March 22, 2012

Community Radio in the Age of Mass Media.


Cayte Bosler

I sit with a friend listening to a radio show interview a man whose life survived World War Two and led him to eventually settle in the Southern United Kingdom.

He risked death by carrying a photograph of his sweetheart tucked under his belt in the internment camps. The promise of the picture kept him willing to go on.

We learn and grow with the craft of story. Technology now brings pockets of the world to hand devices and computers, and like never before, we are able to gain insight into lives far from our own.

Everyday moments – breaking eggs for breakfast, the sun changing color – made anew the change of a lens.

The craft of storytelling is changing. Ideas, faces, and once privy human experiences can be shared at instant speed.

This has dramatic effects: individual video logs inspire protests that become social movements, demands of justice are becoming universally heard, and silly nonsensical memes are shared commonplace humor. Inextricably links are forming. It insists that hearing a powerful story influences the tide of human drama – playing out on a global scale.


Undoubtedly amazing, but it’s still the small, tangible moments that I am most stuck by. The chatter with a local bookshop keeper, learning a stranger’s tea preference while sorting through bins at a shop – moments that so easily could not have happened. It brings me back to the fleetingness of once a time encounters and leaves me with a sense of wonder. I often crave this kind of sharing and revel when I find a well-executed platform for collective musings.

This is why I was excited to hear that my INVST community studies class at the University of Colorado was getting to tour KGNU, a local community radio show.

We met with Sam Fuqua at the studio near Walnut and 30th for a tour and a briefing on community radio. My eyes wandered to shelves of records, and into the rooms of broadcasting equipment; everything was something to be pulled out and examined. The place felt calm, collected and poised to bring life from area to the airways.

“The invention of FM and the idea of community radio came after World War Two with the first broadcasts in Berkeley. The idea of listener-supported radio was new. This model made alternative viewpoints heard. The programming is based on what a station thinks the community wants to and should hear.”

“Colorado is rich in community stations. It’s hard to get a signal across the mountains because FM radio is terrain sensitive.” Neighboring towns to Boulder also feature a listener supported business model that allows for hyper community based news.

One of the challenges of running is a community radio station is that the Internet has challenged “old media.”

“The key to survival is talking about neighborhood events relevant to the media landscape.”

It’s true that most of the students on my campus opt for personalized devices like iphones and ipods. Pandora provides continuously streaming music and twitter brings news feeds from whatever source you want.

Both are great — when I know exactly what I want. But I’m often left unsatisfied — music risks becoming monotonous background noise or worse, just distraction. News becomes single minded, reinforcing what I already think. I’m left hungry for quality music and something outside my immediate social circle.

Hocking a record at one of my friends today would be romantic, inconvenient or just plain confusing. I’m not advocating for dinner parties with eight tracks. I just like having somewhere to turn when my ipod gets boring. The benefit of a well informed local music program is getting exposure to off track, on beat diverse formats put on by passionate enthusiasts.

KGNU employs local music connoisseurs, provides training to host a radio show and starts a DJ out on a late night show. The result is locally represented artists, a spectrum of genres and a creative stream of free form, seamless, exciting music.

“The risk you run in not appealing with a massively recognized music feature is that a listener could turn on the station hear a certain style and decide to flip the channel. That same person could turn the station on an hour later and love the style.”

Besides playing an electric mix of music, the station feature news stories told from the perspective of neighbors, school aged children and businesses. The
“Democracy Now” morning program offers politics from a progressive source committed to investigative journalism.

The longevity and support of KGNU comes from the recognition of the need for having our minds influenced. To be jarred out of our everyday thought patterns and play lists to hear something else.

“My work is sustained through people being transformed. I’ve met people that have shared that their worldview, music preference or even career path has changed as a result of programming. Understanding what is happening locally can inspire engaged citizenship. That’s the best thing we can do.”


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