The audience and reach of radio in Guatemala is different from print media. A 2016 study by Multivex Sigma Dos established that 94 percent of households own radios, making it the main route used by Guatemalans to inform and entertain themselves. The prime timetables for radio are between 11:00 and 14:00 and 17:00 until 19:00.
Internet penetration has not displaced the reach of radio, as it happened to other media. As it is estimated that less than 40 percent of Guatemalan households have full Internet access, digital platforms such as Spotify and YouTube have not yet supplanted radio channels. Rush hours and meal times are the moments of the day when the radio has the most audience. Internet podcasts are not part of the Guatemalan consumer culture and therefore do not represent a threat to the radio media.
The main radio corporations have their origins in the middle of the 20th century. As it’s the case for television, Ángel González is the businessman with more radios in Guatemala. According to data from the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones (Superintendency of Telecommunications - SIT), 38 percent of the FM spectrum is in the hands of five business groups or families. Of 726 frequencies, González’ Albavisión group owns 15.9 percent of the radiophonic spectrum, Emisoras Unidas owns 10.6 percent, Nuevo Mundo 5.4 percent, Alius 3.8 percent and Radio Corporación Nacional 3.2 percent. Like the television network, the radios of Albavisión have been acting in favor of the governments of the day and, in the last three years, in demerit of the fight against corruption.
The community radio movement began in Guatemala around 1960. The Federación Guatemalteca de Escuelas Radiofónicas (Guatemalan Federation of Radio Schools - FGER) indicates that historically these frequencies were used at the local level to teach literacy and evangelise people of Mayan descent. Over the years they evolved to a more progressive stance, reducing religious messages. From its foundation in 1966 to the present day, it is estimated that FGER taught literacy skills to half a million people. This was possible thank to books distributed in the communities and to the work of local guides that accompanied the lessons offered in the radio.
Currently the programming of these frequencies lowered the religious content to a 10 percent, and the official newsreel of FGER focuses on covering subjects related to human rights, auditing of local governments, environmental issues, defense of their land against big companies projects and of their historic memory. The content is broadcasted in Spanish and then repeated in the local language.
According to SIT the definition of community radio does not exist, the commercial category is the only one with a legal basis. FGER is composed of 32 radio stations of which 75 percent with legal recognition as owners of the frequency. The other 25 percent does not possess legal documents but they do have the local support of their leaders. The stations broadcast 90 percent of their programming in the local language, creating content in the 23 Mayan languages. In regards to the scope, FGER estimates that their stations have a potential reach of 8 million people nationwide.
There are many stations that call themselves “community radios”, however, when listening to their content, they don’t provide any service to the community and are dedicated solely to transmit commercial ads or completely religious content.
The business model of community radios is based on alternative income sources. International cooperation was key to its growth but was lowered strongly years after the 1996 Acuerdos de Paz (Peace Agreements) were signed. Afterwards the sustainability of their model is largely based on management of projects, trainings, or alternative business such as pharmacies and community stores. Recently community radios of FGER gain funds with the sales of advertising spots, with the only condition that alcoholic drinks, cigarettes or any other commercial activity that harms people or the environment may not be promoted.
One of the most listened-to programmes from community radios is Contacto Migrante, focused in spreading advice for those who want to leave Guatemala, informing about help centers along the route towards the United States and legal counseling. As a result the audience has approached the radio to ask for advice, especially the relatives of missing migrants.
In 2008, the government of Guatemala authorised a resolution to develop a policy that would allow the confiscation of equipment from radio stations not authorised to operate. According to the Movement of Community Radios in Guatemala, this bill could have an impact on the closure of community radios useful to disseminate local information. In 2009, this organisation presented another bill (number 4087) to regulate this type of radio broadcasters. The initiative was approved in two readings but, following pressure from different sectors and the passivity of the deputies, its approval was suspended.