Little Brother Watches Back
I like books. I have hundreds at home.
My favourites are the ones with notes I've scribbled in moments of excitement over some new idea tucked between the lines.
Several of my books have begun a slow process of evolving into two books: the one written by the author, and the other written by me in the margins. The two texts revolve around each other, each expanding on and enhancing the ideas of the other, until finally the finished product is some inseparable synthesis of the two.
Almost anything that goes on outside the mainstream of life is, like my notes, in the margins. A lot goes on in the margins. I am writing this in the marginal part of my day -- just before I go to sleep, listening to a marginal radio station, talking to marginal friends on the phone about what’s happening in their margins. Out in the margins, we have something that keeps us sane; we have communities.
For several years, I worked in community and public radio. That was marginal, because it wasn’t the mainstream, popular, commercial hyped radio that you hear almost everywhere. Mainstream radio has to be mainstream, has to convince you it is the only real radio, because it couldn’t move a buck if it didn’t. If it didn’t make a buck, it wouldn’t exist.
Community or non-profit radio, on the other hand, doesn’t try to convince anyone of anything, it just is. It exists because people, often volunteers, decide they want a voice on the airwaves. They decide they have a few things they would like to say, and they are convinced there are other people out there who want to hear them.
When you think about it though, it’s odd that radio stations that play music you want to hear, bring you interviews with people you’d like to talk to and present issues you want to discuss, aren’t more popular. They must be the things you want because they are produced by people from your community.
Your neighbours are talking on the radio about how loud the garbageman bangs the can in the morning. And are you going to listen? Sure! After all, your neighbours are kinda nice people, and it’s true, the garbageman is a little obnoxious. Not everyone wants to hear about it, but it’s still important. Otherwise, you would never have known the Lukowitzes were upset about the garbageman, and now that you’ve had them over for coffee to talk about it, it looks like the neighbourhood might get together to do something about it.
But, working in community radio, it takes a while before other people who want to listen to you actually find your station. It can’t afford big ad campaigns in bus shelters, and so relies on word of mouth, chance discovery of its spot on the dial, and that steady stream of volunteer talent that comes in one door almost as fast as it’s moving out the other. For some groups, or communities, that kind of communication can move much more quickly than for others. The centrally located gay community, for example, has a much easier time reaching large numbers in a city like Toronto, than a more widely dispersed group of people who might listen to a program on archaeology.
It takes a while too, before you get credibility you need for people to pay attention. Community cable television is no less serious about reaching out and giving a voice to communities in the larger society than any other television station, but honestly, how many of us rush down to help? Community radio often has the same problem, as will any other ventrue that tries to get the community to speak for itself, on its own terms, to itself.
But, sometimes it does work. Occasionally that critical mass coalesces and the keen volunteers, armed with a unique and indefinable combination of energy, talent and innovative ideas, mesh perfectly with the technology and their audience. Ebbing and flowing with each renaissance more intriguing than the last, the results are nothing less than breathtaking.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of working in the margins is the
effect on the mainstream. What innovation in radio, television,
journalism, or, for that matter, any social institution or relationship
has not first appeared on the margin, only to be adapted and adopted.
Margin and mainstream in dialectic move society forward, challenging
and criticizing it, and ultimately, guaging its health.
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