17 November 2011

Radio MEC

The Voice 
Back in New York the soundtrack of my life included jazz, classical, popular standards and show music. I'm talking now pre-iTunes, pre-iPods, pre-online streaming and pre-Pandora, when you actually had to get up and turn on the radio, tune in a station and adjust the aerial, or place a large, flat, disk-like object into a box called a record player and gently, gently, lower a needle. I woke up to Phil Schaap's Charlie Parker program on WKCR, spent the rest of the day with Michael Bourne on WBGO between Singers Unlimited in the morning and then Afternoon Jazz. I spent Saturday night with Jonathan Schwartz and his Saturday with Sinatra show. There was always WQXR for classical music, and I got my annual injection of Bach at the end of every year with WKCR's 12-day, round-the-clock holiday Bach Festival.

I wasn't finding any radio stations I liked at all during my first year or so in Brazil. Outside of the big cities it's hard to get anything beyond the evangelical stations, whose signals are super strong — somebody up there likes them? — or those infernal rock/light rock/boom-boom-boom stations you hear in stores all over the world, music played more for the young employees than for the customers. But I wanted to listen to the radio. I know I could have put on my own CDs (and I did), but sometimes a radio playing quietly in the background is just better. So I persisted, I fiddled with the dials, I gave up, tried again, gave up again.

MEC's Rio Headquarters
One day in Rio I began fiddling with the car radio once more. This time I tried the manual tuning mode, slowly clicking every single number from the 80s through the 90s, the usual band area for my preferred music. All of a sudden, clear as a bell, at 98.9 FM, there was a Chopin piano sonata. I couldn't believe my ears, or my luck in having found the station. Mark said I was a genius. "You're tuned to Radio MEC," came the announcer's sonorous voice. (Do all classical music stations everywhere in the world send their announcers to the same announcer school?) Okay, I had the call number and the call signal. Now I could play this beautiful station at home.

Not so easy. Radio MEC is nearly impossible to pick up in Búzios, at such a distance from Rio. I tried and tried and tried again. Mark and I bought aerials both complicated and simple, used them with and without aluminum foil. We moved the radio to different rooms, placed it at different angles and heights. I stood close to the aerial, stepped away from it, stood on one leg. Eventually, I actually succeeded. I don't know why, exactly. Some combination of persistence and how our house sits just so. But whatever the reason, we get radio MEC and our Búzios friends — who have also tried — don't.

There's a good reason everyone wants to pick up this station. Radio MEC plays beautiful classical music, yes, but it plays much, much more. It offers a smorgasbord of styles: there's Momento de Jazz with Nelson Tolipan, whose knowledge of American jazz is astonishing. Tolipan's show is on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:00 pm, and plays "what's new in the world of jazz along with the best of the big bands." Prefer bossa nova? There's Bossamoderna, Sundays at 10:00 pm. On Mondays at 6:00 pm there's Roda de Choro, showcasing an early Rio de Janeiro instrumental music called "chorinho," or "little cry." If you like ragtime, you'll love chorinho. Can't get into Rio for a favorite performer's concert? Chances are you can hear it live on MEC, on Sala de Concerto, Fridays at 5:00 pm. 

Why all this detail? Well, in this new online streaming Internet age of ours you can listen to MEC anywhere in the world at http://radiomec.com.br and I'm just whetting your appetites. In return, I get to return to the familiar, homey voice of Michael Bourne on WBGO. That's globalization for you!

A few of Brazil's composing greats:
Heitor VIlla-Lobos 1887-1959
Francisco Mignone 1897-1986
Ernesto Nazareth 1863-1934


  1. Hi there.

    As it often happens when I talk to an American friend of mine, here I am, learning about Brazil from an American. I didn't know about Radio MEC.

    Hey, about the evangelical station: do you use this word in the US for that? I mean: is "evangelical" the word most frequently used to refer to that religious segment?

    1. Hi Renan,

      Oh, yes indeed, there are evangelicals in the USA — just Google it, and you'll get all the numbers on how many evangelical "wings" exist in American Christianity. And if you Google "evangelical" with any of the Republican presidential candidates (Cruz, Rubio, Trump, Carson) you'll see how hard each candidate is going after those voters.

      Oh, and in case you've been looking for Radio MEC, it changed its call number to 99.3 FM, and we can't pick it up in Búzios anymore, hard as I've been trying!