Radio Barrio's weak but powerful
Arizona Daily Star
May 6, 2006

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

 Jack Hannon, 79, 'teaches' English to his neighbors

By Sarah N. Lynch

East Valley Tribune via the associated press

MESA Most of the time, only static is transmitted through the speakers of radios tuned to 1710 AM in west Mesa's Nuestro Neighborhood.

But every evening at 5 p.m., the hissing void comes to life with cheerful Latino music and the lively voice of 79-year-old Mesa resident Jack Hannon. Since October, Hannon has spent an hour each night trying to reach out to his neighbors through his radio station, "Radio Barrio."

The station is operated, literally, out of a small shed in the back yard of Hannon's home. He uses a shoebox-sized transmitter perched in a tree to broadcast the signal about a half-mile in all directions.

The goal of his program is to give Hispanic immigrants a way to enjoy the music of their culture while at the same time learning practical English words.

The radio, he says, is a non-intrusive way to accomplish those goals. Radio Barrio is a low-powered, unlicensed station that runs on 1 milliwatt of power. Hannon hopes to use a higher-powered FM frequency someday, but for now he's content serving his barrio.

During the broadcasts, Hannon's neighbors can switch on the radio and hear something like this:

"It's time to study," Hannon will say in Spanish into a small microphone. Then he tells his listeners he will repeat helpful phrases.

"Repetition is the mother of learning," he says in Spanish.

He then reads several phrases out of a book called "English on the Job."

When he's not teaching English or making public service announcements, he's playing music.

He'll play everything from Spanish rock to mariachi music, although he often tries to play Spanish music from American-based bands.

"It is indirectly saying 'it's OK to continue your culture,' " Hannon said. "Learn English, but don't get rid of your culture."

Some neighbors say they have benefited from his program.

Maria Rodriguez, 52, who lives several doors down, has learned words that help her communicate while working in nursing homes and clinics, she said.

Rodriguez has learned to ask patients how they are feeling, and she knows how to ask about room numbers. She thinks Hannon's work is important to the community.

"He's a teacher," she said in Spanish. "He is a very wise person. In the three years I've been here, he's always been friendly."

Hannon, an Anglo, is an adjunct sociology instructor at Mesa Community College. He is fluent in Spanish and has a passion for Mexican culture.

He launched the station through a nonprofit organization he founded in 2002 called La Plaza de las Tres Culturas (The Plaza of the Three Cultures).

The organization's mission is to promote adult cultural education. It often works with the college to promote language learning.

"He's quite a motivator," said Raquel Leyva, a member of La Plaza and a retired chairwoman of the college's reading department. "He loves the Hispanic people and culture."

The group works not only to help teach immigrants English and "translate United States culture," but also to teach the Spanish language and culture to Anglos, she said.

The radio provides a safe way for people to learn English in the privacy of their homes. Of course, it's still too early to know the station's full impact.