The Grassroots Radio Virtual Summit is for anyone looking for ways to resist heightening repression and anyone who feels that grassroots radio is vital to their community, writes Ann Garrison.
“I think about us as something like the soundtrack of The Warriors movie
This year’s Grassroots Radio Conference will be a virtual summit, Friday to Sunday, October 9 to 11. The annual event is typically hosted by a Pacifica Radio affiliate station, most recently by K UHS H ot Springs-Arkansas in 2016, WCAA-Alban y in 2017, KB O O-Portland in 2018, and three low-power FM stations, WXIR , WAYO , and WEPL in Rochester, New York, in 2019. The coronavirus lockdown forced this year’s conference to go virtual, but it will still be hosted as planned by WX OX -Louisville. WXOX broadcasts to the community still rising up in response to Louisville police killing emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor and Kentucky National Guard killing barbecue chef David McAtee, both of whom were Black. I spoke to WXOX General Manager Sharon Scott about the conference.
Ann Garrison: Sharon, I want to talk about the conference and how Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the uprising around Breonna Taylor and David McAtee’s killing has affected WXOX, but first tell us why WXOX identifies as an art station rather than a typical music or public affairs station.
Sharon Scott: So the name of our radio station is ART-FM and we’re broadcasting on WXOX 97.1 FM in Louisville. And the concept behind our station is approaching radio as its own art form, not just a form that carries other art forms. We’re thinking about what it means to communicate with so many people at once, and asking what we can do differently with this medium. How can we approach things a little more creatively than they have been before in radio? We don’t do rigidly formatted public affairs, news, or music programming.
AG: Yes, I’ve noticed. When I listen, I can tell it’s an experimental medium. Very interesting.
SS: It’s different every time you turn it on, and that’s, what’s exciting and fun about it.
AG: So how, since you don’t air typical public affairs shows or newscasts, except for Democracy Now!, how has the uprising for Breonna Taylor and David McAtee and Black Lives Matter made its way into the station?
SS: It’s very different from typical newscasting. On ART-FM you hear people responding to what’s going on with their hearts and their music and their poetry. And the radio programs have been extremely moving, but they’ve also been very informative. We’ve been letting people know what’s going on with arts, culture, and history, and taking a more expressive, maybe a bit more emotional, approach to the situation.
“You hear people responding to what’s going on with their hearts and their music and their poetry.”
AG: What do you mean when you say “history,” given that you’ve said WXOX is always live?
SS: DJs have been delving into the Pacifica Radio Archives and airing recordings from the Civil Rights Movement, particularly those that emphasize nonviolent protest because we’re trying to keep it nonviolent here and keep anyone else from getting killed. We’ve already had another fatality during a protest.
AG: I read about that shooting fatality and it seems like it still hasn’t been adequately explained.
SS: No, it hasn’t. Not to my mind at least.
SS: Yes, very tense.
AG: I saw one protestor with a sign reading, ”We don’t need your guns,” which seemed directed at both militias and everyone else exercising their State of Kentucky-guaranteed right to “open carry.”
SS: Yes, everyone has different ideas about how to protest and defend our community, but I’d say most of us, including myself, favor nonviolent protest.
AG: I believe someone’s been indicted there for shooting and wounding several Louisville cops at a protest on the night Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron announced that there’d be no criminal indictments for killing Breonna.
SS: Yes, that’s another reason many of us are trying to encourage nonviolence. Not everyone, obviously, or it wouldn’t be an issue.
AG: So, getting back to WXOX, when you say it’s always live and free form, that doesn’t mean DJs won’t grab and air prerecorded material, like the historic Civil Rights Movement audio you mentioned, if it seems right to them at the time. It’s just not rigidly formatted. Correct?
SS: Yes, that’s correct.
AG: That explains something I heard since I became interested in WXOX and started logging onto your stream from time to time. One afternoon I logged on and heard the unmistakable voice of John Trudell broadcasting on Radio Free Alcatraz during the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island, which was broadcast here on KPFA from December 22, 1969 to September 1970.
SS: Yes, that’s another great example. Again in the interest of encouraging nonviolence, some DJs have broadcast speeches by Gandhi.
AG: Have you had reports coming in from the street protests there in Louisville?
SS: Yeah, we have, we have a number of DJs that have been going out into the field, though again without broadcasting in newscast format. They’ve really been getting out there to get the sounds of this community right now. One of them ended up in the hospital last week but is thankfully okay.
AG: Has the station been a locus for BLM organizers and the rest of the community protesting for Breonna and David McAtee?
SS: I think so, and I think about us as something like the soundtrack of T he W arriors movie, broadcasting live voices of the community engaged in this movement. That’s what we consider our role, just keeping it live, keeping it happening, keeping people ready to fight for what they believe in.
AG: Tell us about the workshop that you will be giving on Saturday afternoon.
SS: Our workshop will be called “Live and Loud.” It’s a session on taking community radio stations remote but keeping them live.
As the coronavirus spreads around the world, we realized we’d have to take our station remote, so we arranged to have DJs broadcast from home, but made sure they stayed live instead of sending prerecorded shows to the station. It’s very important for us to be live on the air and happening right now in the moment. We figured out a great system that’s very inexpensive and fairly simple, and we can teach people how to do it in about an hour’s time.
One of the reasons we really wanted to host this conference is so we could share this technique that we’ve used to get all of our 120 DJs broadcasting from home to help other stations get back on the air live during this pandemic.
“It’s very important for us to be live on the air and happening right now in the moment.”
AG: Tell us about the other workshop WXOX organized.
SS: That would be our “Radio as Resistance: Broadcasting Anti-Authoritarianism in Germany, South America, and the US” with Dr. Christine Ehrick, University of Louisville; James Rooney of WXOX, and Dr. Katherine Rye Jewell, Fitchburg State University. They’ll talk about resistance radio including anti-fascist radio in Europe in WWII, Black Power radio in the 60s and 70s, and community radio standing up against fascists in Latin America from the early to mid-19th century.
Dr. Ehrick teaches the history of radio at the University of Louisville, and at the end of each term her students produce a radio piece instead of a term paper, and we then air them on WXOX.
AG: Sounds great. Anything else you’d like to say?
SS: I’d just like to encourage anyone, even if they’re not directly involved in producing radio, to join us. This conference is for anyone looking for ways to resist heightening repression and anyone who feels like grassroots radio is vital to their community.
Chuck D is leaving the promotional tour for his latest album to give the opening keynote address, “Radio and the Justice Movement,” on Friday evening, and we’ll have some great musical acts and brilliant radio minds coming together all weekend.
AG: OK, see you then. I already registered and anyone else who wants to can do so at virtualgrc.org .
Be there or be square. Power to the people.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com.