Speech to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis

July 19, 2009

Good morning. My name is Autumn Labbé-Renault. I’m a UUCD member and executive director of the non-profit organization Davis Media Access, home of KDRT 95.7 FM, our community’s low-power radio station. I’ve been asked to share a bit about my involvement in starting and sustaining KDRT, or as I like to call it, “the little radio station that could.”

In the year 2000, I’d been working at what was then called Davis Community Television for about 4 years. I was starting to feel restless and in need of a new challenge. I’d barely identified this feeling when my co-worker Jeff Shaw came to a staff meeting and said, “guys, there’s an opportunity to apply for a license for a low-power radio station for Davis. We’d need the board to approve, and I’m not really sure exactly what it would entail, but…what do you think?”

I quickly learned that low-power FM was a special class of radio –stations of 100 watts or less--created to fill the void in local content left when all the corporate media companies consolidated under ever-larger umbrellas. It made sense to go for it & try to round out the kinds of grassroots media opportunities we could make available to Davis.

The process was slow, but we were one of a handful of lucky organizations around the country. In Feb. 2003, we received a construction permit in the mail. That gave us 18 months to physically build a station, learn everything we needed to know about operating it, develop programming, and get the community on board. No problem! We embarked on a wild race to the finish line, and on Sept. 24, 2004, KDRT went live. KDRT – K DIRT – Where the Grassroots Grow.

I joke now, but it was an intensive period of work involving a steep learning curve. It also remains one of the most uplifting and rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of. KDRT is nothing if not one huge collective effort. 95 percent of what goes into making this station vibrant is accomplished by volunteers who share their time, talent and energy. If that sounds familiar, it’s just one of the many commonalities between grassroots media and UU. KDRT’s mission and values espouse social equality, diversity and public participation, along with providing a voice and an outlet for those who might otherwise be denied media access. And, it’s free!

That’s really the key here: in general, mainstream media doesn’t care about small stories or big ideas if they’re not sensational or fear inducing, or profitable. They don’t want to know about the good work that non-profits, teachers, parents, local businesses and volunteers do; or the ways in which artists, musicians, writers and ministers shape our community. They don’t want to hear what kids think—I mean, really, what they think. They give lip service to those who are differently abled, sexually diverse or just see life through a less conventional lens. They’re not about empowering people with new skills.

But KDRT is about all this and more. I’ve heard 8-year-olds interviewing tree-sitting activists, senior citizens sharing their music collections & musical knowledge, local business people talking about our downtown, and teenagers debating appropriate uses of technology, or musicians getting valuable air time & exposure. On any given day in a small studio at the media center on Fifth Street, people share their knowledge & their passion in myriad ways. They say radio is the voice of a community. I like to think of KDRT as the chorus, its many voices part of an intricate arrangement.

I feel both called and privileged to do this work. It’s joyful. It’s also filled with challenges--survival seems to be a refrain. Last year we almost lost our ability to broadcast when a large commercial station moved into town and wanted KDRT’s frequency. That story has been well documented and so I’ll end here by saying that I look forward to celebrating 5 years on the air this fall, and I’ll ask YOU how you might become involved or how we can help you reach out to the community. I invite you to visit kdrt.org or to speak to me in the hall afterwards. Thank you.

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