It is a missed opportunity to not look to community radio for new voices and viewpoints.
Working with an organization focused on diversity in the space, I get to see unique voices that represent America’s promise of opportunity. Across the United States, community media institutions bring together diverse neighborhoods around the idea that everyday Americans can speak to their cities and towns. There are a lot of lessons for podcasting and public media. Whether it’s the welcoming of English-as-a-second-language constituencies on community radio stations like KFAI and WOWD-LP, the work of groups like the Latino Public Radio Consortium and Native Public Media, or the efforts to have the potentially uncomfortable dialogues in small town America, community media is the fourth estate’s frontline. Podcasting and public media should turn to it more.
Community media is that diamond in the rough. Rough hewn at points, what’s meaningful is its enterprise. A few recent productions worthy of note include:
- High schools, diversity and race | KDNK: Carbondale, Colo.’s community radio station offers some of the better local news coverage. Here, the editor of Roaring Fork High School’s student newspaper reflects on a recent editorial on racial diversity and inclusion. The paper’s Tavia Teitler points out an age-old issue: students who understand the need to mix with others of backgrounds different than themselves, but not doing it more. Challenging our own habits and unconscious biases is a lifetime exercise.
- The “Jungle”: insights and stories from Calais refugee camp | KPFA: Legendary Berkeley, Calif. community radio station KPFA launched its Area 941 podcasts last year, from which this discussion arises. The many avenues refugees take upon their displacement is the subject, and the refugee experience of assimilation to disconnection are reflected in this dialogue about those seeking safety from areas of conflict. Not only will it get you thinking about the Syrian refugee headlines, but the experience of immigrants elswhere fleeing persecution.
- I’ll Make Me A World Iowa | KHOI: Ames, Iowa’s KHOI has hosted a range of unique programs over its lifespan. Some nice production flourishes underscore an interesting story of African-American life in the state. It’s undoubtedly a subject we rarely consider. Public radio on the coasts has a fixation with race, but where ethnicity is oftentimes played out in more real ways is in places like Iowa and the so-called flyover states. You get a new respect in trying to understand and hear the history and efforts of this community.
- Listener Town Hall on Immigration | WHAV-LP: Community radio call-in shows can sometimes be boring exercises in everyone agreeing with each other about the topic of the moment. Following President Trump’s contested executive order on immigration, the Haverhill, Mass. low-power community radio station hosted the opposite of that. Strong opinions in all directions on an issue many have viewpoints about, WHAV-LP streamed the video for this, which you can check out, along with audio.
- American Muslim Youth Identity | KBCS: Washington State’s KBCS has done award-winning journalism in its city of Bellingham. This segment reminds you why. In it, KBCS producer and Bellevue high school student, Reyan Haji interviewed several of his friends about their experiences growing up as American Muslim youth.Fearless and honest, the story gives the listener a glimpse at the hopes and fears of young people in a nation still contending with faith.
Community radio is, of course, not perfect. As I reflected in a white paperfor the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, this particular within non-commercial broadcasting came of age around the late 1960s. For those who grew up around or were acculturated in community media, its ethos was to be an alternative, even opposition, to other media. That approach is not focused on inclusivity as much as you might believe. As a result, there remain persistent challenges in diversity and leadership.
There are a number of priorities recommended for changing how non-commercial media represents diversity and is committed to a more inclusive environment. More coverage as we see in community radio is a start, but can only improve with fuller engagement. If community media does as many interesting productions as it can, we can together only see progress and growth.