Ideologically speaking, the local radio programs Alternating Currents and Every Woman are cornerstones of independent media.
The movements they give voice to — women’s music at Every Woman and LGBT news and issues on Alternating Currents — are foundational to community radio, like WAIF (88.3 FM), which both shows have called home for more than 30 years. But listeners won’t hear these shows on WAIF anymore. Last month both jumped ship to Media Bridges’ emerging low-power FM station, WVQC (95.7 FM).
Amy Ketchum, producer of Every Woman, says that since she began working as a co-host of the show six years ago the show’s format always included interviews, music news and calendar segments.
“Over the course of the experience with WAIF, we were kind of indirectly told to not do the interviews and to leave out the calendar,” Ketchum says. “We’re hoping to reestablish (both) now that we’re here at the new WVQC.”
WAIF Station Manager Howard Riley told Ketchum that if anything was discussed on the show, it had to be paid for through underwriting, she adds.
“Listening to other shows, no one else had this problem,” Ketchum says. “So on our show, it was any type of interview, any mention of anything local, any mention of a festival — just anything and everything and we would get a call (from a member of the Board of Trustees) immediately.”
“Alternating Currents had the same experience,” says Cheryl Eagleson, the show’s producer. “My program has four components to it and three of them are educational for our listeners — interviews, news, calendar of events and then music.”
WAIF’s board never questioned Alternating Currents on talking about community service organizations, but things like interviews with any commercial entity or giving away tickets to events — which had been done for decades — were prohibited, Eagleson adds.
“This had gone on for years — it’s a way to support the show and get listeners excited and that was stopped,” Eagleson says. “We were not allowed to do that at all because that, to them, constituted pay and they were all about money.”
No one from WAIF’s management returned CityBeat’s calls.
The new attitude stifled what helped make the shows unique and last year Eagleson was clearly told that she could abide by the wishes of the Board of Trustees or lose her show, she says.
“To go from a long-standing tradition to a diminishment I just think is not healthy,” Eagleson says. “Instead of being able to grow, I felt we were being encapsulated through a series of diminishments.”
Eagleson describes the historically content-rich Alternating Currents as one that has included interviews with people like local musician Tracy Walker as well as the president and CEO of Aboslut Vodka, who began advertising his company’s products in prominent gay publications more than a decade ago.
Various topics covered by the show include the idea that the LGBT community isn’t just a movement but an actual demographic; that the process of a gay person coming out isn’t just an individual step, it’s one that someone takes with their entire family, biological or otherwise; and the transgender community — the “T” in LGBT — is one that deals with gender identity issues as well as sexual orientation.
Eagleson is quick to note that if Media Bridges had been an option several years ago she would have switched then.
“I didn’t consider leaving or taking the show off because of what I considered the great value of the show,” she says. “I didn’t think there would be any place else to go, but here’s the chance to go to a very well-managed organization and one that has the will and desire for outreach into all the communities and be inclusive.”
To be clear, no one involved with WAIF is paid for his or her work. There aren’t ratings goals and sales benchmarks to meet, but there is underwriting and funds have to be raised via sponsorships for the station to keep operating.
Diverse views and news don’t pay the bills very well, even if they are essential to a democratic society. And shushing these eclectic voices is weirdly contrary to WAIF’s mission that you can hear regularly repeated in the same breath with station identification: opening its airways to “responsible divergent points of view.” Further, losing the LGBT demographic that makes up Alternating Current’s audience doesn’t seem to be a good business decision.
As readers who conduct a simple Google search of WAIF or read articles CityBeat has published about WAIF in recent years will find, however, the station is rife with controversy. There are many things about the squabbles between the volunteer management — dominated by WAIF’s board chairman, the Rev. Donald Shabazz — and the volunteer producers at the station that don’t make much sense.
The discord has included allegations that Shabazz has changed election rules to stack the board with his friends, purged membership rolls and hasn’t kept the station’s FCC license current.
Regardless, the erosion of WAIF’s touchstones is WVQC’s gain.
“Being a longtime business woman myself, I prefer to have the show in a more businesslike environment,” Eagleson says.
Ketchum agrees, saying that she’s excited that her production team is now working in a friendlier, more open environment where they won’t constantly feel threatened with cancellation.
“We can move forward,” Eagleson says. “We can move each of our shows to higher levels. I don’t wish WAIF ill. I am a producer of a terrific radio program that has a great history and has a following and I have a responsibility to take that program and house it in an environment that is respectful and is inclusive and is businesslike.
“That first and foremost was the driver to make me think I need to be over here.”
EVERY WOMAN runs 1-3 p.m. and ALTERNATING CURRENTS runs 3-5 p.m. every Saturday on the WVQC Webcast at www.wvqc.org. The shows will be heard on 95.7 FM later this year when the new transmitter is brought online.