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The Art of Storytelling and Creative Expression In An Era Of Havoc

KVMR 89.5 FM representatives recently joined about 30 other community radio stations at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) Regional Summit in Santa Rosa, where disaster and fire coverage was, naturally, a major topic.  But NFCB's Chief Executive Officer, Sally Kane, closed the conference with a poignant, evocative, inspiring speech on the value of storytelling, particularly in radio. Here's a look inside the mind of one of community radio's leading national proponents. 

By SALLY KANE

SANTA ROSA--So many times when we get together we talk about collecting and sharing the stories of our communities. Stories have so much power and radio is arguably the best medium out there for telling a story… just look at how podcasting has jumped off the shoulders of a long tradition of radio storytelling for an example of how enduring a good story is. The tone of voice, the inflection, the pregnant pause, the random chuckle escaping.

In my last couple of years at the helm of KVNF Community radio in Paonia, Colorado, I invited a group of high school art students to cover an entire wall of our new building with a mural. As a guiding concept I told them that radio was a keeper of the stories. I told them that the radio signal emanating out over our rural area was much like the smoke of a campfire where people have gathered and shared their stories since time immemorial. They took that notion, ran with it, and created a fabulous mural with a campfire at the center and radio waves like ripples in a pond moving over a background populated with people making music from all over the world. It was a sight to behold. 

Yes, I come from the mountains of Colorado. My Mom is an artist. My Dad is a federal judge. In 1963 when my Mom was 7 months pregnant with me, my Dad was at the March on Washington to hear Martin Luther King tell the world that he had a dream. My parents believed that creative expression and the vision of a just society were worth a lifetime of devotion. They believed that dignity is alive when creative expression and justice are respected. I grew up watching them create, participate, and serve others with those beliefs firmly in hand. To this day, I watch them again and again, speak their truth and try to make something of it. 

Though radically different in their stories and the paths their lives took, their desire to try to make a world they could be proud of never left them, or their children.

 

SENSE OF PURPOSE

They gave me a sense of being part of something larger than myself. That sort of belonging led me to find strong purpose. That sense of purpose has helped me create meaning in times of chaos, comfort in times of despair, and delight in many achievements along the way. 

Performance art is the medium that showed me the road that I could travel and radio became my loyal companion. Radio gave me a means to illustrate those central values of creative expression and the pursuit of justice through the power of story. Like so many of you in this room, making radio, keeping the signal flowing, rustling up the resources to sustain it, has given me access to a deep well whose sweet water is called….. meaning. 

And look at where we find ourselves now – the first amendment under fire, discord rampant, and every awful ‘ism” wreaking havoc all around us. But worse than trading insults and stereotypes or putting someone else down so you can feel bigger, is treating another as if they are invisible; too different to understand, too small in numbers to count, too undereducated or underfinanced to matter. Creative expression is challenged and justice is under siege. 

That’s where we come in. At our best we are alchemists with the fruits of creative expression. We amplify the voices of those who are not heard, or are mis-represented. We help shape new narratives and shed light on the things that connect us. We help illuminate the reductionist and deadly strategy of divide and conquer where we find it so that it doesn’t strangle our communities.

Our first amendment was, among other things, an open acknowledgement of the human hunger for freedom of expression and justice. A free press cannot exist without a commitment to justice and community media has to strive to reflect that in every level of our organizations and our work because our mission and our values inextricably tie us to it. 

 

BENDING TOWARD JUSTICE

President Obama quoted Dr. King (and supposedly Dr. King was quoting someone else) that “the arc of history bends toward justice”. In later interviews he went on to say that it doesn’t do that on its own – we have to reach up, grab hold, and bend it together. Words and stories matter and they are our currency in community media. We have to claim that continually if we are serious about serving the public interest at a local level and earning trust. 

Tell the stories. Play the music. Convene the conversations. 

Claim this radio art that we belong to. I have traveled all over the country visiting stations and I see how you all show up for each other and for your communities. 

Renew the purpose of this work…. a world we can be proud of, where creative expression has room to blossom and where justice reveals itself in dignified glory.

Keep your eyes on that prize. 

Community media’s best days lie ahead. Remember the words of one of Public Media’s great mystics, Mr. Rogers, “Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else”. Begin again…every day. 

Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening. Thank you for the important work that you do.