Radio France

French on the Airwaves

Americans speaking to other Americans… but in French! From Brooklyn to San Francisco and from Boston to Minneapolis and Ville Platte, Louisiana, many radio stations and shows are now broadcast in French.
Ricot Dupuy in the Radio Soleil studio, in Brooklyn. © Clément Thiery

It’s 7:30 EST pm on Radio Soleil. After the horoscope in Creole and a few bars of kompa blasted out on a trumpet, it’s time for the weekly political show, “Notre coup d’œil de tous les soirs.” On this particular day, the United Nations had praised the charges of embezzlement brought against Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, and Haiti had responded by recalling its U.N. ambassador. On the air, station director Ricot Dupuy commented on the dispute. “It’s about time qu’on joigne la parole aux actes,” he declared in perfect Franglais, his fist raised. “Who’s going to break first entre la gouvernance haïtienne et l’ONU?

Radio Soleil was founded in 1992, and is the most famous of the 15 or so Haitian radio stations broadcasting in Creole, French, and English in and around New York City. “We march to the beat of the Haitian diaspora in the United States,” says Ricot Dupuy. Initially launched as a weekly show, Radio Soleil grew with each new wave of immigration. More than one million Haitians now live in the United States, with two thirds residing in Florida and New York State.

The show is now a fully-grown radio station, and broadcasts nonstop from Flatbush – the Haitian neighborhood of Brooklyn. It plays out on the radio, online, and on the AudioNow service which is free to access via telephone (+1 605-781-9742). Ricot Dupuy shares the airwaves with four other presenters and four volunteers, who record their shows from New York, New Jersey, and Miami. Four news shows are broadcast every day in French, and the others are in Creole. Music shows in English have also been added to appeal to younger listeners born in the U.S.A. and immigrants who have lived in the United States for a long time. “The Haitians who have integrated into American society tend to make up a smaller percentage of our audience,” says Ricot Dupuy, who has lived in New York since 1974. “Our challenge is to adjust the offering to target the entire Haitian diaspora.”

The sermons by Pastor Robert Samuel Doltenus and the music show presented by Jean Robert Savaille are the most popular. After his political fixture, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm, Ricot Dupuy replies to messages from listeners. Whether via telephone or on social media, by email or by text, everyone takes part in the day’s debate. “The Haitian government could fall at any moment,” says the director of Radio Soleil. “The diaspora is very politicized – Haitians pay close attention to the decisions made by the United States, the U.N., and the European Union that might have a significant impact on their community.”

A Network of Francophone Radio Stations in Louisiana

Another state, another accent. In Ville Platte, a town of 8,000 habitants in the heart of French Louisiana, Jim Soileau is live on KVPI (92.5 FM). He has presented a daily talk show called “La Tasse de Café” from 8 am to 9 am CST since the mid-1960s. “I drink my coffee, and I share the day’s news in Cajun and in Franglais,” says the 80-year-old presenter, who was also head of the station until 1999. “This morning we talked about spring: the big pecan trees have started blossoming, it’s not going to freeze again!”

Since it was founded in 1953, KVPI has put out at least two hours of shows in French every day – the news and the daily music show, “Le Rendez-Vous des Cajuns.” A network of radio stations has since come together to continue promoting the French language in the “French Triangle” – the French-speaking region of Southern Louisiana. KRVS broadcasts in Lafayette (88.7 FM), KLCL in Lake Charles (1290 AM), KBON in Eunice (101.1 FM), KJEF in Jennings (1290 AM), and KLEB in Golden Meadow (1600 AM).

Jim Soileau was born in Ville Platte into a family of Francophone farmers, and only started learning English in elementary school. He is delighted at the resurgence of French in Louisiana. Once on the brink of dying out, French is now spoken by 200,000 people across the state. “We are proud to still be able to speak our language,” he says. “Louisiana French is part of our cultural heritage.”

Francophiles Are All Ears

A vast number of Francophone shows are broadcast on community radios and college stations. On WMBR (88.1 FM), transmitted from the MIT campus, Brian Thompson presents the “French Toast” show every two weeks. As a professor of French at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and an expert in “songs from the Francophone zone,” he pays homage to the “three Bs” – Brassens, Brel, and Barbara.

Unlike the professor, Farinaz Agharabi prefers rock music. The Iran-born computer technician was raised in Nice but now lives in San Francisco, and has presented a show focused on the new Francophone music scene since 2000. Her “Francofun” show is broadcast every Saturday from 11 am to noon PST on the community-based station KXSF [online for the moment, the station will soon return to the air on 102.5 FM]. The Sacramento French Cultural Society, which organizes the Sacramento French Film Festival every year, is set to start its own radio programming on KZAC (97.3 FM) before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, on KFAI in Minneapolis (90.3 FM) and St. Paul (106.7 FM), Parisian Frédéric Posine appeals to Francophile Americans. This financial analyst by day presents “Bonjour Minnesota” with three other volunteers every Tuesday from 8 pm to 10 pm CST. Created in 1984, the show is a mix of interviews with local figures from the Francophone community, the promotion of local events, and French songs. A subscription to Radio France International also enables the station to play a selection of contemporary artists, including Camille, Thomas Dutronc, Jane Birkin, and La Femme. “I play French classics,” Frédéric Posine. “But I avoid Daft Punk – we don’t put out any songs in English!”