and Radio Zaracay
Mention the country of Ecuador to a shortwave listener,
and the probable response will be about HCJB and visions
of the high Andes mountains. Although The Voice of the Andes
does overshadow everything else in the country, (at least
to DXers!), Ecuador is home to dozens of smaller shortwave
broadcasters. For years, one of the easiest to hear was
Radio Zaracay on 3395 khz in the city of Santo Domingo.
About a year ago Radio Zaracay sold its shortwave transmitter
to the Santo Domingo branch of Ecuador's Radio Catolica
branch. Radio Zaracay plans to concentrate on its FM service,
which is the most popular radio station in Ecuador today.
Radio Zaracay may not be on SW anymore, but it is very typical
of many modest sized Latin American stations so let's take
an in-depth look at the station.
halfway between Quito and the Pacific Ocean lies Santo
Domingo. The Andes mountains are miles away - this is Ecuador's
flat low coastal plain - banana and sugar cane country.
Originally an agricultural center, today Santo Domingo is
one of the boom towns of Ecuador because of its importance
as a transportation center. The city is on the midpoint
of the Quito- Guayaquil highway, linking Ecuador's two largest
cities and other paved highways run to the port of Esmeraldas,
on the north coast, and the fields of Manabi province to
official name of the city is Santo Domingo de los Colorados.
Los Colorados refers to the Colorado Indians, who have lived
in this region for hundreds of years. Once they were in
the majority here, but today the few thousand Indians are
a minority in their homeland. But, unlike many indigenous
groups, they have political and economic power far greater
than their numbers might indicate. The tribe is very well
organized, and elects its own governor and council, who
watch out for the tribe's interests. Most of the Indians
own prosperous small farms along tropical streams outside
Colorados are easily recognizable by the mens' traditional
dress: a striped cloth wrapped around the waist, and hair
dyed and molded flat with a paste made out of achiote (paprika).
A Colorado witch doctor was pictured on HCJB's March-April,
1984 QSL card. A local joke is that the Indians do this
so that they can season their food by shaking their head
early 1985, my wife and I visited Santo Domingo while
spending several weeks in Ecuador so that I could visit
Radio Zaracay. Finding the station was no problem; I spotted
it on the bus coming into town. Radio Zaracay is in a six
story building, one of the city's tallest, and there is
huge sign which can be seen all over the downtown on the
roof. After we checked into a cheap pension, I made my way
to the station's offices on the sixth floor of their building
and explained my interests as a visiting DXer to the secretary.
She ushered me back a long hall to the entrance to a small
owner/manager Don Holger Velastegui was busy reading
the afternoon comunicados. When he was done, the secretary
introduced me. Don Holger invited me into his office, which
was filled by a huge desk of beautiful wood. The walls were
paneled and covered with plaques and certificates that the
station had received over the years. And on one side, near
the ceiling, were two stickers. One was for "Radio 1390"
in State College, PA, and the other for the Nittany Lion
football team of Penn State, in the same city. I almost
dropped over. I had sent those to the station a few years
earlier, along with a reception report. Nothing else from
overseas listeners was to be seen, only the stickers I had
sent. It was an unbelievable coincidence.
Holger talked endlessly about the station and gave me
a great tour. I saw that Radio Zaracay uses the top four
floors of the building. That's more room than they really
need, so the offices and studios are huge. Radio Zaracay's
studios are among the most modern in Ecuador. The first
floor of the building is rented out to small shops, and
Don Holger and his family live on the second floor. With
the boss so close, no one better be late for work! The programing
on Radio Zaracay is typical of many Ecuadorian broadcasters,
although it is probably more professionally done than most.
Music, especially Ecuadorian folk music, forms the bulk
of the programming. Otherwise, the station broadcasts news,
sports, advertisements, and local announcements.
one of the most unusual aspects of Ecuadorian broadcasting,
to a North American, is how provincial Ecuadorian stations,
such as Radio Zaracay, get their news. In North America,
listeners are accustomed to turning on the radio for late
breaking news. Daily newspaper provide background details,
but it's the radio that keeps people up-to-date. In Ecuador,
it's a little different. Provincial stations don't broadcast
national and international news until the daily newspapers
from Quito and Guayaquil arrive. Then the papers are rushed
to the studio, and the announcer leafs through the paper,
reading headlines and summarizing major stories for listeners.
yes. But, that doesn't mean there aren't good reasons. Small
radio stations in Ecuador can't afford to subscribe to wire
services, even if they are available. The only alternative
would be to continuously monitor the major stations in the
capital, or the big international broadcasters on SW. That
is done during crisises, but on a day-to-day basis, it's
too time consuming.
The newspapers don't mind, since people still buy the papers,
to read the articles more in-depth, or maybe just to look
at the ads. Most who don't buy the papers, have very good
reasons for not doing so. About forty percent of the population
is illiterate. Obviously, they see no point in buying a
newspaper. Also, Ecuador has no rural delivery, so people
in small villages and farms can't buy a paper unless they
make a trip into town.
