At twelve he was member of a brigade, later an internationalist; gleefully he keeps a replica of the machete of Maximo Gomez; remains within the Felix Elmuza Order endorsement of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC); the Majadahonda Distinction by the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC); Seal Laureate of the Union of Culture, among many others. An imposing figure, quiet temprement, admired intelligence, and the voice … what can one say about the voice? Yes it’s Alarcón Luis Santana, the signature voice of the Cuban Radio and Television.
When did you start in this profession?
It was a happy accident. I was always interested in the correct use of language and could read and write well, I participated in the literacy campaign in the Sierra Maestra. By that time I enjoyed any kind of literature, speaking properly, knowing what was well said and what was not, with the meaning and correct usage, because the how to say I learned later. Then I studied at a technical school with aspirations to get to college and study mechanical engineering, it is important to note that at the time, the revolution had just triumphed what was needed was largely engineers, technicians, doctors, teachers. When I finished the technological studies I taught grammar and sometimes I was a professor of Physics for Workers and Farmers Education in evening courses. Although II had no training as a teacher, I was able to teach others what I knew.
One day I went to the Isle of Youth to meet my cousin who at that time was the audio operator of the provincial radio station. While in the studio, his colleagues who worked there started asking me all sorts of questions that at first did not understand why, and I think he reacted the best way because it seemed like a joke. They inquired about my age, level of educational, where I worked, and although it bothered me, they kept insisting, and I am infinitely grateful because it was through them that I met the media and the profession, they were the ones who got me started on this road and it was in those studies where I made my first voice recordings.
Then my interest in the profession grew thanks to the magic of the media. Although for a while I continued my work as a teacher, I learned that in my hometown Manzanillo, Granma, they needed an announcer at the station and someone recommended me. I was called in at five in the morning when they opened the station, the announcer on duty accidentally failed and they asked me to take responsibility. That began the first “nerves,” of so many others which followed them.
Since then, though I was empirically acquiring knowledge, I began to participate in courses and workshops. I was fortunate to have such exemplary language teachers as Victor Montejo, in Bayamo, who later became a National Radio Award winner. Then the Institute of Literature and Linguistics in coordination with the ICRT had a plenary of applied linguistics, there I met teachers like Viterio Ruiz and Eloína Villares, among many others at that level who were responsible for most of us falling in love with speech. And so I continued to study in a systematic way, which has now provided me the opportunity to impart the little knowledge I possess to whom it may be helpful.
During 43 years of experience you have had the opportunity to enter into different media, however you show great admiration for the radio. What is the reason?
The radio has a magic that enchants, it is a mystery that continues to be revealed but also has a special charm when you enter it is very difficult to avoid the possibility of radio. From that beginning I told you about, so far I’ve never tried to stray from the media.
On the radio all that you are able to transmit depends on the voice, so much so that TV programs are dramatized players that reach a particular level of professionalism, but the radio has a hard time because it depends only on the voice.
In the specific case of our narrators, the work becomes much more complicated, because it’s not like television, for example, where the filmmakers can claim the image carries the message. A storyteller must be able to express feelings, ways of thinking, taking ideas from the actors and characters in the play that works, and it’s great to feel that you can translate those impressions to the listener.
In the news programs there are many speakers who have the view that the information is flat and impersonal. In my case I think it always responds to a particular interest, even when the news carried interest, because one is a social being, a bearer of ideas, have a defined ideology we can not let go even though we’re doing an information space. That is why we recommend that all professionals who speak for the media are permeated with these ideas, I think there is nothing to do here when you think the work is easy, however, it is very difficult to be a professional in the media with some dignity.
Within the media you have worked in different programs, drama, cultural, informational, what do you prefer?
My job makes me happy, I prefer it ALL, in each of the places I have practiced the profession I have been entirely happy – without this meaning that at some point I have not disliked the way I have been given a program- because I feel it is very good to do the job that one likes and enjoy performing, I think the difference is marked mainly by the quality of what you are going to do. And that must be done with the utmost dedication and interest.
When performing live work, it is very easy to make mistakes, how does Luis Alarcón resolve the mistakes he can make on the air?
In any kind of programs we make mistakes, but we must be prepared to correct that mistake and admit it, never let it go in the hope that the public did not notice, because this is uncertain, the public is less aware when correcting an error than when it is left uncorrected, because when it is rectified it is not take into account when you don’t rectify it you look like an ignoramus. I have stories from when I worked in morning program of Radio Reloj, from people asking me how to avoid mistakes, and I wondered to myself, how could they not have heard that I was confused, and it’s best to apologize or rectify it at the time, than leave it to be forgotten.
All news programs, for example, made in the Cuban radio and television are live, and to do them you have to be very well prepared. You must be diligent, studious, have resources that deal with any problems that may arise, be they educational issues, knowing what we are talking about in depth, because we work as a team, and the scriptwriter or the writer, may err, and that’s when the presenter must have the wisdom to realize where the error is to help rectify it. Good presenters are aware of the mistake, because although he has not made it, to the public he is part of the error on the air.
From your experience. What are the main values that an announcer should have?
I think it is very important to maintain a high respect for the people targeted by the work you do, and that it is valid to worry because the final product has sufficient quality to be valued as well done. A good speaker must have a high level of openness required for expression, it is important that there be no doubt of the veracity of what you are saying and to convince, you need to be convinced that the public know who is speaking is a true scholar because they are able to detect any mood, insincerity, lack of knowledge.
There is a adage that says the paper takes everything it gets, but the microphone is not so, this does not hold all that is said. On the contrary the defect makes it public, notorious. When you talk you act a part to the listener, on his conscience, his perception. A speaker needs to know fundamentally about the proper use of language, the right expression, have the tools that allow you to solve the different situations that can be found on the air, and that is gained by studying, preparing. There is a value to any profession and you can never stop learning, because you never know enough, it is not culture because we know a lot about a subject: painting, cinema, dance, because I really think that the word culture encompasses much more. Moreover, it is very general, very comprehensive. You have to learn every day, because knowledge is infinite.
What is your opinion on the social recognition presenters receive in our country?
I do not think that from the official point of view we are always recognized. We are regarded as artists, because ultimately we are interpreters, but for some it is not and make the distinction between artists and broadcasters. But fortunately there is another social recognition itself that is important and that is the listener, the joy of arriving at a place and people recognize you because they admire your work, is unmatched by any recognition. I can tell you a story of one day walking down Tulipan Street, here in Havana, and talked near a blind man, immediately the guy said, Are you Alarcon Santana?, No words to express the satisfaction you feel then, it is a gift that makes life. This work gas the saying that there must be determination, dedication, the aspiration should always be the improvement, though there are comforting things like this when you feel that the messages you are trying to convey, reach the public.
What are the main professional dreams or goals you have left to fulfill?
I always want to keep working, I had several possibilities that have occupied my professional dreams, but I want to keep doing more and I still think I have many intentions, because I live dreaming about spectaculars and drama shows that I have not done. Whenever I do a job and feel that it reaches the public, it gives me strength to want to continue doing more, I will not lose contact with the public on any type of channel: radio, television, face to face. I never want to stop working, either teaching or doing voice-overs, and although one day, by the law of life, I have to shut up, that is the total silence, because in the meantime, I’ll never stop talking.
Translated by: Daysi Olano