UPDATE: The Master of Ceremonies is now Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, also known as America’s Psychologist.
BROOKLYN, NY — This Saturday, August 18, Radio Soleil will celebrate its 20th anniversary at Brooklyn’s historic Grand Prospect Hall. Errol Louis, host of Inside City Hall on NY1, will host the festivities, which are scheduled to feature a performance by Haitian music great Cubano of Skah Shah. The accomplished group of professionals to be honored that evening include: Judge Raymond J. Lohier Jr. (the first Haitian-American to serve on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals); Association des Ingénieurs Haïtiens et Américains (The Association of Haitian and American Engineers); The Haitian Roundtable; and Association des Médecins Haïtiens à l’Étranger (The Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad).
The posthumous tribute to Haiti’s legendary broadcaster, Jean Dominique, is a nod that doesn’t come as a surprise — Radio Soleil was the first radio station to broadcast Dominique in the U.S. Ricot Dupuy, the station’s charismatic director, came of age at a time when Dominique’s Radio Haiti Inter, along with other independent outlets, were at the forefront of a fervent resistance against the Duvalier dictatorship. Dupuy’s view that news as a vehicle for education, was cemented as a result of that movement.
“What we do here is not just news – it’s news and education. Education is the basis for understanding the news,” Dupuy said.
Dupuy’s start in radio began at a small station in Haiti. In 1971, Dupuy left Haiti at 19 with his mother. When he migrated to New York, he continued to hone his skills at various community radio and television stations, including the Medgar Evers College college station and the now defunct WEBN (Ethnic Broadcast Network). As he earned his master’s degree in economics and finance at Pace University, he consistently found his way to a mic.
“I was always looking for ways to reach my community,” Dupuy said. “Then my chance came to have a Haitian radio station — the first of its kind. And from the very beginning, we had a special, deep connection to [the public].”
As the first station in New York City’s Haitian community, Radio Soleil enjoyed widespread support in its early years. It soon gained a broad audience among newcomers, who migrated during the last major wave in the 1990’s. The first hit show, co-hosted by Dupuy, was a call-in program called Jwèt Pou Ou (Your Turn).
“It was the first of its kind,” Dupuy said. “Listeners started to opine about various issues. Adjusting to life in the states was a very difficult experience for many Haitians. The language barrier and stigma associated with being Haitian, could be a source of loneliness. So [the radio] gave them a means to get involved.”
Early supporters also donated old equipment and helped renovate the Nostrand Avenue storefront. There was even a fan club with card-holding members who would offer themselves for errands, outreach and general operation needs. It lasted for about five years, then disintegrated due to internal conflicts. Soon, Dupuy and his supporters developed other ways to raise funds.
“We used to do a Radio-Thon once a year to raise funds for the station. The largest amount raised in a year was $20,000. It was such a draw in the community that many people have asked us to consider doing it again — and to do it at least two or three times a year.”
Given the station’s location at the heart of the community, and Dupuy’s dedication to service beyond broadcasting, it’s also a place where people flock to for access to resources. During his interview with The Haitian Times, he excused himself several times to field calls or greet visitors. Though these days, one of his main constituents is his mother, who turned 100 years old this month.
“My mom is such an important part of my life,” Dupuy said, as his mom leans on the padded wall of the radio booth, humming a solemn hymn. “If she calls, I have to make sure I answer her. And with preparations for the gala keeping me so busy, many times I have to bring her to the station. But I’m so happy she’s here to celebrate this milestone with me.”
Radio Soleil has received many distinguished accolades over the years. The main hallway of the station is adorned with numerous awards and photos of Dupuy with dignitaries. He is particularly proud of his 2010 NAACP Valiance Award presented by the Brooklyn chapter, and the time he met Muhammad Ali at 100 Black Men’s annual event.
“It was such an honor to meet him, this guy is something else,” he said beaming with pride. After an initial handshake and courteous exchange, someone pointed out that Dupuy was a Haitian broadcaster.
“He came back and said ‘Your people are great, keep up the fight.’ That was one of the best moments of my life.”
Coming Up Next
When asked what his biggest contribution to the community has been, Dupuy answers that he helped broaden the scope of issues Haitians wanted listened to and engaged with.
“I changed the expectation for radio,” Dupuy said. “I progressively adapted [my listeners] views of what news is to them. Now, the focus is on improving what we do.We hope to improve the technical aspect of the radio — the audio — and work to make the listening experience more enjoyable.”
Much has changed since the 90’s, especially with the advent of the internet.
“There’s strong competition online, especially from Haiti,” Dupuy said. “We need to fully harness the possibilities offered by social media. We are very cognizant of how technology is transforming radio.”
Radio Soleil is also expanding its audience. It has added a few programs hosted by younger Haitian broadcasters.
“A significant goal of mine is to engage the younger generation,” Dupuy said. “I’ve made some serious inroads with that. We have a program hosted by BelTifi, some remarkable young women… We [also] support Sak Pase Radio, a show by a group of young Haitians who used to do their program at Brooklyn College. They weren’t able to continue there, so I helped them continue here, at Radio Soleil.”
But involvement of the younger generation isn’t limited to broadcasting, says Dupuy.
“Their input in planning this gala has been invaluable. We’re integrating a youthful voice in all aspects of operations. We hope the community comes out to support us, as we look forward to our next twenty years.”
To purchase tickets, call 718-693-5100, email email@example.com or visit Radio Soleil at 1622 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11226.
Manolia Charlotin is the executive editor of The Haitian Times. She is the former editor and business manager of the Boston Haitian Reporter, and a news commentator on the African diaspora, women’s affairs, media diversity and politics.