Caracas - One of Venezuela's oldest radio stations has fallen silent for the first time in its 93-year history.
Radio Caracas Radio or RCR, broadcast its last show on June 30 with staff saying they could no longer keep the station operating under increasingly difficult circumstances.
The station since April 2019 had been broadcasting via YouTube after the telecommunications regulatory agency closed down its signal, without providing a reason.
And earlier this year, the state-owned phone company CANTV cut service to all its telephone lines.
The power company said the issue was due to a damaged transformer that supplied electricity to the building. But with no power for three months, RCR was unable to keep going.
'The telephone line service that allowed us to communicate with the people, to receive complaints, was cut even though we were up to date with our payments. How do you explain that? This is a radio station that was without electricity for 92 days, and dependent on a power generator,' said Jaime Nestares, RCR's owner and director.
Nestares and one of his show hosts Jose Domingo Blanco told VOA that the station's board of directors was alerted to possible actions against RCR members. Because of that, they decided to close temporarily to protect the team.
'Is it worth the risk? Losing assets, having our assets seized, having people jailed? Is it worth it? I think the time has come to step back, restructure and launch a new alternative that will protect us from all these difficulties,' Nestares said.
The radio owner said he hopes the closure will be temporary. But added that since CONATEL cut the station's signal in 2019, RCR has struggled to keep working.
'Over the last four years, there has been a huge drop in the advertising market and the value of YouTube commerce. We've had difficulties with electricity and the internet. More and more, we're seeing that Venezuelans have fewer and fewer resources to access social networks and audiences have plummeted,' he said.
VOA's request for comment from Venezuela's Ministry of Communications went unanswered.
Founded in 1930, RCR was known for being critical of the government. It was also one of the few remaining outlets from the Grupo 1BC operation that was still able to work.
For more than a decade, the conglomerate has faced pressure from the government which declined to renew the license of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), and also closed Radio Caracas Internacional.
The country's economic crisis started taking its toll on RCR about 10 years ago, requiring the station to downsize from 100 employees to about 15 staff, including cleaning and security personnel, and eight program hosts, some of whom work from other countries.
Nestares says his small team is looking for a different way to reach audiences to get RCR back up and running.
'We have done the best we could to continue. I believe that the difficulties we have force us to reinvent and rebuild ourselves and return with a new alternative.'
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says that under President Nicolas Maduro "Venezuela is experiencing a prolonged restrictive environment in terms of information, with policies that threaten the full exercise of independent journalism."
It ranks the country 159 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, where 1 shows the best media environment.
For veteran journalist and RCR host Blanco, this is the second time he has had to deal with a media closure.
He was working at radio station Magica 99.1FM when CONATEL denied the renewal of the broadcast license in 2017, forcing it off the air.
Blanco said he wonders if people inside Venezuela are aware of the significance of another media outlet closure.
'We are talking about democracy, freedom of the people. We are talking about key words that must be part of a collective, by a society,' he said.
Diosdado Cabello, a ruling party deputy and member of Venezuela's National Assembly, stated in November that many of the radio stations were closed by their owners and he insisted that freedom of expression is guaranteed in Venezuela.
'It's a mistake to think that freedom of expression belongs to the owners of radio, television, and newspapers," Cabello said at a press conference. "Freedom of expression belongs to the citizens."
'A great loss'
For Teresita Fernandez, a 64-year-old longtime listener of RCR, the radio station shutdown saddens her because she has no alternative source of information.
She also said she felt concern for the station's owner and team, adding that she knows firsthand the consequences of a company closure.
'It's a great loss for freedom of expression and for the daily contact it brought about the country's reality, in a clear way and without censorship," said Fernandez.
One of the programs she listened to daily was Blanco's.
'I think he's a clear, honest, old guard journalist. It's a sad day. I see how little by little, everything is ending. It's very difficult to work in these conditions, without advertisers and financial pressures. I'm distressed, because I feel that change will be very difficult in this country,' said Fernandez.
At least 285 radio stations were shut down throughout the country between 2003 and 2022, according to Espacio Público.
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The Venezuelan free expression nonprofit reported that at least 81 radio stations were closed last year, making 2022 'the year with the most radio stations closed in the past two decades.'
In a March address to the UN Human Rights Council, Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern about restrictions on the media in Venezuela, including the blocking of websites and closure of radio stations and programs.
This story originated in VOA's Spanish-language service.