Radio station serving the global Haitian community
Radio Soleil is the radio station for New York City’s Haitian community, serving a million captivated, dedicated listeners. Founded in 1992, Radio Soleil is a go-to source for Haitians to receive news and information about Haiti. As Haitian artist Kessler Pierre says, “when we want to find out what’s going on at home, we don’t get it from the New York Times or CNN.” The station is the one place where Haitians can hear progressive news in their own language, as well as Haitian music programs such as Haitian Boleras and Escale Caraibeenne (Saturday Night Ball). Radio Soleil has helped its community maintain ties to the homeland for nearly a quarter of a century. After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, hundreds of Haitian New Yorkers gathered outside the radio station for news. As of October 2016, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the station is again playing a critical role...
Radio Soleil is the radio station for New York City’s Haitian community, serving a million captivated, dedicated listeners. Founded in 1992, Radio Soleil is a go-to source for Haitians to receive news and information about Haiti. As Haitian artist Kessler Pierre says, “when we want to find out what’s going on at home, we don’t get it from the New York Times or CNN.” The station is the one place where Haitians can hear progressive news in their own language, as well as Haitian music programs such as Haitian Boleras and Escale Caraibeenne (Saturday Night Ball). Radio Soleil has helped its community maintain ties to the homeland for nearly a quarter of a century. After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, hundreds of Haitian New Yorkers gathered outside the radio station for news. As of October 2016, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the station is again playing a critical role as the main point of communication between Haitians in New York and on the island.
Ricot Dupuy, Director of Radio Soleil, was born in Gonaives, Haiti, the location of the Haitian independence proclamation. On the 1st of January 1804, revolutionary Haitian slaves and allies declared successful independence from France, thereby founding the world’s first enduring black republic. This quest for self-sovereignty would have a global dimension and change the course of world history. When Napoleon lost Haiti, he sold Louisiana to the United States, pennies to the acre. Without Haiti to protect its franc, France’s presence in North America was no longer viable, and Napoleon abandoned goals for establishing a massive military base in New Orleans. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States overnight, and as a result, the Haitian revolution indirectly contributed to the development of the concept of Manifest Destiny in the United States.
Dupuy eventually left Gonaives to study philosophy and medicine in Port-Au-Prince, but by 1974, the oppressive Duvalier dictatorship and declining Haitian economy forced him to depart for New York City, where he and two siblings settled with their older brother in Brooklyn. The transition wasn’t easy. “When I came to this country, you didn’t see Haitians in the streets. You didn’t hear Creole being spoken. And you were sad, because there’s a feeling that, my goodness, you didn’t leave your country because you wanted to leave. You were somehow forced to leave. Either because of the political situation, or because of the economic situation.”
Before and during his studies at Brooklyn College, Dupuy devoted significant energies to mobilizing local public opinion against the dictatorship. He recalls that his involvement with politics really developed when he came to New York.
In Haiti, I was repressed. This country was my first contact with democracy. You could really breathe! And when you went to those school elections, to us it was significant. The first time I voted in my life was at Brooklyn College. There was no election in my country, so to me it was a major act. And from 1974 until the end of the regime in 1986, it was an uninterrupted fight. I gave this thing all that I had.
After graduating, Dupuy worked in accounting and banking, but radio and politics were in his blood. He had developed radio experience in Haiti, and upon arrival in Brooklyn, a friend called on Dupuy’s skills to help launch a local pirate station. Eventually he would serve as Saturday commentator for a series of New Jersey-based Haitian programs, but economic stagnation following Duvalier’s 1986 ousting prompted mass Haitians migration to the United States, such that Brooklyn was home to a substantial Creole-speaking community by the mid-1990s. “By then we could not just give them stuff a la carte anymore,” Dupuy says. “There were major demands for us to do more and more. So I said to myself, well, that’s what I will do.” In 2002, Dupuy took over as full-time station director at Radio Soleil.
For nearly 25 years, Radio Soleil has operated out of a tiny storefront on Nostrand Avenue, in a section of Flatbush which, Dupuy asserts, could easily be nicknamed “Little Haiti.” When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 devastated Port-Au-Prince, Jacmel, and other Haitian towns, Radio Soleil’s modest headquarters were overwhelmed with inquiries from neighbors seeking news about loved ones back home. “This station was tested in ways that we could never have previously imagined,” Dupuy recounts. “If ever we thought that this was just a pastime, or people just loving radio, the earthquake was a reality check.”
The 2010 earthquake caused a complete collapse of communication in and with Haiti. Although Dupuy also struggled to gather concrete details, listeners from around the world called his studio for updates, to share information about the missing, and for emotional support. Hundreds from the local community used the station’s Nostrand Avenue windows as a town square, plastering the glass with photos of family and friends unreachable on the island.
This one brought their mother. This one their father. This one the sons, saying, ‘Ricot please do something!’ I didn’t know what to do, but I still had to try to do something. As neighbors heard from their contacts in Haiti, photos were removed at the station. And they’d thank us, as if we had anything to do with it. We had nothing to do with it. It’s Providence. The stories that we heard were unbelievable.
For Dupuy, who had always recognized that his station had a community orientation, the earthquake intensified and solidified that mission. He was particularly inspired by the large number of the Haitian teens who volunteered during the crisis. According to Dupuy, they effectively managed the station while he was engaged with passing up-to-date information to major media outlets. The station’s current IT manager also enrolled as a volunteer after the earthquake, and has provided pro bono services ever since.
Today Dupuy is the principal commentator and hosts a daily show at 7:30pm, as well as a two-hour show on Sundays. His commentaries and analyses have major resonance in the Haitian community here and abroad. His views are aired on a number of radio outlets throughout the United States, and he is consulted regularly by the American press on Haitian issues. Dupuy has been interviewed by CNN, NBC, and CBS. Additionally, he has had one-on-one interviews with a number of presidents, including Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.
Despite the station’s global and local significance, Radio Soleil’s struggle is constant. The limited staff is still mostly volunteer, and although Radio Soleil is considered the authority, they have competition from internet-based pirate stations, who have little or no overhead. As Dupuy says,
“In theory, Radio Soleil is a business, but in reality, it is a busy community operation.” As the main staff person, manager, and commentator, Dupuy directs his fundraising efforts to securing advertisements and organizing an annual radio-thon. At the end of the day, Dupuy prioritizes the community’s stability over that of the station’s finances.
There’s a sense of communion that money cannot buy. Our past helps us put our poverty into perspective, and the love that my listeners bring is something that I take into consideration. Often we become jack-of-all-traders. People call us for all kinds of things. People call us with their most profound and intimate problems. They trust us so much that they would tell us anything. So we become like advisors. There’s no limit to how far we go.