Radio Zaracay, most mornings the first newscast is taken
from the pages of Quito's El Comercio, and read by Don Holger.
In fact, it's become a tradition at the station. Don Holger
likes to tell a story which shows it may have become more
of a tradition than he ever imagined. Once on a flight to
the Galapagos Islands, he wasn't feeling well, and began
pacing up and down the aisle, holding a newspaper he had
purchased before boarding. When someone asked him what was
wrong, a friend's voice piped up "He's looking for a microphone,
so he can read his newspaper."
news isn't the only thing on Radio Zaracay that North
American listeners might find unusual. When Radio Zaracay
broadcasts local announcements, they may seem far more personal
than any broadcast on radio stations in the US and Canada.
But in Ecuador, and elsewhere in Latin America, local announcements,
usually called comunicados or anuncios de servico social,
take on a somewhat different role. They sound personal,
because that's exactly what they are meant to be.
Comunicados are the personal classifieds of the airwaves
of Latin America. In most countries of Latin America, many
smaller and villages and towns have no phone service. Even
in towns with telephones, many people don't have them because
either they can't afford one, or there is a long waiting
list and their name hasn't come up yet. So radio stations
fill the gap with communicados.
communicado is a personal announcement broadcast over
a station. The person who wants to send the message pays
to have it read over the air. It's a small fee, usually
less than fifty cents. The message can be anything. Perhaps
Mom wants to take the kids and visit Aunt Elena in a nearby
village this weekend. She doesn't want to surprise the dear
old lady, so she sends little Antonio over to the local
station with some money and the communicado message written
on a piece of paper. Even if Aunt Elena doesn't hear it,
one of her neighbors surely will. Maybe Don Fernando wants
to send a message to the workers on his plantation, but
doesn't have the time to drive out today. He just drives
over to Radio Zaracay to have them do a communicado. Most
stations read communicados at specific times of day, usually
over the meal hours. Everybody wants to listen to the communicados.
Even if they aren't expecting one for themselves; it's like
a partyline with all sorts of possibilities for juicy gossip.
go out several times a day at Radio Zaracay. Don Holger
likes to host the mid-afternoon airing. Reading comunicados
helps him keep up with events in the community - and also
gives him some interesting stories to tell. You never know
what people are going to come with.
For example, there was the time a man came in with a an
urgent comunicado for his mother in Esmeraldas, 100 miles
away. The message? It was "Mother, will you please come
to Santo Domingo tomorrow. I am getting married. With much
love, your son Rigoberto." Then there was the communicado
once heard on Radio Zaracay from a Jacinto Delgado to his
wife, asking her to send another hen, as the last one flew
out the car window! Another time, a listener dropped off
an obituary to be read, which listed the names of all the
survivors, but forgot to mention who died.
of Don Holger's favorite stories is how once a pair
of young lovers came to him and asked if, according to local
custom, he would be the patron (godfather) of their marriage.
He agreed on the condition that the marriage had been approved
by their parents. They said it was, and gave him three hens
as a gift, and Don Holger saw to it that the impending wedding
was announced on the air. Later that day, the father of
the girl sent a message to the Don Holger, saying that he
was opposed to the union. A few days later, the no-longer-happy
couple stopped by and asked for the hens back.
story of Radio Zaracay is the rags-to-riches story of
owner and founder Holger Velastegui. He was born in the
village of Quisapincha in Tungurahua province on December
30, 1934, the eldest son of his family. As a teenager, he
walked thirteen kilometers each way between home and high
school in nearby Ambato. Graduating from high school in
1953, he moved to Guayaquil, where he worked his way through
college as an announcer for Radio Ortiz, and later for Radio
Cenit. In 1957, he moved to Quito to continue his studies,
meanwhile earning a living by working for Radio Central,
Radio Nacional Espejo, and Radio Reloj.
In 1959, Don Holger finished his studies. One of his former
employers, Se¤or Luis Rivera, manager of Radio Central,
was considering expanding his operations into a provincial
town that at the time had no radio station of its own. Rivera
offered to help Don Holger set up a station in Santo Domingo
de los Colorados.
six years experience, Don Holger certainly was no novice
at radio broadcasting. Still, this was going to be, at least
in part, his own station. He wanted it to be as professional
as possible. In the 1950s, the most modern and professionally
run radio stations in the region were in Colombia. Don Holger
wanted to see first hand how one of these Colombian stations
operated. An agreement was made so that Don Holger would
travel to Colombia while Se¤or Rivera took charge of
equiping the new radio station.
