a little something extra

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Woody Guthrie and the radio

A few years ago, I dramaturged a production of a musical based on the life and music of Woody Guthrie. Before that I had a vague notion of who he was, but that show gave me a reason to read all his published work. His first published book, Bound for Glory, is one of the best reads I've had the privilege of enjoying in recent years. I heartily recommend it. His later books, sadly, show the progress of the Huntington's Disease which ultimately killed him. Huntington's can express itself as graphomania, compulsion to write or obsession with writing. This was one of the symptoms Guthrie experienced, and it shows up in his later books.

I also researched the times in which he lived, and that taught me how powerful an influence radio was during the Dust Bowl era that shaped Woody Guthrie. Reading about the isolated farm folks, mostly women, alone in the house all day -- I was amazed to realize what a difference the radio made in their lives. A lifeline, an emotional sticking point to which they could screw their courage.

All this to say, I want to introduce you to the radio stations that are part of my daily life in SoCal.

I wake up to Morning Edition on KPCC, the NPR station that broadcasts from Pasadena City College about 70 miles northeast of where I live. When I first moved in, I couldn't get a clear signal of any NPR station despite having several broadcasting around this area, several of which are geographically closer than Pasadena. Alas! I was briefly distraught. Moving my radio to the other side of the room made it possible to pick up KPCC with barely noticeable static, and lo, all was well. Often the timer turns the radio on when the commentator is in mid-sentence, but this morning, it was a perfectly clear sentence telling me that Harriet Miers' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court had been withdrawn.

In the car, I listen to Pacifica Radio station KPFK. On the way to work I usually catch most of Uprising!, Sonali Kohatkar's public news and information program, including the delicious ending "Sonali's subversive thought for the day," in which she reads a quote from some book, article or interview she finds inspiringly subversive. Today's Subversive Thought:

"When asked by the magazine "El Navegante", what "autonomy" means for the indigenous population, the Zapatistas of the Ocosingo region replied, "In its very basic form, autonomy consists in recapturing and restoring the culture and self-determination taken away over the last 504 years. That is, in terms of territory, that the people that live in a region administer their own economy, their own politics, their own culture and their own resources"

This morning's broadcast also included the Black Commentator, who broadcasts on Uprising! every friday. Today he discussed what makes for reliable or unreliable polling with the most recent poll of Iraqi opinion about the U.S. military occupation as his example. Often, Democracy Now! is just beginning as I pull into the parking garage.

On the way home I'll usually catch some of KPFK Evening News and Free Speech Radio News. They often include broadcasts from Mumia Abu-Jamal in prison. I often disagree with him, but it's always challenging and stimulating to listen to what he has to say. If I'm late leaving work, I'll catch a smorgasbord of programs that change with the day of the week. Monday it's LGBT issues, Tuesdays it's the Beautiful Struggle Collective, Wednesdays it's feminist points of view, Thursdays it focuses on the law and Fridays are a grab bag.

These radio broadcasts, from the familiar voices on NPR whom I've listened to for ten years or more, to the new points of view I'm acquainting myself with just now, provide a lifeline for me. Not as dramatic as the Dust Bowl farm wives who had only the crackling voices coming from their radios to help keep them sane in those trying days. But in an extended moment of upheaval, my daily radio broadcasts give me continuity and islands of hope.


At 6:19 PM , Blogger Michael said...

Meeegan, do you have standard analog cable TV?

(ie, without a digital converter)

I'm wondering if your cable provider also transmits local radio stations, which USED to be an FCC mandate until the Reagan era for the reason that you state above.

The best way to test this is to take the coaxial cable and plug it into your radio FM antenna coax receptacle, on the back. If it doesn't have anything that fancy the old-fashioned two-pronged rabbit-ear adapter for the TV should work.

Recently Comcast cut off similar service in the Bay Area. Cable companies have been reluctant to advertise their FM rebroadcasts because it doesn't generate any additional revenue and it eats into their XM digital radio broadcast fees.

Good luck!

At 10:30 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

I would never have known that some cable providers broadcast radio as well. The things you learn when you have friends who are well versed in the ways of the telecom industry! Thank you, Michael.


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