Radio Arte, or WCYC-FM as it was known, prior to the NMMA purchasing the radio station, has a long history within the field of radio communications and youth services; a history that extends the stations success to the present day. WCYC-FM was created as America’s fascination with radio peaked after the Second World War. Back then, the station was know as K9XHB, and continued to be the only West Side Amateur Radio Group throughout the sixties. The Radio Amateur Complex at the BGCC experimented in the field of short Wave, point-to-point radio on the Amateur Frequencies.
K9XHB generated much interest among youth on the Southwest Side of Chicago, then a predominantly Eastern European enclave, and was soon teaching over two hundred students a year the art of Morse Code, the physical and technical properties of the radio spectrum, plus many other skills required when operating an official FCC Amateur Radio License.
During 1965, many of these experienced K9XHB radio communicators were at a point of uncertainty with their talents. The students were too young to work or join the armed services, and were currently attending High School. It was at this point that the idea of WCYC-FM was conceived. Under the leadership of Harold R. Kopta and the BGCC’s Woman’s Board, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago was awarded an FCC non-commercial Education FM Broadcast license on December 1st, 1970. The station, originally located on 28th and Ridgeway has always been a convening point for young people and had a focus on training. In fact, its call letters stood for With Concern for Youth & Community as the station was seen as a tool that would help youth avoid negative lifestyles.
With the influx of Mexican families that settled in to the Little Village neighborhood many young Latinos were drawn to the station, in fact, WCYC gave prevalence to House, Dance, R&B, and Freestyle in Chicago and was the launching pad for many Chicago-land DJs that would later become successful entertainers and commercial broadcasters. The station, which broadcast at only 8 watts, was well known amongst national DJs and Freestyle performers who saw WCYC as a stepping-stone into the Chicago music scene.
In the mid-90′s, Radio Arte began to change its format to position itself as the only radio station in Chicago that fully embraced the eclectic range of Latino music. Defying the traditional expectations imposed upon Latino culture, young Latinos began to give voice to the emerging sounds of Rock en Español that included ska, electronica, and punk among others. Cafe Tacuba, Aterciopelados, Julieta Venegas, Bloque, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Gustavo Cerati received airplay during a time when Spanish-language radio focused only on Mexican regional styles.
In 1996, burdened by financial constraints, the board of the Little Village BGCC made the very difficult decision to sell WCYC. The Board, however, was committed that the station remain in the hands of a community organization that would be committed to youth, and thus approached the then named Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (Now the National Museum of Mexican Art), an institution well respected for its dedication to Latino arts education. The Museum purchased the radio station in 1996, and on July 1st, 1997, the station officially became known as WRTE-FM Radio Arte, its call letters representing the station’s commitment to the art of Radio. The Museum relocated studios to 1401 W 18th St (corner of 18th Street, Blue Island Avenue, and Loomis Street) in 1998; Radio Arte’s tower and transmitter are still located at the Boys and Girls Club. Since that time, the station has expanded its programming initiative and its coverage area.
Radio Arte began petitioning for a power increase in the late 1990′s. After multiple requests to the FCC and denials, Radio Arte received its power increase in 2000, thanks to the support of the community, elected officials, and the committed support of then FCC chairman William Kennard, the first African-American Commissioner of the FCC. During his term, Kennard unveiled a plan to license up to 1,000 new low-power stations to schools, churches, and community organizations However, because the Chicago FM band was (and is) so saturated, Radio Arte could not apply for this licensing because of interference issues with surrounding stations. In order to grant Radio Arte’s request, the FCC waived both the 10-watt power limitation for class D stations and a rule prohibiting interference with an adjacent station, in this case the Moody Bible Institute’s WMBI (90.1 FM). At 73 watts (covering a 14 mile radius), Radio Arte is the most powerful station in the class D category — a classification for college and educational stations that the FCC froze in 1978.Recently, Radio Arte completed its IBOC digital conversion, adding HD audio and an HD2 channel for additional programming simultaneously as well as increased training capacity.
The station thus far has been successful in reaching a potential audience of 500,000 and its audience continues to grow based on the offering of a unique bilingual service for listeners. Programs like “First Voice/Primera Voz,” “Homofrecuencia” and “Sin Papeles/Undocumented,” as well as collaborations with Radio Bilingue and HITN (Hispanic Information Telecommunications Network; cable/satellite programming) are strengthening the station’s national leadership in Latino public radio. The Chicago Community Media Workshop recognized radio Arte’s efforts in 2008, by awarding Radio Arte with the 2008 Studs Terkel Media Award for its coverage and representation of Chicago’s diverse communities.
As stated by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs Director, Michael Orlove, when Radio Arte won the prestigious “Coming Up Taller Award” (2004) from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Radio Arte has flourished as “the only Latino-owned, community broadcasting station to integrate youth fully as part of its programming while helping them develop their skills as journalists, producers, and administrators in the communications field. It is through this commitment that Radio Arte has become the national training model for youth in the art of media and public radio.”
Radio Arte offers a comprehensive bilingual one-year Media Training Program (MTP) to Chicago area youth. Through Radio Arte’s MTP, young adults receive instruction in journalism and are taught to analyze a variety of social justice issues, as well as gain hands-on technical experience in radio production and new media. With the support of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, Radio Arte launched a First Voice (in English) and Primera Voz (in Spanish) in 2006, and has since become a premiere example of youth-driven public affairs programming. Radio Arte works with proven and tested leadership models of youth engagement, education, and activism that allow youth to cultivate a voice and take ownership of their community’s issues.
Operating under the slogan, “Sounds Inspiring Change” / “Sonidos Inspirando el Cambio”, Radio Arte represents the potential of radio when in hands of the community it represents.