In Cali, Don Holger found temporary work at one of Colombia's
premier stations, La Voz del Rio Cauca. He spent two months
learning everything he could at La Voz del Rio Cauca, and
visiting other nearby stations, always looking for someone
who would answer his questions on program production, studio
operations, and managing a radio station.
he returned to Ecuador, the equipment wasn't ready yet.
There wasn't much Don Holger could do in the meantime, so
he decided to get to know his own country. For the next
two months, he traveled across Ecuador, visiting towns,
villages, and rural farms. He talked to the people &
asked them what they liked to hear on the radio. He found
that the average Ecuadorian prefered his own folk music
to any other type of music. Everyone liked to listen to
the news, but people prefered news that reflected positively
on mankind. Sports was very popular, and there was actually
a demand for broadcasting volleyball games on the radio.
Everything Don Holger learned helped him form his own philosphy
of what radio programming should be like.
When Don Holger returned to Quito, though, disaster struck;
Señor Rivera backed out of the project. Without someone
to bankroll the new station, Don Holger could never get
in on the air by himself. But, the people of Santo Domingo
wanted their own radio station. Maybe new support could
be drummed up there. After several weeks of talking to leading
citizens of Santo Domingo, several agreed to lend Don Holger
money for the new station. Modesto Jarrin, owner of La Voz
de los Lagos in Otavalo, agreed to rent them his twelve
watt backup transmitter. Santo Domingo had no electricity
in those days, but a local family agreed to rent them a
generator to power the station. However small and makeshift,
Santo Domingo, and Don Holger, would get a radio station.
the name Ecos del Occidente, the new station finally
made it on the air on August 29, 1959, and a month later,
on September 29, it was officially inaugurated. Initially,
the station only broadcast from six to ten pm daily, on
3485 khz. But the townspeople were proud; Santo Domingo
finally had its own station. Perhaps local pride in the
station helped make it a success. Just seven months later,
in March, 1960, Don Holger bought the station a new five
hundred watt transmitter from the Rosenkranz shop in Ibarra.
In those days, transmitters were known by who made them.
This one was designed and built by Se¤or Segundo Obando.
With the raise in power, Don Holger decided to change the
station name to something that truely reflected the region
around Santo Domingo. Radio Zaracay was chosen, in honor
of Joaquin Zaracay, who unitl his death in 1942 was tribal
governor of the local Colorado Indians. He was still admired
and loved by the people of Santo Domingo. The new transmitter
changed a few other things too. For the first time, the
station became officially licensed. Also, the first of thousands
of overseas reception reports began to filter in.
long afterwards, another important change happened at
the Radio Zaracay; Santo Domingo was hooked up to the Quito
area power grid and began to receive electrical service
from 6-8 A.M. and 6 P.M. to midnight every evening. The
generator was no longer needed, and transmission time could
In the 1960s, technical advancements came regularly. In
1962, medium wave was added on 965 khz, using a 250 Tellco
watt transmitter. In 1965 a new Tellco transmitter was purchased
to increase the power on shortwave to one kilowatt. In 1966,
the station was able to extend programming all day long
when the power company began providing Santo Domingo electricy
24 hours a day. Of course, technical advancements at the
station were only possible because of popular programing,
which brought in advertisement revenue. Don Holger's philosphy
of radio programming was paying off. In fact, Radio Zaracay
had become so popular that a Japanese company contracted
the name Zaracay for a brand name of radios to be marketed
in Ecuador and southern Colombia. Zaracay radios are still
sold there today.
1968 the shortwave frequency had to be changed to one
in the sixty meterband when 3485 khz became part of a band
reserved for emergendy aeronautical use. However a mistake
had been made in Quito, and Radio Zaracay was assigned the
same frequency as La Voz de Esmeraldas, just 100 miles away.
After a month of mutual interferance, and numerous phonecalls
to Quito, Radio Zaracay was reassigned to its present 3395
khz frequency. Apparently there were no hard feelings between
the stations, as in 1970 La Voz de Esmeraldas' engineer,
Al Horvath, built a new five kilowatt shortwave transmitter
for Radio Zaracay.
On September 12, 1972, Radio Zaracay moved into its new,
and present, location, the six story "Coliseo Zaracay" building.
The station continued to prosper in 1976 when a ten kilowatt
CONTEL transmitter from the US was purchased for 3395 khz.
It was installed at a new transmitter site five kilometers
outside Santo Domingo. This gave the station truely national
coverage. In 1981, a 12.5 kilowatt Ecuatronic transmitter
was added for 965 khz. This was a modulated pulse transmitter,
which supposedly gave FM quality on MW.
the late 1970s, FM was the future of serious radio broadcasting
in Latin America. Urban audiences were beginning to expect
more quality than AM or SW could give. So, in 1979, Don
Holger applied to a government for an FM license, under
the name Estereo Zaracay. His application was turned down,
because it involved putting the antenna on Bomboli Hill,
just outside Santo Domingo. IETEL (the Ecuadorian telephone
company) and the Ecuadorian armed forces already had installations
on Bomboli Hill, and it was feared Estereo Zaracay would
cause interferance to them.
