The road trip continues with visits this week to two teachers in Peterborough who have deeply influenced my life: John Muir and David Newhouse.
John Muir was one of the founders of Trent Radio in Peterborough, and is the current general manager. He has been a fixture in Peterborough for 25 years or more and is an inspiriing teacher in many ways. First, he is all about making technology accessible. He was a great teacher of Caitlin’s when she was introduced to the medium of radio and Tuesday he worked patiently with our kids as they recorded promos for Trent Radio.
Second, John has created a unique institution in Trent Radio, and one which has influenced my thinking about community ever since I was a programmer and Board member there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Trent Radio is an organization that supports and then stays out of the way of the self-expression of programmers and producers. When I was a producer there, the station management made a big deal about the fact that there was no “brand” to Trent Radio. The call letters, CFFF, were really hard to say on the fly. No easy to remember acronym, no name for the station. When you produced a program at Trent Radio the station was yours, and you were the producer, prgrammer and host. It was a profound example of passion bounded by responsibility, self-expression within the boundaires of a community definition of standards. If you programmed something completely irresponsible, the station might lose its license and everyone would suffer. So people took great care to both push the boundaries and preserve the viability of the station.
Third, John’s thinking about the nature of community radio – and you could spend a week with him and it would never be enough – contributed to how I think about various media like blogging. Many people have used the frame of publishing to understand blogging, but I am perhaps more heavily influenced by community radio. Blogs are like channels and the small audience that would follow your work often deeply engage with your thoughts. Community radio is both peer-to-peer and one-to-many. It’s no surprise perhaps that the ‘zine scene in North America was closely aligned with campus/community radio. Anyone could pick up your ‘zine, but it was intended for a small audience, who formed a community around the ideas, the scene, or the story. Same with the shows I hosted on Trent Radio, dealing with jazz, blues and improvisational music. Interesting.
For John – and for me – the advent of podcasting was a beautiful marriage of two media that, far from being opposites, are actually mates occupying a spectrum of expression. It is no surprise then that some of us, including Rob Paterson, consider John something of a godfather of podcasting, a notion that dates back to a conference called Zap your PRAM hosted by Peter Rukavina (another Trent Radio alumn) on Prince Edward Island during which Dave Winer and John had a conversation about John’s ideas on radio, the internet, audience and community.
John continues to be an inspiration for the way he holds space in community. He recently formed a consortium to buy some Saldier House, a wonderful old building that Trent University liquidated when it closed my old college, Peter Robinson. The non-profit that bought the building uses it to support arts and culture events in a space that can host performances, workshops, studios and other cultural infrastructure. My experience of John’s role in the ever changing community of Peterborough is to quietly hold principles and values that serve a culture of invitation, flow, and connection and in this sense, having grown up in many ways within the communities John formed, I see myself very much as a grateful product of his work.
[tags]John Muir, Trent Radio, podcasting, Peterborough, Peter Rukavina[/tags]