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Photo: Michael Pierce
Nahko & Medicine for the People performs at the Four Corners Folk Festival in 2018. Recently, a local radio station agreed to take ownership of the festival.

There’s an Allen Ginsberg poem I love to the effect that sometimes things mysteriously appear just when they are needed. I thought of that poem when I read about a small radio station in Colorado’s Four Corners area taking on live shows it never imagined it could afford.

Braeden Waddell wrote about this at Current last summer.

“Public radio station KSUT in Ignacio, Colo., will assume ownership of two annual music festivals Sept. 30 as part of an agreement with local nonprofit organization FolkWest.

“No money will change hands as part of the arrangement. KSUT Executive Director Tami Graham said that the transfer of the Four Corners Folk Festival and the Pagosa Folk N’ Bluegrass Festival, both three-day events held in Pagosa Springs, Colo., was ‘an incredible donation’ to the station.

“The organizations had developed a relationship through a partnership of more than two decades, with KSUT sponsoring FolkWest in exchange for live studio sessions featuring artists playing for the festivals.

“ ‘My biggest goal with the acquisition of the festivals is just to maintain a really high level of production quality and a great experience for the musicians as well as the attendees,’ Graham said. …

“The decision was made after FolkWest Executive Director Crista Munro took on a new position heading the Sisters Folk Festival in Sisters, Ore. …

“ ‘It was a bittersweet moment for me, knowing that my chapter at the helm of FolkWest would be ending,’ Munro said in a post on KSUT’s website. ‘KSUT always seemed like a natural choice to take over our events. They do an amazing job with everything they produce, and Tami Graham brings a ton of live music production experience to the table.’ …

“Munro told Current that KSUT ‘believed in the vision’ she and her husband had for the festivals. ‘If it were anyone else taking this on, I would be a lot more nervous,’ she said. …

“In an interview with the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society, Munro said that the Folk N’ Bluegrass festival brings in about 2,000 attendees per day and the Four Corners Folk Festival draws nearly double that. …

“KSUT does not plan to make any ‘significant changes’ to the festivals but does aim to expand FolkWest’s Pagosa Folk N’ Bluegrass Jam Camps, which provide three days of music classes for adults and children.

“ ‘There’s a lot of grant funding available for music education … to support bringing in world-class stringed instrument musicians, for example, that want to want to teach and work with adults and youth,’ said Graham. … ‘This is just a perfect fit.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Arcenio Lopez
Erika Hernandez, of the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project in California, is a Radio Indigena DJ.

As languages spoken by small communities disappear, overwhelmed by other languages, it’s encouraging to read that the digital media that’s part of the problem is also part of the solution. As is radio.

Ludwig Hurtado has the story at NBC News. “Josefino Alvarado, a California farm worker, describes his typical morning picking blueberries at a Ventura County farm.

“As the sun beats down on him and his fellow workers, a crackle of static hums at their feet. ‘Hola mi gente,’ (Hello, my people) a voice calls out from the radio’s speakers in Spanish. Then, ‘tanìndíí,’ which means ‘good morning’ in Mixteco.

“On this farm and most of the farms nearby, workers have their radios tuned into the same station: 94.1, Radio Indígena. … The community-run station boasts 40 hours of original programming every week, broadcasting music and talk shows in a handful of indigenous languages, as well as Spanish programming too.

“The station is a welcome cultural lifeline for thousands of farm workers who speak Mixteco or other indigenous Central American languages.

“ ‘Listening to it is a point of pride,’ Alvarado, who is a frequent listener, said. While he only understands Spanish and Mixteco, he often will listen to some of Radio Indígena’s shows in Zapoteco, Triqui, and Nahuatl. Even if he doesn’t understand them, he said he’s proud to hear the languages being kept alive on the airwaves.

“Alvarado, who moved to the U.S. in 1997, was born and raised in the city of Oaxaca in central Mexico, where he and his family learned Mixteco as their first language. Although Mixteco has come into the national spotlight thanks to the Academy Award-winning film, Roma, the language is still virtually unknown to the general population. …

“Due to economic and cultural pressure in Mexico, many Mixtec communities are shifting to Spanish. UNESCO considers almost half of Mixteco’s 50 dialects to be either severely endangered or at risk of endangerment.