Undaunted, Don Holger decided to think even bigger. He reapplied,
this time, with plans to put the FM transmitter site on
the side of Mount El Atacazo, where it would be in line
of site of Santo Domingo, Quito, and much of the northern
half of the country. This time his application was approved.
there were already several other companies using the mountain,
including IETEL, Texoco, and two television stations. These
companies had a monopoly, which made them owners of all
electrical service on the mountain. An agreement was worked
out where Estereo Zaracay would be provided with electricity,
only if the antennas were constructed several kilometers
from the other installations, and at a much higher altitude.
That would be no easy task.
The Ecuatronix company was commissioned to study the possibilities.
They chose a remote site on top of the mountain, at 4200
meters above sea level. Don Holger hired a Mexican oil company,
with experience in building roads in rugged conditions,
to build a road to the site. The equipment was instatted
at 4,200 meters above sea level. Senor Velastegui says this
makes Estereo Zaracay the highest radio station above sea
level in the Western hemisphere. The new FM station was
officially inaugurated on June 12, 1981. The transmitter
on Mount El Atacazo is a 12.5 kw one, built by Ecuatronix.
Additionally, ten repeater stations have been strategically
placed on various mountains to receive the signal from Atacazo
and relay it further. As a result, Estereo Zaracay covers
all of Northern and Central Ecuador, and even a portion
of Southern Colombia.
the station visit was over, Don Holger offered to take
Theresa and I on a tour of the area. I headed back to our
room, and about 30 minutes later Don Holger came by in his
jeep. First he drove us out of town for a first hand look
at the Colorado Indians. One of Don Holger's best friends
was a Colorado witch doctor. We soon arrived at the witch
doctor's spacious clean traditional thatch house which was
surrounded by lush vegetation and flowering vines. It was
a sort of Eden-like paradise. The biggest surprise, however,
was the witch doctor - he and his wife are the two Colorados
on the HCJB QSL card! For about an hour he explained his
people's medicinal uses of the various plants around his
house, as well as the incantations necessary to make them
work. As we drove away, Don Holger confided that while he
really found it hard to believe in much of what we had heard,
he had seen a lot of it work.
After visiting the witch doctor we visited a few less climatic
local attractions and stopped for some fresh picked pineapple.
One of the many interesting things we learned while driving
around was that Santo Domingo is a sister city with Bowling
Green, Kentucky. On various occasions, officials and prominent
citizens of Bowling Green had visited Santo Domingo, and
those from Santo Domingo, including Don Holger, had visited
Bowling Green. Don Holger, in fact, had been there on several
occasions and one of his four sons was going to school at
Western Kentucky Universtiy in Bowling Green. The others
would go when they finished high school.
we stopped by Radio Zaracay's brand new transmitter site.
Radio Zaracay's AM and SW transmitters had just been moved
to this new site, several miles outside the city. Part of
the reason for the move was to put up a new SW antenna,
directional towards the Galapagos Islands. Although Estereo
Zaracay already had an FM repeater there, Don Holger wanted
to be sure the inhabitants of the Galpagos had no problem
hearing both of the Zaracay stations. Radio Zaracay on shortwave
was the most popular mainland station in the islands. Many
Ecuadorian families who had relatives on the Galápagos,
used Radio Zaracay whenever they needed to send a communicado.
In place of remote control at the transmitter site, Don
Holger employed an elderly man as a caretaker. His primary
job was to turn the transmitters on and off. The old man
had his own little apartment, furnished by Don Holger, in
the transmitter building. The old man pointed out that he
had a regfrigerator, TV, and fan, so he lacked nothing except
company. Few people come out to the transmitter site to
visit him. He spent most of his time either watching TV
or taking care of the corn he had planted under the antennas.
visit was over, and it was late when we got back to
town. Don Holger dropped us off by our pension, and we waved
good-bye. Early the next morning we were on another bus
on our way to another town and another station. Because
of Don Holger's immense hospitality, the visit to Radio
Zaracay has also remained one of the most memorable of my
station visits. In the years since, I would frequently tune
them in on 3395 kHz and remember Don Holger sitting at the
microphone, reading comunicados, or the old man at the transmitter
site growing corn under the antennas. Radio Zaracay may
be gone now, its future in FM Estereo Zaracay, Ecuador's
most popular station. But regardless of who is on the frequency,
to me, 3395 kHz is always going to remind me of Radio Zaracay
and Don Holger Velastequi, the man who set out to make the
best radio station in Ecuador and succeeded.
article was originally published in the March, 1993 issue
of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association
in the Latin Destinations column. This article is copyright
Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without
written permission. Permission is granted for all interested
readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article
or to print it out for personal use.