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Peru radio host still broadcasting for kids at 97

LIMA, Peru (AP) — It was the golden age of radio and World War II still raged when Maruja Venegas began broadcasting a show for Peru's children.

Sixty-eight years later, her "Radio Club Infantil" is still on the air, making the 97-year-old Venegas the globe's longest-running radio personality, according to Guinness World Records.

"The children of yesterday are all grown now. They've married. They are grandparents today. So it's them, the grandparents, who support me most," she told The Associated Press in an interview in her home in a middle-class district of the capital.

"A lot of grandparents sit their grandchildren down to listen to the program," she said, stooped by age but still elegant with earrings and a camel-colored coat.

Venegas was a popular announcer on music programs when she launched the show on Dec. 18, 1944, at the request of government officials to entertain ailing children at a public hospital. The first commercial black and white television broadcasts were still more than a decade in the future for Peru. In the United States, "Fibber McGee and Molly" and "The Al Jolson Show" were going strong.

Venegas' show became so popular in the 1950s that it drew Peru's top singers and performers. It had contests, helped make careers. Listeners persuaded her to open a school in 1956. But when the country fell on hard times in the late 1980s, Venegas was forced to close it.

The show went on, however, even if Venegas began doing it by telephone from home when she reached age 90, and the program that once aired twice a week is now down to a single half-hour slot at 6 p.m. on Sundays, carried by Santa Rosa, a religion-oriented station. She still prepares her own programs, which always include a story, music, advice and commentary.

And she does it without pay, as she always has through the decades, making her living from other programs and jobs.

"My mother told me that I should never charge for Radio Club Infantil because it was for children and for the ill," Venegas recalled.

She could have used the money.

Venegas, who never married, has limited funds and like most people her age, physical limitations to address. She says she suffers from diabetes.

"I've lost eyesight. I can only see through one eye," she said. "But I remain optimistic"

She lives alone on an $870 a month pension that is not sufficient to support her and the 89-year-old sister with whom she lives. In order to pay the two people who care for them, she had to sell the second floor of her house.

Now, she's thinking of selling part of the first floor.

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