‘Entrepreneur’ Links Immigrants to Radio Stations Back Home

Baruch Herzfeld, creator of Zeno Radio, which allows immigrants to connect to radio stations from their home countries. (Photo by Rachel Bryson-Brockmann/Voices of NY)

Baruch Herzfeld, founder of ZenoRadio, which connects 1.2 million listeners to almost 3,000 stations around the world. (Photo by Rachel Bryson-Brockmann/Voices of NY)

For immigrant taxi drivers feeling homesick while working long, lonely shifts, Baruch Herzfeld has created a solution.

Herzfeld figured taxi drivers – and other immigrants working in solitary jobs across the country – must be yearning for news and music from their hometowns, but didn’t always have an Internet connection on the job to access it. So he founded ZenoRadio, which allows users to call U.S. phone numbers that play radio stations from around the world for free.

“These immigrants really want to hear something in their own exact accent, not just something similar,” said Herzfeld.

ZenoRadio, which was established in January 2012 and has about 1.2 million users around the U.S., follows the premise that most cell phone users have unlimited minutes, but not all have smartphones or unlimited data. An immigrant longing for a taste of home can call a number with a cheap flip-phone and listen for as long as they want with no extra charge.

Herzfeld, 42, connects users to about 2,000 different stations from about 30 countries – mainly West African, Arabic, Caribbean, and Central American countries.

Before founding ZenoRadio, Herzfeld, an entrepreneur of sorts who prefers being called a “social and telecom tinkerer,” had a radio station and a phone card business. He realized he could combine the two to create something for people who really needed it.

“People don’t want to listen to me talk for an hour,” said Herzfeld. “But there are immigrants who actually really need radio.”

Herzfeld, 42, a modern Orthodox Jew, grew up on Staten Island and has two brothers who are now rabbis. He attended both high school and college at Yeshiva University in Washington Heights, and now lives on the Lower East Side with his wife and 15-month-old child.

But Herzfeld is more identified with Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn, where he has a foot in both the hipster and Hasidic world. He once ran a bike shop in Williamsburg called Traif Bike Gesheft (meaning “non-kosher bike shop”) that lent free bikes to Hasidic Jews to encourage them to explore other parts of the city. He was also behind Bushwick Trailer Park, which brought 30 trailers into a factory space and rented them to artists.

Herzfeld has liked exploring different cultures since he was a college student in the Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, where he would practice merengue dancing. He carried on his love for languages and cultures with ZenoRadio. He’s also excited about connecting people to home because he knows that these radio stations are often the only way to receive news about what’s really going on in people’s countries of origin.

“Radio still has the most power in many of these countries,” said Herzfeld. “It’s the most dominant form of media.”

ZenoRadio, which has 14 employees in its small office on the fifth floor of a building across from Penn Station, makes a profit because the calls are routed through rural carriers and the company receives a few cents for each call. It also gets revenue through advertisements and investors, said Herzfeld.

Herzfeld said ZenoRadio can be uplifting for immigrants working in isolated or mundane jobs.

“This is making daily life more interesting for them,” said Herzfeld. “I think we singlehandedly made cab drivers more pleasant.”

This story is part of a series of profiles on editors from the community and ethnic press. Read the rest of the profiles here.

One Comment

  1. What a boon to the immigrant community! Hats off to Mr. Herzfeld & co. for creating a way to take displaced people “back home.”

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