“According to the 2010 census, over 685,000 Latinos in the U.S. identified themselves as American Indian, up from around 400,000 in 2000. But experts agree that the actual number of indigenous Latinos in the U.S. is much higher than estimated because many don’t report to the census due to stigma and immigration status. …

“ ‘There’s a lot of radio stations in Oxnard, but they just play music,’ said Roberto Jesús, who listens to the show every morning as he drives to work, getting informed about the news and about his legal rights as an immigrant. … In the U.S., Mixtecs face barriers because of their limited English and sometimes limited Spanish. This leaves many of them vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination.

“Radio Indígena is hosted and run by the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), a nonprofit organization formed to provide health outreach, humanitarian support and language interpretation to this underserved and often unnoticed community. …

“Radio Indígena started when organizers saw a void in the city of Oxnard, but [Arcenio Lopez, executive director of MICOP and Radio Indígena] said that the station has listeners from all over the country and world, since the episodes are available to stream online. …

“Delfina Santiago and Carmen Vasquez co-host a show on Radio Indígena every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Even though they don’t get paid for their work, the two spend lots of time during the week preparing for their program, ‘Al Ritmo De Chilena,’ which is an educational program that delves into the history of different indigenous cultures for each episode.

Santiago and Vazquez say that the digital age has played a role in keeping their language alive and keeping folks connected to one another, in a world where they might otherwise feel alone. Indigenous Mexican music can be found on YouTube and SoundCloud. …

“ ‘We’ve already lost three languages in Oaxaca,’ Santiago lamented. ‘They’re gone.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Evan Frost/MPR
Mukhtar Ibrahim gives a presentation about Sahan Journal at the Glen Nelson Center in Minneapolis.

When we lived in Minneapolis, we got to know a Somali-American who worked at our apartment building’s front desk and later ran for mayor. He was a friendly, curious man, who enlightened me a good bit about Islam and Africa. As a child in Somalia, he played soccer games interrupted by camels, and he loved to get news from around the world on the radio and then study the map to see where the news was happening.

Today the large immigrant community in his new country has a different way to get news.

Andrew Lapin reports at the Current, “Support from Minnesota Public Radio is enabling a website covering the state’s immigrant communities to expand into a full-time venture for its founder.

Sahan Journal is the brainchild of Mukhtar Ibrahim, who began his career as MPR’s first Somali-American reporter before joining the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He has returned to MPR as a full-time network employee focusing exclusively on Sahan, with the network also providing a content-sharing agreement and other material support.

“Ibrahim said he wants Sahan to be ‘a one-stop shop for all things immigrant in Minnesota.’ …

“Ibrahim began the project in 2013 as a side venture, two years after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota’s journalism school. The name ‘Sahan’ comes from the Somali word for ‘pioneer’ and traditionally refers to a group of respected men from a community who are chosen by village elders to embark on exploratory expeditions.

“Recruiting other writers of the Somali diaspora, Ibrahim published news and information related to East African politics and culture on the Sahan website. He tapped an influential network of contributors. One of Sahan’s former writers, Mustafa Muhummed Omer, was recently appointed acting interim president of the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia, one of the country’s nine governing regions divided by ethnicity.

“ ‘People were really hungry for that kind of content,’ Ibrahim said, adding that English-language news sources for young professional Somalis were hard to come by.

“As Ibrahim started a family and devoted more time to his day job, Sahan Journal fell by the wayside. … Ibrahim knew he wanted to return to Sahan Journal and broaden its focus to capture more of the state’s immigrant population, including Hmong and Liberian residents. After earning a master’s in journalism at Columbia University with the aid of a leadership fellowship from the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, he redirected his attention to his passion project.

“Ibrahim found a willing partner for Sahan Journal in his former employers at MPR. Reaching the state’s immigrant communities is ‘the number-one priority for me,’ said MPR News Executive Editor Nancy Cassutt. …

“Cassutt said MPR aims to republish five stories a month from Sahan Journal, edited by an MPR News editor. She also said MPR would like to see Sahan Journal cover immigrant communities across the entire state of Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities. …

“Ibrahim also hopes to make mentorship and journalism education a part of his site’s mission. … By encouraging more immigrants to become reporters, Ibrahim said, the community will benefit. ‘We say there’s a lack of diversity in the newsrooms, but in the beginning we don’t even give people a chance,’ he said. ‘So this newsroom will be a place where people can run, can fail, can experiment with journalism.’ ”

More here.

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Radio Lifeline for Syria


Photo: Amandas Ong
An Alwan radio producer in the station’s recording studio. The broadcast lifeline to Syria is located in an apartment complex in Turkey.

Where people struggle to carry on their lives in the midst of war, radio can provide comfort and hope. This is a story about Syrians in exile who broadcast news and normalcy to people back home.

