Appreciating Community Radio

Madison is fortunate to have an independent listener sponsored community radio station. WORT was founded in 1975 and has operated continuously since that time, with just a handful of paid staff and currently over 300 volunteers. Soon after I moved to Madison in 1985, I joined the station’s Community Advisory Board to give my input and assistance. From that vantage point, I learned about many of the challenges to keep a genuine community radio station operating for all these years. Raising enough money, without any affiliation to National Public Radio or any other major fundraising entity, has always been a challenge, but fortunately, WORT’s listeners continue to come through year after year to keep the station going.

For many years, I have had the good fortune to serve as a substitute radio host for many different genres of music, including African, International, Rock, Jazz and Blues. I enjoy the mix of opportunities, but the challenge with subbing is that I often fill in on short notice so I do not have the time to plan out my shows. This changed some time ago, when I became one of the regular hosts of the PanAfrica radio show, where I play music from all over Africa that listeners rarely have the opportunity to hear elsewhere.

Photo credit: DJ Bruno Zaire a/k/a Reginold Royston, a fellow PanAfrica host who was pledge rapping for me during a recent pledge drive.

Since WORT is truly a community radio station, my volunteer efforts do not end with hosting the PanAfrica show. Indeed, this week really demonstrated the variety of ways that volunteering at WORT can happen.

Tuesday night, while relaxing at home, I saw a Facebook post on WORT’s Music Host page desperately seeking a substitute host for a rock and roll show that evening. While I consulted with my wife to make sure we did not have a conflict with me running over to the station, the host of the show said he would start the show, but that he would appreciate it if someone else could spell him as soon as possible because he had worked long hours that day and needed to get some rest. Since I was available, I let the music director and the show’s host who needed some rest know that I would grab some music and get to the station as soon as I could. I arrived just after the show started and the sub was glad to have me host the rest of the show just 12 minutes after it started. Not only did I enjoy hosting the show, but listeners indicated on-line that they enjoyed it too. One listener made a request for a Mongolian heavy metal band, The Hu. Though I had never heard that band, I quickly checked them out and played this song, which the listener really appreciated. Another listener, posted on the station’s Facebook page, “Usually enjoy Wilsons, sub Reznick (sic) is playing extra awesome cuts!” WORT’s Listener-Sponsor Liaison Susan Sheldon, who shared that message with me, told me that I am “an amazing utility infielder,” which I appreciated, but that is just how community radio continues to thrive. The entire community needs to pitch in.

The next day, I was a guest on A Public Affair, which airs Monday-Friday from Noon-1 PM with a different host each day, interviewing guests about current issues of importance. In this show which you can listen to here, the host Ali Muldrow interviewed me to discuss the Baraboo Nazi salute incident and what should be done about anti-Semitism in schools and the public square. With the input of many listener-callers, we also explored what it means to be an ally to the Jewish community and underscore the importance of working together to secure rights and protections for all.

On Saturday, I will once again host the PanAfrica radio show in its normal 2-4 PM time slot. During my last show, a listener let me know that she was recovering from surgery and listening to the beautiful African music I was playing was helping her recovery. WORT live streams all of its shows and the music shows are archived for two weeks, so if you are not in the listening area or available to hear the show live, you can listen on-line, where we also have playlists for our shows so you can follow up on music that interests you. Just click on the Listen Live or Audio Archive tabs on the WORT web site to check out the wide array of news and music that the station offers 24/7 every single day.

WORT is one of the unique things that makes Madison a special place, as it provides an amazing array of news and music that is simply unavailable anywhere else and is not beholden to commercial support. It is a financial struggle to keep it going and if you support community radio, you can donate here. You can also check out community radio around the country by exploring this map. Who knows? Maybe there is a radio host or guest slot in your future.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


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