What started as a way to keep Woodburn farmworkers informed has become a voice of the local Latino population

Arturo Sarmiento, station manager at Radio Poder. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

On a recent Friday afternoon, three members of Latinos Unidos Siempre sat in a studio to air their weekly two-hour music show “La Voz de los Jovenes” (“Voice of the Youth.”)

The show airs on Radio Poder 98.3, a community radio station which has programming on civil rights, politics, health, mental health and conversations with community members from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

Radio Poder (“Radio Power”) is a continuation of Radio Movimiento, a low-power FM station based in Woodburn that started airing in 2006 as PCUN, the Oregon farmworkers’ union, was looking for a way to effectively communicate with farmworkers.

Station Manager Arturo Sarmiento said Radio Movimiento gave listeners in a 15 to 20-mile radius of the Woodburn station a place to learn about issues impacting immigration, such as federal enforcement efforts, as well as a place to hear music.

When Measure 105, a ballot measure that sought to undo Oregon’s restrictions on local law enforcement cooperating with immigration agencies, went on the ballot in 2018 listeners were able to turn on the radio for updates.

During the last legislative session, when a bill came up to allow undocumented immigrants to hold driver’s licenses, the station was there.

“Radio Poder, at that time still Radio Movimiento, was able to keep the community informed,” Sarmiento said.

“Eventually, of course, our community grew up. And then we realized that not only farmworkers were interested in our messages, but also Latino workers working from different industries,” Sarmiento said. “Landscapers, construction workers, different factories, and they needed this message. They needed this information, too.”

That’s when they started looking for a larger broadcast range.

Levi Herrera-López, executive director of Latino community resource group Mano a Mano, said CCTV and his organization were granted the same license for the radio frequency at 98.3. Both groups will eventually share a multimedia production studio currently being built in the CCTV building.

For now, the show is produced out of a building adjacent to PCUN’s headquarters in Woodburn.

Two shows are aired in indigenous Mexican languages, Mixteco and Purépecha, on Saturdays.

Congressman Kurt Shrader, a Democrat who represents the Salem area, came to the radio station in December to talk with PCUN’s executive director, Reyna Lopez, about legalizing undocumented farmworkers.

Sarmiento hosts a show called “Hispanidades,” where he recently interviewed Los Angeles-based band Las Cafeteras before they performed at Western Oregon University.

Radio Poder, which has a frequency that spans from Woodburn to Corvallis, started broadcasting on Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16.

The station’s name went from one of movement and change to one of power.

“Now we learn that through the movimiento, through the movement, a lot of people joined together and that brings us power,” Sarmiento said. “We changed the name to Radio Poder, because the radio has empowered people, empowered the community.”

He said the mission of the station is “to inform our community, to give hope to our community and in some way give some sense of healing to our community.”

Herrera-López said the radio station will also be a source of information in emergency situations, like an earthquake.

“For Mano a Mano we’ve always wanted to have a way to be able to connect with the community to keep them informed of what’s going on in the neighborhoods in the city, so they are more involved in community life,” Herrera-López said. “We think we can achieve that goal and be the primary force of radio information for most Spanish-speaking people in the community.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.