By Dan Muir

What is the most common Latin American radio station name? Radio Satellite? Radio Vision? Radio Sensacion? No, it's none of those. It's something I don't think any of you have ever heard of. From what I've seen in my travels, the most common radio station name throughout Latin America is "Radio Servicio Reparacion." I don't think I've ever been in any town without at least one radio station of this name. Yes, that's right, I said at least one. Any town of more than a couple thousand people usually has more than one. Some big cities have dozens. In Cochabamba last week, I counted six in just one four-block stretch by the market.

How can there possibly be more than one radio station with the same name in the same town? Wouldn't they get into fights over the name or something? Wouldn't it confuse the listeners? I guess the answer is that these stations are so hard to hear that they don't know there are other stations in the same town with the same name. Despite hours and hours of trying, in dozens of cities and towns in several countries, I have yet to log a single Radio Servicio Reparacion on either AM, FM, or SW, and I have never seen one reported in the DX press. Moreover, when I ask local people if they ever listen to Radio Servicio Reparacion, they just give me blank looks--the kind that say, "What is this dumb gringo talking about?" I have never met anyone who admits to listening to one of these stations.

In my quest to learn more about Latin American broadcasting, I have visited many of these stations. They are all very similar. They are usually in rather run-down buildings. Inside the main room, radios, TVs, record players and boomboxes are scattered about in various stages of disrepair. The owner-operator (usually there is only one person working there) is always more focused on those broken radios and boomboxes than on broadcasting. When I ask to see their studios or ask where the transmitters are located, I just get those blank stares again.

One of the nicer looking Radio Reparcion Studios that I've visited.

Often I ask, "Who listens to you?" But again I usually get those blank stares. One man in Cajamarca, Peru answered, "My wife and children." There was a "Mister Microphone" FM transmitter on one of the benches, so perhaps he used that to broadcast to his family, who lived on the second floor. But I really don't understand how he could make a living that way.

I have developed two theories to explain the existence of these stations. First, I think there may be some sort of mental illness affecting these men, making them think that by working in a room of discarded, disassembled electronics they are really running a radio station. Few of them seem to have any grasp of reality, considering the way they react to my very sensible and direct questions. If so, this illness must be one of the most widespread pyschoses in modern times, and should be looked into by people professionally trained in psychology.

The second theory, which may seem more far-fetched, is that the CIA is behind all this. Think of it--the perfect cover. They have these agents planted throughout Latin America who are pretending to be inept owner/managers of radio stations named "Radio Servicio Reparacion." Since nobody can hear their stations, no one knows their politics. However, when a political crisis arises, I bet they dust off a powerful transmitter in a locked room in the back and go on the air using the name and frequency of an established local station to broadcast CIA propaganda. That also explains why they try to brush me off on my visits. They are probably under strict orders from CIA headquarters not to talk to Americans other than their CIA contacts, just to make sure that no snooping reporters stumble on this story. It would be Pulitzer material for sure!

So, if you ever travel in Latin America, no matter what country you are in, look around for a station named "Radio Servicio Reparacion." There's sure to be one in whatever town or neighborhood you are in. Good luck in trying to log it, though!