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Left of the Dial

KRCL’s Radio Active gives local talk radio a progressive voice.



Most of the KRCL staff was in San Francisco at a national radio conference when the calls came. KRCL’s Public Affairs Director Gena Edvalson had asked Robert Nelson, longtime host of KRCL’s Smile Jamaica, and Lorna Vogt, longtime activist and director of UPNET (Utah Progressive Network), to fill in for the regular programmers. They would host a call-in show on the U.S.-led “shock and awe” campaign. For KRCL, Edvalson remembers, a call-in show was “a leap of faith.”

“We thought we’d be lucky to get a full hour of callers,” explains Nelson. Instead, the phones rang continuously for three hours, he reports. “We really tapped into the frustration among our listeners. They felt their voices were being left out of the mainstream media.”

That last-minute programming decision set the stage for Radio Active, a new daily call-in program featuring local and national guests. Its “kick off” week features Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, on Sept. 2; musician and activist Michael Franti of Spearhead on Sept. 3; and populist radio host and syndicated columnist Jim Hightower on Sept. 4.

Vogt—who is one of many, including Nelson and Edvalson, who will host the new program—hopes first and foremost that Radio Active can provide a voice for progressive Utahns, and that people will see it as an opportunity to speak to others. Once that is achieved, Vogt thinks that Radio Active could provide a place “where we can build political power and shape debate.” Ultimately, she’d like to see listeners forming networks and starting campaigns.

Edvalson reports that a community assessment survey by the station revealed that KRCL’s listeners want the station to be “unapologetically progressive.” She doesn’t flinch. “We want to make talk radio the democratic tool it can be.”

She asserts that on Radio Active, how topics are discussed will be more important than what topics are discussed. “It’s more about context and texture,” Edvaldson suggests. “We also found that our audiences are really articulate and able to talk about things in a complex way.”

Radio Active host Debra Daniels, known for her work with the Rape Recovery Center and her recent appointment as director of the University of Utah’s Women’s Resource Center, agrees. She looks forward to discussing topics more broadly. “Sometimes we talk and listen to the same people,” she says. “This might be the opportunity to have those more difficult, more complicated discussions.” Through radio, she believes we can talk in “a more open, honest manner.”

A diverse group of seven—and counting—hosts will allow for that broad discussion. Daniels envisions that each host “will bring a different population to the table—a different speaking, listening and participating audience.”

The variety of different hosts, warns Edvalson, is not about identity politics. Sure, Radio Active has one host who is an under-35 lesbian (Melinda “bob” Maureen) and two others who women of color. But, Edvalson maintains, “bob” isn’t expected to start her show with “I’m here, I’m queer” anymore than Debra Daniels and Rebecca Chavez-Houck are supposed to have the monopoly on discussions concerning race.

Among its hosts, true diversity is what KRCL wanted. Beyond that, Edvalson required “people who are charismatic, leaders in their communities, open and warm, and who will challenge themselves before they challenge others.” Not only that, they must be very sharp. Radio Active will generate multiple discussions: between host and caller, between callers, between host and guest and between guest and callers. “The host is going to have to make all of it make sense,” says Edvalson.

Radio Active also promises to resist being dogmatic. “Usually talk radio is run by those who are loud, people who assault others with their opinions, who see things in black and white,” observes Edvalson. “We’re completely uninterested in becoming a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh.”

Instead, Radio Active will be about both speaking out and listening. “It’s sometimes through listening that we make a difference,” Daniels suggests.