The Listening Post

Radio La Colifata: Argentina’s ‘loony radio’

Mental patients broadcast around the world from an Argentine mental asylum.

La Colifata represents a broken space forgotten by others. Consumer society produces things and then it throws everything away. From that perspective, we can think of mental asylums as huge reservoirs of society's psychological waste. La Colifata is like a great attempt to recycle those words and voices that have been discarded by the logic of the market they don't fit into.

by Alfredo Olivera, Founder, La Colifata

More than 20 years ago, a psychology student doing his training at one of Argentina‘s oldest psychiatric wards kept being asked by his family and friends what it was like to work in there. So, he came up with an idea: to let the patients explain in their own words.

The first radio station to broadcast from inside a mental hospital was born.

Radio La Colifata – slang for “loon”, or “crazy person”, has been on air from Hospital Jose Borda in Buenos Aires every Saturday afternoon for 23 years – to confront the stigma around mental illness, breaking through the wall in AM, FM and now online.

In-patients produce and present the shows that range from politics to sports – and over the years, millions of Argentinians have been tuning in.

Today, the radio frequencies have reached further, with around 50 stations based on the Radio Colifata model in Latin America, Europe and Asia – and soon, it will be setting up outside the asylum, hosted by former patients.

The radio was never intended as a serious journalistic enterprise per se.

But the voices it includes, the things that are said, and the way the stories are told are enough to make anyone in the mainstream world of journalism stop, listen and think about how their own voices are repressed, censored and sedated – and how truth lies beyond what has been prescribed.

This week, we hear what the Colifatos have to say in a special collaboration between The Listening Post and Radio La Colifata.