COLUMBIA — Carolina Escalera, a student in MU's journalism school, doesn't spend much of her time reporting in a newsroom. Instead, she can be found driving around town.
"I go to the Mexican restaurants. I go to the First Ward," Escalera said. "I roll down my window and say 'Do you speak Spanish?' We say ‘If you have any news, tell us.'"
"Radio Adelante" can be heard after "La Hora Latina," which begins at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KOPN/89.5 FM.
Escalera works for "Radio Adelante," a new segment featured on the long-standing "La Hora Latina," a music and call-in show geared toward the Latino community. The 15-minute long radio news show on KOPN/89.5 FM is the latest incarnation of Adelante, formerly a bilingual monthly magazine catering to the Latino community of mid-Missouri.
The small staff produces "Radio Adelante" on Thursday nights in the small recording studio at KOPN's offices on Broadway. In a cramped room painted yellow, the MU students produce, record and splice together the 15-minute, Spanish-language news program. The task can take hours.
The handful of regular staffers includes producers Sara Shahriari and Sarah Horne, host and reporter Carolina Escalera and business manager Mark Stanley. Their week really begins on Sundays with a meeting to plan stories for the next show. Escalera said Adelante accepts stories from anyone who is interested, in addition to the usual staff-created pieces.
Having ties to the Latino community already has helped some of the reporters find story ideas. MU student Nicolás Jiménez, who is Cuban American, is working on a series for Adelante about the effects of the economy on Latino workers who send money to their families in other countries. The project required finding the right sources. It turned out Jiménez had met a possible subject as a result of their shared Cuban heritage during the MU School of Journalism's recent centennial celebration.
"This one guy I met at the centennial concert," Jiménez said. "He dressed like his Cuban half and danced like his Cuban half. I saw him across the room and thought 'He isn't from here.' So that's how I found that guy."
After the spring semester this year, Adelante the magazine stopped publication, promising a return in the fall with a new medium. The magazine had suffered from staffing and distribution problems, said Katherine Reed, assistant professor of journalism and faculty adviser of Adelante, which was published in the Columbia Missourian.
"It's difficult to put out a bilingual publication," Reed said. "People think you just have to translate it. You also have to edit it. It's kind of an art, taking that translation and making it polished. There's a lot of labor that goes into it."
The idea of creating a radio version of Adelante had been around for years; Reed said she first brought up the idea in 2006. Then some MU students looked into it as part of a capstone project. Those students conducted audience research, contacted KOPN to figure out the viability of a Spanish-language news program and even created a pilot for the show, which they played for KOPN General Manager David Owens.
"David Owens came to hear it and said, 'We're here when you're ready,'" Reed said.
The switch from print to radio crystallized this past summer when Escalera began talking with Owens about having a spot for Adelante at the station.
"We've had a long period of time of doing other cultural programming, and we've had a history of cultural local news," Owens said.
When the project went forward this fall, the station decided to package Adelante with its existing Spanish-language programming to more easily transfer audiences.
"KOPN's mission of serving under-served parts of the community means that we don't have a homogeneous sound," Owens said. "Part of the challenge is to schedule programming in such a way that maximizes what flow is there."
"La Hora Latina" has been a feature of KOPN's Saturday programming for more than six years. And though the format has shifted as hosts have come and gone, it has remained a popular fixture among the Latino population.
"Right now the format is great, where people can call in and offer songs. It is a very, very successful program," Eduardo Crespi, director of the Centro Latino, said. "It gives an opportunity to the community to call and to be able to get in touch with other members of the community."
The show has become more informal with its current host, Pollo. Instead of canned dialogue between two people in the studio, the hosts of "La Hora Latina" make use of the station's call board. People from around mid-Missouri call in to dedicate songs or send out messages in Spanish.
"To tune in on a Saturday morning and hear them laugh and engage people in conversation, it's fun. It's a fun program," Owens said.
Crespi said he was glad to see MU journalism students taking an interest in the Latino community, though he was sad to see the print version of Adelante go. The community could use a variety of media covering it, he said.
One of the major changes made during the switch from print to radio was the loss of Adelante's bilingual format. The radio program is exclusively in Spanish, while the magazine included an English and a Spanish version of every story.
"We really lost that function that Adelante had as a bridge between English and Spanish speakers because we are no longer bilingual," Reed said.
Both Owens and Reed mentioned the possibility of using podcasts in the future to inject English back into the mix.
"We've talked about one way of expanding Adelante's service to the community through English versions of the stories we're presenting exclusively in Spanish right now," Owens said.
But the new format of Adelante has provided other benefits.
"I feel like it streamlined the process in every way," Shahriari said. "We can do it all from the ground up."
Escalera said that although she had very little radio experience prior to this semester, she appreciates the ability to incorporate real voices into stories.
"You can actually broadcast people's voices," she said. "We want to hear community voices."