Posted by: calloftheandes | January 16, 2017

Legendary Broadcaster in Ecuador Now Quiet on AM Dial

HCJB's Edmundo Zarria (wearing headphones) and two others (probably Raul Cedeño and Raul Arias) covering a session of the Ecuadorian congress. (Archive photo)

HCJB’s Edmundo Zarria (wearing headphones) and two others (probably Raul Cedeño and Raul Arias) covering a session of the Ecuadorian congress. (Archive photo)

by Ralph Kurtenbach

Hours prior to noisy celebrations as Ecuadorians welcomed 2017 with fireworks, an evangelical radio station with history dating to the nation’s earliest broadcast media went silent on the AM frequency band at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31.

The last song to play featured panpipes and stringed instruments accompanying women singing a Christmas song in the Quichua language followed by comments in the same language by Luis Santillán.

Luis Santillan (Archive photo)

Luis Santillan (Archive photo)

Earlier in 2016, signal strength from its 50,000-watt transmitter had been reduced and airtime pulled back in keeping with the decision made by the board of trustees of partner HCJB Ecuador to not file with the Agencia de Regulación y Control de las Telecomunicaciones (Telecommunications Regulatory and Control Agency or ARCOTEL) for renewal of the 690 kHz frequency.

It was a frequency that HCJB La Voz de los Andes (HCJB The Voice of the Andes) had held since 1974 on the medium wave (AM) dial. The silencing of 690 AM came seven years after shortwave broadcasts were terminated from the international transmitter site at the nearby town of Pifo.

HCJB’s first programs aired on Christmas Day, 1931, when there were a dozen or perhaps fewer radio sets in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. Nevertheless, a telephone call afterwards convinced its founding families that their program of Christmas carols and preaching had been heard. Since then the programming has offered listeners Christian teaching, music, public affairs reporting, news and more.

The station operated under the auspices of World Radio Missionary Fellowship, Inc., which has used different mission agency names throughout the years, including HCJB World Radio, HCJB Global and as of 2014, Reach Beyond.

Down through the decades, history has been recorded as HCJB-AM’s announcers and journalists have told of events in Ecuador and elsewhere. In January 1956 the station was instrumental in informing the world that five evangelical foreigners had been speared to death in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest during a risky overture to take the gospel to the Waorani, then an unreached tribal group.

Reporters for the religious station also told listeners in May 1981 of the deaths in a plane crash of Ecuadorian president Jaime Roldós, along with his wife and others. Via the airwaves, HCJB listeners were warned over the years of threats of volcanic eruptions and informed of devastation by earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Diverse cultural aspects of Ecuador were showcased in interviews with unique musical styles from the nation and the region featured daily. Few if any aspects of Ecuadorian life were left untouched by the station’s coverage, and some of its announcers became household names to listeners.

Elisa del Salto, a longtime host of the program Himnos de la Vida Cristiana (Hymns of the Christian Life) on HCJB.(Archive photo)

Elisa del Salto, a longtime host of the program Himnos de la Vida Cristiana (Hymns of the Christian Life) on HCJB. (Archive photo)

Prior to 1974, HCJB used 974 kHz (circa 1935 to 1950) followed by a shift to 700 kHz in 1951. The shift to 700 was “for better reception with the signal reaching at least to Connecticut in the U.S. at times,” according to missionary Duane Birkey.

Throughout its history HCJB has been a not-for-profit entity. Its advertising, therefore, is limited but audience shares are important. Some of the AM programming has been carried as simulcasts on FM 89.3 in Quito and on FM repeaters elsewhere throughout the Andean country. While these will continue and some of the other AM programs will pass to FM, most of them will not as FM has a more musical format.

HCJB Ecuador, an Ecuadorian foundation formed in February 2014, operates autonomously but still in close relationship to the U.S.-based founding agency, according to Anabella Cabezas, whose time as the station director began when it was still operated by Reach Beyond.

When the mission agency determined in 2012 that HCJB should become independent, Cabezas said, “Reach Beyond’s leadership established that we would work as … strategic partners,” Cabezas explained, adding that “in that relationship … we will continue to work closely, because [the entity] that does media, or the ministry of communications in the Latin America region, is not Reach Beyond; it is HCJB.”

Anabella Cabezas with Duval Rueda (Archive photo)

Anabella Cabezas with Duval Rueda (Archive photo)

A press release from the station on Friday, Dec. 30, emphasized that silence on AM 690 does not signify an abandonment of media work as broadcasts will continue on FM. Also, a youth website, Control Z, exhorts online viewers and listeners to consider a life-changing event—an encounter with Jesus.

Programming in the Quichua language formerly carried on the AM station will now be available on MP3 players (with more than 1,000 hours of content) and/or access livestreamed programs at Some Quichua programs will also air on the FM station on weekends.

Additionally, “HCJB continues transmitting in association with Vozandes Media via the regional shortwave frequency, 6050 kHz, to the following nationalities and indigenous peoples: Chachi, Shuar, Cofán, Waorani and Quichua.”

Vozandes Media became an Ecuador-based organization in 2009, composed of producers from the station’s German Language Service, Die Stimme der Anden (Voice of the Andes). In addition to airing languages indigenous to Ecuador, its staff until recently produced and distributed German-language programming for use in Europe and via the internet.

The press release states that four local FM frequencies in Ecuador will continue as well: 89.3 MHz Pichincha, 92.5 Manabí, 96.1 Tungurahua and Cotopaxi, and 98.3 Esmeraldas. “News, music, doctrinal programs and cultural programming will continue on our schedule,” the press release reads.

“With technology changes lately, the public has developed new habits for radio listening,” the statement explained, “and so La Voz de los Andes continues adapting to new communication trends.”

Whereas several years ago, frequency bands were oversaturated in Ecuador’s two largest cities (Quito and Guayaquil), ARCOTEL in 2016 received just 73 applications for AM frequencies nationwide.

The number of FM frequency applications has surpassed 1,000. One of those was HCJB’s, according to Geoff Kooistra, services director for the ministry in Quito.

With “less than one point shy of the maximum 100 points,” HCJB met approval from ARCOTEL, qualifying the station for a second round with another agency, Consejo de Regulación de la Información (Information Regulation Council), Kooistra said. “Results from that may come as early as the end of January, but we shall see.”

News and sports are part of HCJB's coverage, along with music and the arts. (Archive photo)

News and sports are part of HCJB’s coverage, along with music and the arts. (Archive photo)


  1. […] broadcasting remains central to HCJB Ecuador’s mission, “we realized that we needed to be less radio-centric and integrate other platforms and opportunities more,” said Kooistra. “Everything works […]

  2. […] HCJB in Ecuador failed to squeeze the story into a capsule, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Ecuador radio station’s rich history was told on Dec. 1 in Quito, with the event’s emcees recounting the background of the media […]

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