Amandas Ong writes at Slate, “I push my way out of the metro station in southwestern Istanbul where Sami — not his real name — and I have agreed to meet. …

” ‘It’s not far from here,’ he says, directing me down an overhead bridge through a number of serpentine streets. …

“The hive of activity inside forms the Istanbul operations of Radio Alwan, (Alwan means ‘colors’ in Arabic) an independent Syrian news station broadcasting into that devastated country every day. Alwan provides much-needed news updates to information-starved Syrians and also runs popular entertainment programs and controversial discussions. …

“Three bedrooms have been converted into a meeting room, a recording studio, and an office. … Most of the staff had no prior training in radio journalism before joining Alwan. Sami describes himself as having ‘come from a regular, boring HR job in Dubai.’ …

“ ‘The point of Alwan,’ he had told me in a prior conversation over FaceTime, ‘is not just to report the news. Radio is also a form of activism, and through our programs, we try to do our part by encouraging people to engage with civic organizations within Syria, and to inform them on what’s really happening both around the country and outside of it.’ …

“A law student named Ahmad al-Qadour started Radio Alwan in 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Idlib. … They decided to relocate Alwan’s central office to Istanbul after a series of threats from Islamic radical groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which had been part of the Syrian wing of al-Qaida before splitting from the group in 2016. …

“A typical day at Alwan begins at 6 a.m. in the Istanbul office, where the team of about 15 staff members assembles for a variety of Syrian and international news segments, followed by talk shows and short radio skits, some educational, others comedic. …

“Sami is especially proud of Oh, Grandma, a program presented by a woman from Idlib who is identified by her initial, N. She has a day job as a teacher, but in her role at Alwan, she visits the houses of women in the city and interviews them about their lives, their daily struggles, and discusses salient issues with them, such as the legal age for marriage for Syrian women. …

“Maram, a 24-year-old in a slouchy sweater and jeans, comes to talk to me. She graduated from a media school in Damascus and decided to come to Turkey to seek better job opportunities, before stumbling upon an open position at Alwan. …

“I ask her what she likes most about Alwan, and she doesn’t hesitate: ‘I learn a lot every single day, but most of all, it’s taught me so much about how to deal with uncertainty.’ …

“Sami [has] a philosophical approach to the objective of radio itself.

“ ‘We have a program called Acute Angle,’ he says, ‘that encourages people to accept the idea that there is no such thing as true fact. In each segment, we talk about different personalities like Michael Jackson, Ataturk, and even Walt Disney, and how these people have been represented both positively and negatively. I want our listeners to know that there are no taboos, and also no perspective on any one issue or narrative that should be taken for granted.’ …

“[It’s staff member] Dima who has perhaps the most poetic vision of her work at Alwan. ‘What I’ve learned is that the people who listen to us aren’t just suffering day in and out. They want to live, love, dance, laugh. Sometimes we draw courage from them, other times they are comforted by us, hundreds of miles away,’ she says. ‘That’s the beauty of radio: It has soul.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Jason Margolis
Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, observes a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

As warehouse and distribution jobs proliferate and meet a need for lower-skilled employment, I’m beginning to accept that companies like Amazon that destroy traditional industries have some redeeming social virtues. After all, times change.

Perhaps no American workers feel the changing times more deeply than do those in the coal industry. But displaced workers who are open to new opportunities seem to be emerging from the disruption OK.

Jason Margolis provided a coal-country report for Public Radio International’s excellent 50 States series.

“Tanner Lee Swiger graduated from high school in Wayne County, West Virginia this spring,” writes Margolis. “His father and grandfather both worked in West Virginia’s coal industry. But not Swiger, or any of his high school classmates.

“Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. ‘[They’re] working in fast food or not working at all.’

“Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. …

“Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other.

“ ‘The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,’ says Conant. …

“He left his job at the US Department of Energy to start Solar Holler, to try to help slow his state’s economic slide. By many metrics, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country. …

“ ‘We need to find new things,’ says Conant. ‘It’s not going to be the coal industry of the past.’ …

“Solar may be an energy of tomorrow, but … coal mining jobs in West Virginia typically pay more than twice the starting wages for solar. But those jobs are increasingly hard to find, and Solar Holler, and other solar installers, need workers now. …

“Solar Holler is partnering with a non-profit called the Coalfield Development Corporation. They own the building. Beyond solar jobs, Coalfield Development is teaching former coal workers skills like woodworking and farming.

