Dozens of radio and television broadcasters serve New York City's many ethnic communities.
If you are among the 500,000 listeners who tune in regularly to Cosmos FM Greek Radio, Kristi Stassinopoulo is a household name. The singer is a rising star on the World Music charts. But it is only on local ethnic programs that indigenous musicians like Kristi enjoy rock-star celebrity. Yannis Simonides, who has run Cosmos FM for the past 16 years, said the magic of ethnic radio is its ability to showcase ethnic talent and connect people to their homelands.
"We are the last home in New York City of foreign-language programming," explained Mr. Simonides. "We try to challenge people, to elevate their spirits. If you are a recent immigrant, it's important to hear the voice, the sound, the music, and the culture. For older people, ethnic radio gives them a connection again with their homeland."
Ethnic broadcasters believe they are more than just pipelines of news, information, and music. They see themselves as cultural and political lifelines to people from far-flung places.
Elena Maroulleti, a former U.S. network television anchor and producer, who now produces and hosts her own Cypriot radio program on Aktina FM.
"Ethnic radio is a medium that gives the opportunity to local communities from all ethnic backgrounds to talk about their unique culture and heritage," she said.
Ms. Maroulleti added that ethnic radio and television listeners are people who have made their way to New York City and are searching for that little slice of home.
"We have all sorts of voices on WNYE 91.5FM, which is a public-service radio station that addresses the needs of Cypriots, Greeks, Japanese, Asian-Americans, all sorts of ethnic groups, and as you know, New York thrives on its diversity," said Ms. Maroulleti. "Through these programs we bring the homeland culture and stories that commercial radio in New York does not bother addressing."
Non-profit ethnic broadcasters, such as Aktina FM, operate on tiny budgets, often relying on the use of New York City's financially-strapped public radio station, WNYE 91.5 FM, to air their programs. The independent research firm Arbitron estimates that WNYE reaches 14 million radio listeners. But there is also plenty of opportunity for New Yorkers who prefer television.
For example, Asian-America Television produces a nationally syndicated program dedicated to airing Asian voices from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and as far east as Pakistan. Director Jung Suh Koh said the half-hour magazine-style show is the only one of its kind.
"The mainstream broadcasting houses don't really put much time into Asian issues, especially Asian-American issues," he said. "So that's where our niche is and that's where we want to tell the American mainstream that Asian-Americans are very successfully living and contributing a lot to the society."
Ms. Koh admits that finding finacial support for a program that features such eclectic topics as the Chinese zodiac is always a challenge. But she says the program is a source of pride and identity for many Asian-Americans.
Trinidad-born Trevor Wilkins shares a similar sense of pride in his Caribbean roots. He has been imparting his passion for authentic Calypso music over the airwaves for the past six years
"We try to teach the culture, the music and the history of Trinidad and Tobago and use that to make our case for the greatest music in the world," said Mr. Wilkins. "You can get political satires from the music, you can get licentious dancing from the music, you can get social, cultural, and local color. The music is quite engulfing."
Like his colleagues in the ethnic media, Mr. Wilkins views his music as a window into his own Caribbean culture. With a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck and money, he and others are trying their hardest to keep their ethnic gospel alive.