Indie Radio Lives!

In the U.S. kingdom of corporate media, is there still a place
for independent speech and creative energy in the world of radio?
Not if you listen to Clear Channel. But all interesting and
interested parties have not been silenced. I talked with several
rising stars in the independent radio world at last year?s Third
Coast Audio Festival and came away feeling that the future of
non-commercial broadcasting was in good hands.

Audio expatriate extraordinaire Gregory Whitehead crafts sound
in innovative and thoughtful ways for the BBC. His work is funny,
intellectual and at times sheer genius. Whitehead says the way
non-commercial radio is funded in the United States tends to
encourage mediocrity. ?The problem with the funding situation in
the U.S. is that as the pie gets smaller, mediocrity rises to the
top. Why? Because producers hone their grantmaking skills more than
their production skills, [and] those with genuine talent drift away
to other media, leaving professional fundraisers as the last
producers standing,? he says.

?The work that emerges is mediocre,? he adds, ?which in turn
justifies shrinking the pie even further. There are, of course,
many exceptions, and some great producers out there, but they are
exceptions to a game set up to guarantee mediocrity.?

Whitehead himself works exclusively on a contract basis, but
notes that ?radio is not the medium for someone cursed with the
desire for vast fortunes.?

Jaime York, an independent producer in New York whose ?Sonic
Memorial Project,? a poignant audio memorial collage from the World
Trade Center and 9/11, has received critical acclaim, says it?s
hard to finance independent projects. ?The Sonic Memorial was sort
of a free-for-all,? he explains. ?There were lots of grants written
all over for that. The one I got was an ?Emerging Leaders? grant
from the Ford Foundation, but they had never done anything like it
before, and they made it really clear that they weren?t going to
ever again. This was an experiment for them. They took all the
money and gave it to the loan officers? assistants to give away,
not the loan officers. They thought that the younger staff would be
more in tune with what was happening today, and so most of the
money was given to social justice causes.?

New York producer Mallory Kasdan has had to finance her work
with her own funds. ?I have been paid for the three pieces that I
have had aired, but that money doesn?t really cover the amount of
time and money I have put into the pieces,? she says. ?But that’s
what I expected to happen in the beginning stages. I have my job as
a voice actor that pays my bills and gives me the time and
flexibility to work on my radio pieces and get better at crafting
them. Eventually I will develop a body of work that will hopefully
allow me to obtain grants and funding.?

Kasdan says she?s been helped along the way by people who were
willing to work with a very inexperienced producer?and by her own
marketing skills. ?I have a background in publicity and in selling
myself as a voice actor, so those skills have been helpful to me,
she says. ?I think that in this business, if you have a lot of
energy and are willing to learn, that people have a hard time
ignoring you. You have to be persistent and I think always be
involved in one project or another. But sometimes people still
ignore you.?

Despite her outsider status, Kasdan?s work is funneled back into
the same old public broadcasting channels. ?So far, I have crafted
pieces knowing where they were going to go. So I guess I would go
first to the shows I have worked with already: PRI/WNYC’s Studio
360 and Radio Eye on the Australian Broadcast Corporation,? she
says. ?But in the future, if I was trying to get interest for my
work, I would probably go to Jay Allison’s Transom or the upcoming
Radio Exchange, or put things up on my own Web site, which I put up
for the purpose of showcasing my work. And then, of course, try to
get interest from other appropriate shows, like The Next Big
, This American Life, and the NPR newsmagazine
shows. Also local shows here in New York where I live.? So much for

So, there are voices outside the corporate cacophony on the
radio and on the Internet. But actually finding them is another
thing. And if you are among those who feel that public radio has
become too corporate, you?d better get a good soundcard, because
the Internet is going to be the only place you will find audio to
your satisfaction.

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