Friday blog rescue: Common Breath Media on WORT

Several SJMC students have developed their own weblogs related to their classroom, professional, and community work.  This Friday’s blog rescue pulls from Common Breath Media, the weblog of SJMC graduate student (and freelance reporter) Steve Furay.  Early in March Steve profiled our local community radio station, WORT:

WORT is an honored institution in Madison, a community radio station providing a voice for those concerned with world affairs, politics, local events and music that typically evades the airwaves. Established in 1975, the station is dependent upon contributions made from the local public, both in their programming and their revenue. WORT is now in the midst of its fund raising campaign, running through March 10, urging its listeners to pledge their support to help sustain its regular operations.

Community radio has long been an important medium for independent news outlets, and in a time of great change in the media landscape, there is a need to reemphasize its importance to the public. Radio is a medium that is not likely to evaporate due to the rise of the internet, and will perhaps increase in importance given the declining news coverage of the larger corporate press.

Community radio is often associated with progressive liberal opinions, but it is important to note that organizations of all political leanings benefit from and take advantage of the format, particularly faith based groups.

Norman Stockwell serves as the Operations Manager for WORT, and is a contributing host to the program “A Public Affair”. He has provided coverage of events such as the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle and multiple World Social Forum conventions around the world. Stockwell is also active with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, an alliance committed to community radio stations.

Stockwell explains that the community radio movement began as an outcry for those in support of peace, at a time when regular media outlets were unanimously calling for war.

“Community radio started in 1949 by a guy by the name of Lewis Hill, who was a conscientious objector during WWII,” says Stockwell. “He had also worked in commercial radio and he said, ‘there really needs to be a radio network that’s non-commercial, that’s not the slave to advertisers and advertising dollars. And there needs to be a radio network that promotes peace, because all the rest of the broadcast media is beating the drum for war.’ So in 1949, he started the Pacifica radio network, starting with one station, KPFA in Berkeley.”

KPFA became an originator of the community broadcasting format, the first listener supported station that relied upon the people’s pledges for its financial wellbeing. The station did not begin in isolation, as other community stations began to appear in its wake.

“There were other community radio stations popping up throughout the world,” explains Stockwell. “The Bolivian tin miners started a community radio station in Bolivia in 1949. In Columbia there was an educational community radio station that was started in 1949. So this idea was popping up around the world.”

The programming of KPFA had a knack for presenting views outside of the mainstream, in particular challenging the dominant narrative of the Cold War and the buildup of the military industrial complex. The station also gave voice to many artists, including the emergence of spoken word poetry.

“Here in the US, community radio developed in parallel track to the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and so on.  So the early community radio stations were very much in that spirit,” says Stockwell. “Lots of ideas, exchanging different theories and religious philosophies, all kinds of new avant garde music and so on. They were a patchwork quilt of all different kinds of programming, you never knew what was going to be on.”

See the full article for more — and click over to Common Breath Media on Facebook if you’d like to support Furay’s venture.