‘Apprentices with Coalfield Development work 33 hours, spend six hours a week at a community college, and three hours engaged in ‘life-skills mentorship.’ Nearly 90 people have entered the program. ”

More at “50 States: America’s place in a shrinking world,” here, where you can listen to the story or read it.

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Photo: Current, News for People in Public Media
Truck driver Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul.

It shouldn’t be a source of wonder that anyone who drives a lot in the US should listen to National Public Radio, given that the stories are longer than other radio stations’ stories and are repeated less monotonously. So nothing but unconscious bias can account for my surprise about truckers who tune in.

Alan Yu, a producer at WHYY, reported at Current, “In July last year, long-haul truck driver Stephanie Klang got a rare speeding ticket because she was too engrossed listening to public radio.

“ ‘It’s okay, I only get a speeding ticket about once every 10 years,’ she said. ‘… It was worth it for the story.’

“She told the state patrolman that yes, she knows listening to the radio is not a valid excuse, then proceeded to tell him all about the radio show that took her mind off her speed — an episode of BackStory about the history of taxes in the U.S. after the country had just broken away from England.

“Klang has been a truck driver for 37 years, going through all 48 contiguous states, and she listens to public radio all the time. She said she used to have a small booklet listing all the public radio stations in the country, which she got as a gift for pledging support.

“ ‘I used that book until it absolutely fell apart, and I wish I’d ordered two of them now,’ she said. …

“She’s not the only truck driver who listens to NPR — far from it, according to Finn Murphy, who has been a long-haul trucker for more than 30 years.

“ ‘Every single driver I’ve ever talked to listens to NPR,’ said Murphy.

“He recently published The Long Haul, a book about his experiences. ‘If I can, I’ll schedule my driving to catch Fresh Air with Terry Gross,’ Murphy wrote. …

I’ve got a little crush on Terry, actually. It’s probably because I’ve spent more time with her than anyone else in my life.’ …

“Murphy writes that even if truckers ‘may not like the slant, if there is one,’ they still listen to public radio. …

“Fred Manale, a 55-year-old trucker from Louisiana, said he listens to public radio, though he finds it ‘disturbing.’ For example, he said NPR should not be blaming President Trump for having a connection to Russia. …

“Ray Hollister discovered public radio when he was a long-haul truck driver for a year in 2002. Now the general manager of an IT company, Hollister said the network needs to ‘speak more to the flyover states. … Do stories that affect more people than just the coast.’

“ ‘Truck drivers come from across America,’ he said. ‘They’re a pretty decent cross section of America. I knew a ton of white, black, Asian, Hispanic truck drivers, and the only thing we had in common was that we were all truck drivers.’ ”

More here.

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Allison Keyes at American Public Media Marketplace reported recently on an unusual kind of cruise line — one that is looking for passengers who want a little altruism along with their fun.

“Carnival Corporation’s new brand, Fathom Travel,” she writes, “is seeking to tap into a growing market with its social impact cruises to the Dominican Republic and cultural immersion cruises to Cuba. …

“Its Social Impact cruises are now regularly bringing visitors who want to help out on humanitarian projects to the Dominican Republic.

“In the village of El Cupey, in the mountains above Puerto Plata, Maria Vargas sits on her porch with her family and a neighbor. The 43-year-old and the others are learning to speak English from passengers on Fathom’s cruise. Through an interpreter, Vargas explains that the weekly classes are giving them a chance to improve their lives, and the opportunity to get out of poverty.

“ ‘I want (my) family … to get a new opportunity for a job with this,’ Vargas explained. ‘It has been a big benefit.’

“Along with the English classes, Fathom’s social impact cruises allow passengers to do everything from laying cement floors in homes and planting trees to combat deforestation, to building ceramic water filters in a nation where more than 3 million people don’t have access to safe, piped water.”

Says Josh Elliott, international program director at Wine to Water, which “has built and distributed 316 water filters with the help of Fathom passengers since the cruises began, ‘Fathom came to us with the idea and has really provided us with not only filters from volunteers working alongside us in the Dominican Republic, but it’s also given us an amazing platform … We’re inspiring people to give back when they go home and get off the ship.’ …

“But for Fathom to be successful,” cautions Keyes, “it must attract more passengers like Florida native Ken Maida, who said this is different from the 20 previous cruises he’s taken.

“ ‘This one is more for humanity,’ Maida said. ‘This one’s more about volunteerism and giving back to the community, to people who don’t have as much as we do.’ ”

If it sounds a little superficial, it at least helps travelers to see another side of life and think about longer-term service projects.

More here.

 

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