By Carlin Flora, published on May 1, 2006 - last reviewed on July 10, 2006
Note to Howard Stern: If you need some new tricks to top the parade of playmates, check out "Radio La Colifata," or Crazy Radio. Every Saturday, millions of Argentines tune into the six-hour-long program manned by patients from Buenos Aires' largest psychiatric institution.
Fifteen years ago, psychologist Alfredo Mariano Olivera invited inpatients at La Borda hospital to speak their minds. But if they wanted to talk, they had to have a Dictaphone in their hand, and when they were finished, they had to pass it on. "It's therapeutic because mental illness is in part a breakdown in communication, of finding the right words to say to oneself and to others," he says. When he edited the tapes and sent them out to radio stations, the response was huge. At least 20 other psychiatric institutions in Argentina have since started their own radio shows. The crazy radio wave has even spread across the Atlantic to Germany and France.
Olivera runs the program with two goals in mind: to destigmatize mental illness—often considered shameful in Argentina—and to help patients reintegrate into society. On-air, they sound off about politics, read poetry, conduct interviews and sing. Devoted fans remark that the patients' observations are often dead-on as well as entertaining.
And while it captivates Argentines, many patients credit Radio La Colifata with improving their mental health. One-third of those who participate eventually leave the hospital. "It's a great motivator," says Olivera. "It gives patients the possibility of relating to their community."
Download clips of Radio La Colifata (in Spanish only) at lacolifata.org