COVID-19 in Ecuador: Back to Where it All Began for HCJB - at Home

With the nation on lockdown as COVID-19 spreads throughout Ecuador, HCJB Radio’s programmes are taking place as they were done nearly nine decades ago when the station was founded—from the living room. Selfie on-air posts by homebound programme hosts show Marco and Marta Claudia Mosquera on a sofa. Edwin Chamorro sits at a desk by the window; Dairo Rubio peers into the camera, shelved books behind him.

“Most are working from home,” said Anabella Cabezas, who has directed HCJB Radio for more than a decade. “There is always one person in the studios to make the [online conferencing] connections.” The station’s community role qualifies its entire staff as essential workers, but on Cabezas’ advice, just a few show up and keep to their respective offices. She leads her international team (mostly Ecuadorians, two Mexicans, a Colombian and some Reach Beyond missionaries via virtual conferencing.

“Live with Hope” is the station’s newest campaign. “We want this crisis to translate into opportunities and these opportunities into hope,” Cabezas said, “hope to face change, adapt and take the next step with God's help and reaching out to the needy.”

Al Oido (A Listening Ear), an afternoon on-air counselling programme by the Mosqueras, is receiving more calls, according to Cabezas. “People are seeking guidance and words of encouragement,” she said. “Many fear losing their jobs. Others do not have the resources to meet the needs of their families.”

Announcements by President Lenín Moreno or Ecuador’s Ministry of Health interrupt regular programming sometimes as often as several times a day. “Interviewees are contacted via phone or Skype or Zoom,” Cabezas explained. Producers share God’s Word to encourage faith, wisdom and obedience to the government’s instructions on confronting the pandemic.

Some station personnel—including the engineering manager, Geoff Kooistra—live across the street and go to work as they did before. “All producers must disinfect their shoes before entering the building,” Cabezas said. “Upon entering and leaving the studio each person disinfects keyboards, microphones and surfaces.”

Based in the capital city of Quito, the outlet broadcasts on FM and on its website with livestreaming, cached programmes and a youth-oriented programme flow Cabezas said with people at home, they’re listening to radio and accessing the station’s content on such digital platforms as the homepage, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Commuter listening in vehicles is down however, with nationwide restrictions of one day a week vehicle use. Total reach was estimated to be more than one million during March, according to Cabezas.

When HCJB’s first programmes (English and Spanish) aired on Christmas Day 1931, radio was in its infancy and there were only 5 or 6 known radios in the entire country.  But they were listening.  Telephone calls and verbal communications confirmed that the simple music and gospel message programmes done from the living room studio of Clarence and Kathrine Jones were being heard.  

Unmistakably faith-based and evangelical in doctrine, the entity’s call letters stand for Hoy Cristo Jesus Bendice (Today Christ Jesus Blesses; its English version being Heralding Christ Jesus’ Blessings). Many interviews, music and short devotionals centre on personal faith in Jesus Christ. Its broadcast permit decades ago established it as a cultural station. Across the decades, HCJB has advised listeners of potential threats from events ranging from volcanic eruptions to political coups. Cultural affairs and news have also been a staple of the broadcasting schedule.

As on-air programming continues amid reports of COVID-19 fatalities, the station’s marketing department is calling its donors to offer encouragement and inquire about prayer needs. The leading concerns are health, provisions during the enforced quarantine and fears of job loss. Some expressed concern over the health of relatives living outside of Ecuador.

Cabezas and Kooistra say the station needs prayer.  “Pray that during the crisis, as always, we can demonstrate Christ and motivate others to do the same,” said Kooistra. Cabezas said 90 percent of the budget comes from people’s donations and business underwriting of programmes. She asks that people pray that God provides enough to continue.

On the South American continent, Ecuador is hard hit by COVID-19, second only to a much larger and more populated Brazil. Within Ecuador, Quito has about a tenth the number of COVID-19 positive tests as those of the besieged coastal city, Guayaquil, where military troops enforce the lockdown. Of 2,300 confirmed cases in Ecuador, Guayaquil and its surroundings account for more than 70 percent. With more than 30 deaths, the municipality of Guayaquil declared a day of prayer. The station will broadcast prayer throughout the day. Many friends of staff members are sick or already dead.

HCJB-2 broadcasts in Guayaquil. “An environment of insecurity has been generated and there are many questions,” posted station manager Mayra Plaza on the station’s webpage. “Today, more than ever, we must fulfil our responsibility; be agents of order, peace, and share the message of hope that only exists in Jesus.”

by Ralph Kurtenbach

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