Merkado Negro Radio’s Nico Avina records and broadcasts George Vallejo and Angel Chang, members of the band Buyepongo, on Radio Sombra at Espacio 1839.  The store (below right) at Espacio 1839. /Photos by Erik Luna

By Erik Luna

Radio Sombra is an Internet radio station with an eclectic  mix of programs devoted to culture, the arts and activism.   Earlier this year, a brick-and-mortar manifestation of Radio Sombra opened its doors inside a Boyle Heights storefront on First Street: Espacio 1839. The storefront, a short walk east of Mariachi Plaza,  serves as a store, radio studio and gathering place.  Marco Amador, Nico Avina, Elisa Garcia and David Gomez co-own Espacio 1839  as a collective and each contribute to Radio Sombra.

“We want to grow within Boyle Heights because the radio is here for the community,” Amador said.  “The more we professionalize, the more we should give back to our community.”

The name  of Espacio 1839, which means Space 1839, reflects the street address but also the notion that this storefront  is more than just a store. The owners all have a say in what they do within the space. “We have meetings to decide what’s good for the store, make proposals for what we should do and to make sure everything is running smoothly,” Amador said.

The store  is filled with a wide variety of books and vinyl thanks to Garcia, the owner of Imix books, and Gomez, a vinyl records collector.

Garcia buys the books they sell in the store and also broadcasts a show called Heartbreak Radio. “It all started on Facebook for me,” Garcia said. “I would post up sad songs on Mondays, calling it ‘Heartbreak Mondays,’ and then when Marco started up the station, he brought me on,” she continued.

Radio Sombra is a project of the Center for Community Communications, an independent media center in Boyle Heights, and is owned and operated by Amador. The station currently has nine shows up with plans to expand next year.

Avina broadcasts Merkado Negro Radio, which broadcasts every other week from Espacio 1839, and also makes the shirts for the store. He has also been an active member of the community for many years as a member of the spoken word group Los Poets del Norte. According to Avina, Merkado Negro Radio has artists from North California to Arizona, but most of its members are from Boyle Heights.

“The name ‘Merkado Negro’ [Black Market] insinuates that we like doing more underground stuff. Also, the collective of community members, like to do things on our own. Instead of waiting for grants and government OK’s, we just do it,” Avina said. “Especially around here, with many different talented people living in the community we’d like to give them a platform on which to display their stuff.”

According to Amador plans for a 24-hour broadcasting of Radio Sombra will be put to action starting early next year. “Every time someone visits the site, they will be hearing either a live broadcast or one of our shows from the archives,” Amador said.

“We want to make people see that it’s not about getting out of the barrio, but getting your barrio up,” Amador said. “We are just members of the community trying to bring as much positive vibes as we can.”

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