Radio Colifata: The Argentine Radio Program Run by Psychiatric Patients

In America it would be a highly contested to create a radio show where psychiatric patients share their stories but El Borda National Psychiatric Hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina has a very different take on things. In the early 1990s El Borda already offered “tango workshops, circus workshops, a patient-run bakery,” and a community artists cultural center so it wasn’t too much of a stretch when Dr. Alfredo Olivera, a psychology student then interning at El Borda, proposed a patient run radio show. Olivera’s friends and relatives would regularly ask him what it was like to work at El Borda, and he decided it would be best if he let the patients tell them. Radio Colifata was born.

In the main courtyard of El Borda, patients and staff set up chairs underneath the the trees and broadcast live. Radio Colifata, which means “crazy lady,” intends “To create bridges where there are walls,” according to Olivera. And in the courtyard in Buenos Aires, nothing separates the stories of those inside and outside the walls. The broadcasters welcome los internos (the interned) and los externos (the externed) alike in a further effort to prove the similarities between those who are being treated at El Borda and those who are just there to listen.

The live show broadcasts on Saturdays and runs for nearly six hours. Olivera puts a schedule of the programs and los Colifatos take it over from there.

Los Colifatos contribute programs like “thoughts from Maria,” where a former patient Maria reads her thoughts and poetry out loud from the notes she’s scribbled in her notebook. Others sing tango music on air, others just talk about the news of the day. Sometimes Los Colifatos interview one another in the courtyard or even ask questions of los externos who have come to visit them.

The broadcast is then edited by Olivera and sent to different national broadcasts throughout the week. The stories and thoughts of los Califatos reach all parts of Argentina.

Around the world, dozens of radio programs from within psychiatric units have appeared based on the Radio Colifata model. Prominent programs include Nikosia in Spain, Les Z’entonnoirs in France, and Radio Rete in Italy. Nothing of this sort could occur in the United States the reasons being mostly legal: confidentiality. A little institutionalized pirate radio could do is good.


“Live From the Inside,” The Atlantic

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