KAFM TUNED IN: Discover some of the best community radio stations in the U.S.
With Tedi Gillespie
Back in the land of tall pines and misty blue ridge mountains for Thanksgiving with family and friends gave me the opportunity to listen to WNCW again, the station that really ignited my passion for community radio.
Located on the campus of Isothermal Community College in Spindale, N.C., this listener-powered station maintains its quirky spirit with its “Frank on Friday” weekly tribute to Frank Zappa and, of course, the requisite Dead band tribute show “Dead Air.” The station features a heavy dose of Americana/Folk and Bluegrass, reflecting the mountains and hollers surrounding its studios. But a peek at their highlighted shows reveals an eclectic playlist similar to KAFM with Jazz, Celtic, World, Reggae, Indie and Blues. And much like KAFM, their mission is to share as much local music and community events as possible — with promos for shows including an all-female Asheville quartet called the Sweet Claudettes, who bill themselves as a country Motown band — wish I was in town long enough to catch them!
In between WNCW and making our permanent home in Grand Junction and our community home with KAFM, there were many moves and always, thankfully, community radio as a compass to guide us to the people and events that connected us culturally and sustained us musically in our new locations. Much like church for some, community radio for us, served as a place to find our “peeps,” connect with our “tribe,” and inform, inspire and nurture us with a daily dose of music, community events and local, volunteer voices that feel like an old friend talking to you, not at you. Being spoiled community radio fans means we have no tolerance for the chaotic sound of commercial radio, with its constant drill of shrill, nonstop ads and monotonous pop hits. And though we’ve considered the non-commercial aspect of community radio a musical “lifesaver,” in many rural areas, the community station serves as the literal lifesaving connection, broadcasting safety alerts and critical public information. Community stations by definition, serve their communities, free of subscription charges, relying on the skills and voices of local volunteers and member support, with the goal of public service primary to their mission.
We’ve been fortunate in our travels to have discovered some of the best community stations around the country, to make us feel like we have “friends” in brand-new communities until we actually connect with neighbors and colleagues. Among the many locations and stations there’s been KRCC in Colorado Springs; KRCL in Salt Lake City; KSKA public radio in Anchorage; with heavy doses of KEUL pirate radio in Girdwook, Alaska; and KTNA, the quirkiest of community stations out of Talkeetna, Alaska, where “two moose killed on a park road” constitute news of the day and the locally produced “Nuggets” show includes segments like “Harvesting Wild Food in the Spring.” Trips to Massachusetts give me the opportunity to check in with WOMR community radio of Cape Cod, and WVVY Martha’s Vineyard, whose motto is: “Where you never know what you’re gonna hear next.”
So whether it’s the eclectic, independent music that takes me on a journey or helps me discover a new artist, or the voice of local folks who truly are our neighbors, colleagues and friends, or staying informed and connected to all of the local artists, musicians, events and cultural happenings that enrich my world and make my community a better place to live, it truly is community radio that fulfills a void not found anywhere else — and for that, I am thankful.
Tedi Gillespie is the executive director at KAFM Community Radio. She often hosts local, community affairs programs and occasionally subs music variety programs.
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