Radio has been one of the most popular media in Colombia. According to the Ministry of Technology of Information and Communication, radio is the media with the highest reach, with 48.3 million of Colombians or 79.94 percent of the national population that use it, the second most consumed media after television.
Colombia has three major national radio networks: State-run Radiodifusora Nacional de Colombia and private networks Caracol Radio and RCN Radio, with hundreds of affiliates. These networks appeared in the 1940s. There are other national networks, including Cadena Super, Todelar, Organización Radial Olímpica and Colmundo among others.
There are 1,596 radio stations divided into AM and FM frequencies (1,243 stations allocated in FM and 353 in AM). Of those radio stations, 667 are commercial enterprises, 626 are community radio stations and 303 are affiliated to the State and broadcast educational and cultural contents and the promotion of constitutional rights.
Mostly, radios transmit musical programming, classified many times by different tendencies such as tropical, ballads, vallenatos and urban music (reggaeton). Newscasts, magazines, sports programmes and political content are also common in these contexts. Christian radios affiliated with different religious organisations have also emerged. Some of them transmit music of different genres, although the lyrics are exclusively religious: A relatively new phenomenon in the country.
The audience measurement of the radio business is guided by the ECAR (Continuous Study of Radial Audiences). The most powerful in that list are the Prisa Group, which through Caracol Radio, in 2017 invoiced COL$179.4m (US$64m), followed by RCN Radio COL$168.3m (US$60m) and Organización Radial Olimpica COL$90.7m (US$32.4m).
In terms of audience share, private networks hold the largest audience. In the 2019 audience study conducted by ECAR, the Olimpica Stereo radio network owned by the Char family's Olímpica Radio Organization was the most listened to in all cities, except in Cali, where it was only surpassed by Tropicana Stereo of the Caracol Radio network. According to this same survey, 76% of the radio in Colombia is musical and only 24% is spoken.
According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), 76.94 percent of people over 12 years old listen to radio, and in terms of audience by sex, the data shows a slightly higher participation of women compared to men in its respective share. In addition, 62.29 percent of the same sample has always listened to radio, 17.90 percent did it almost every day of the week and 14.84 percent several times a week. However, the highest percentage of daily listening is for the age group between 41 and 64 years old with 24.56 percent. Regionally, radio ranks second in all consumer trends after television. This entity also found that 69.9 percent of Colombians listen to digital radio.
Regarding the influence of radio in the electoral field, a survey carried out by .co Internet in alliance with the National Consulting Center (CNC) showed that, during the time of the 2018 presidential elections in Colombia, 37 percent of the population was informed about the development of the electoral contest through radio stations, positioning radio as the third most consulted media by Colombians, after social networks and digital media.
Moreover, several stations are led by minorities such as indigenous communities, where one of their most important missions is to promote the systematisation and dissemination of resources for the strategic use of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies). Similarly, indigenous stations work to increase the visibility of the specific community in the region and to foster a sense of value of their culture among the same groups. Some of them are Namui Wam Estéreo, Radio Nasa Tierradentro, Radio Payumat and so on. Another initiative in favor of people with disabilities is the highly respected INCI Radio, which is the virtual station of the National Institute for the Blind, dedicated especially to issues of visual disability in the country.
An important reference in the use of media by indigenous movements is the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC in Spanish), which has a substantial role in strengthening the Association of Indigenous Media of Colombia (AMCIC Network). According to Otero (2008, p 11), this organisation was "created at the end of the 1990s in order to reinforce communication collectives, especially the indigenous radio project which promotes the diffusion of local identities, their concepts of life and the coexistence; assuming cultural diversity as the most important wealth of Cauca and Colombia." Another important network is the National System of Indigenous Information and Communication (SICO in Spanish), guided by the National Indigenous Colombian Organisation (ONIC in Spanish).
Among the Public Interest Radio Broadcasting system the Military Forces, the Army and the Police have their own radio stations with huge coverage, particularly in rural areas. These institutional radio stations “have the purpose of satisfying the communication needs of the State with its citizens and communities in the geographic area covered for the purpose of contributing to the strengthening of the nation's cultural and natural heritage.” While the programing of these radio stations is tailored to the specific regions that they cover, they also help to share messages with strategic purpose.
For instance, Maldonado (2017) stated that Military radio stations were instrumental in leading members of the FARC to quit the guerrilla movement. In his report, Commander Aldinever Morantes, a FARC leader, acknowledged that “the psychological action of the military radio station poisoned many people. They invited the peasants to become “toads”, or informants, to infiltrate popular organisations and the guerrillas themselves. That caused a problem for us. And that problem ended in what? In the dead, the wounded, the disappeared and incarcerated.” At the same time, Clandestine FARC radio stations were persecuted and destroyed. Some local and community radios were gradually disappearing because of the government’s requirements to function. In a couple of years the Army created 33 radio stations nationwide and several portable radio stations. As Maldonado concluded “radio became a weapon and radio stations a military target.”
The project called Information Cartographies, led by FLIP, aimed to map the municipalities of Colombia where there is any kind of censorship as a consequence of the armed conflict. In a progress report, FLIP reported that out of 994 visited municipalities, 578 corresponded to what they called “Zones of Silence", that is, places where there was no media that produced local news. In a large part of rural Colombia, the main means of communication is radio, particularly community radio that fulfills the function of disseminating local information, although many times in precarious conditions.
Currently, radio faces a very important challenge in Colombia: The inclusion of new voices as part of the peace agreement signed between the government and the FARC guerrilla. The objective of these stations, which will have a community nature, would be to establish and disseminate a pedagogy of the post agreement era in remote regions far from urban centers, aimed at creating a balance of opinions about different public affairs issues, generating spaces for inclusion of non-official voices and strengthening communication in rural areas of the national territory.