MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish journalist Nieves Concostrina has brought her career back from the dead zone of unemployment with a hit radio program based on an innovative niche: dead people.
Concostrina was laid off after working on a national newspaper for years, and struggled for months before she first went on the air in 2003 with “Polvo eres” (Dust thou art), which is named after a line from the Bible.
Her morning program on public radio has since garnered a cult following with its tales of the unusual ways in which people find death, or what happens to their remains afterward.
Listeners have learned, for example, that British people in early 19th century Spain were denied burial in local churchyards for being non-Catholics, and were interred instead by night on beaches in southern coastal towns like Malaga.
The sight of exposed heads swaying with the waves the morning after was so grim it prompted Spanish King Fernando VII to agree to build a Protestant cemetery in Malaga in 1830, after hard bargaining with the local British consul.
“‘Polvo eres’ just seeks to show that death can turn out to be as interesting, extravagant or funny as life itself,” Concostrina told Reuters in an interview.
Previously, death had been treated with mystery, horror or mourning on Spanish radio, but Concostrina has developed an ironic tone that is just short of being light-hearted.
The inspiration for the show came from her work at “Adios” (Farewell), a magazine for Spain’s funeral industry, and has covered people whose bodies made news after death, such as Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell or Adolf Hitler.
The three-minute radio slot also discusses new funerary developments or news, such as body-snatching, mistaken burials, unknown tombs or mortuary legends.
“What I think I have managed is to find details which may be interesting and, above all, lower the tone a little to street level,” the prize-winning journalist said.
Judging by the number of page hits her Web site (www.nievesconcostrina.es) receives, she has succeeded in creating interest, and she recently won the King of Spain International Prize for a program about literary figure Don Quixote.
Thousands of listeners now take part in an annual competition to find the most striking epitaph in a Spanish graveyard.
A recent winner was: “He left power for not signing a death sentence,” which is engraved on the tombstone of Nicolas Salmeron, who was president of the first Spanish republic for just two months in 1873.
Reporting by Itziar Reinlein; reporting by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato