for a few commercials, said manager Jorge Hutt. And according to the heads of the three stations, Ticos tend to make up about 70 percent of the listeners. One obvious reason is that they vastly outnumber foreigners.
But according to Hutt, four subgroups of Tico listeners are drawn to English-language radio stations: Ticos who have lived in English-speaking countries and liked what they heard; those who speak English and enjoy the music; those who are learning English and use it as practice; and finally those who don’t speak English but are still drawn to the music.
Flaum agreed that the music is the common denominator, saying, “If Led Zeppelin had sung in Spanish, I’d still be listening to them.”
All three stations have their English-language programs, be they shows for the grueling daily commute or wind-downs at night. Most, however, stick to the philosophy that people don’t want English to be spoken so much as they want it sung.
“It’s more about the music than anything,” said Miguel Monge, manager of Radio 2. “(The DJs) talk about the weather, the traffic. They answer calls. But more than anything, what’s important for us is the music.”
Because of this, English-language talk radio programs are few, with none of the excessive ramblings of loose cannons that can leave a heavy fog over many morning shows in the United States.
The investigative efforts of this newspaper do tend to make morning programming, and Radio 2 and Beatz 106 regularly read headlines from The Tico Times’ Daily News. Flaum also has a short segment every morning in which she speaks with Tico Times reporter Chrissie Long about a given subject.
The idea of music as a “disseminator of culture,” as Flaum put it, creates an atmosphere in which both sides learn and exchange ideas in a relaxed way.
“I’m trying to find a common ground between my culture and the Tico culture,” Flaum said. “And I learn, too, every day, from the Ticos who call in. We just have fun. It’s fun to make people happy.”
Radio in English
Beatz 106 (105.9 FM, www.beatz106.com)
“Mourning Flow” with Mr. G and Snacks, Monday to Friday, 6 to 10 a.m.
“Rush Hour Show” with Henry Precise, Monday to Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.
“ElectroBeatz” with DJ TM, Monday to Friday, 7 to 8 p.m.
“Top 9 at 9” with DJ TM, Monday to Friday 9 to10 p.m.
“Love Beatz” with Johnny Blaze, Monday to Wednesday, 10 p.m. to midnight
Radio 2 (99.5 FM, www.radiodos.com)
“Good Morning” with Margie Flaum, Monday to Friday, 6 to 9 a.m.
“El Show de Evan Luck” with Evan Luck, Monday to Friday, 5 to 7 p.m.
Real Rock (107.5 FM, www.radio1075.com)
“The Fearless Leader” plays music “you won’t hear anywhere else,” said station manager Jorge Hutt, Sunday and Monday, 4 to 7 p.m.
“Tina the Queena” is “the very sexy voice girl,” according to Hutt, Tuesday and Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m.
“Diamond Dave” focuses on ’80s rock, Wednesday and Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.
“Nothing but the Blues” is “the best damn blues show in the whole damn world,” the station likes to say, Tuesday and Friday, 7 to 10 p.m.