Back on my home island from a short trip down to the Warm Springs reservation in central Oregon visting with the staff of radio station KWSO and the community members that rely on the station. This was the second site vist for a project I am doing with Native Public Media and Public Radio Capital looking at how to measure the impact of Native community radio stations in the US.
Really struck with the role the station plays in the community. Most radio stations, at least mainstream commercial and public radio concern themselves a lot with reach – are we getting enough listeners. With Native community radio that isn’t the problem at all – in Warm Springs it seems like they reach 100% of the people quickly either directly or through word of mouth. When there is an emergency or a school closure, everyone knows about it right away. The luxurious problem these stations have is how to use that influence to actually help the community maintain wellness and health.
In Warm Springs, the KWSO do this by focusing on health, education and culture. They produce PSAs and short documentary or news programs that focus on important issues like diabetes prevention or language retention or repeating stories that help ground ceremony and history. One of the key impacts the station is having is in the area of education. The bording school experience in the States, like the residential school experience in Canada, left many Native families with intergenerational trauma and a deep distrust of institutional learning. (I share that mistrust in general, and we homeschool our own kids, but for families where that isn’t possible a decent educational experience is important). In Warm Springs, the radio station and the school work together to create a climate of positivity around learning. This has paid off in a couple of ways. First there is a culture of positivity at the school that carries over into behaviours. There have been a total of four suspensions in five years at the school. Kids get along really well there, and the radio station continues to support this positive climate by focusing on learning, by playing good music during the school bus rides that helps the kids stay relaxed on the trip into town and by encouraging parents and kids to be active in the life of the school. There are very few formal parent-teacher interviews, but all of the teachers reported that they have a hard time getting the parents OUT of the school, so involved is the community.
On the diabetes front we learned that the Warm Springs community has a diabetes rate five points lower than that national Native average in the US. There is extensive public health information broadcast all day on KWSO from announcements about classes and workshops to recipes and nutriotion tips. I have a sneaking suspicion that if we look across the country, the reservations with community radio stations will have a lower diabetes average than others.
It’s a fun project, and now with two site visits under our belts, it’s time to write up the findings and see what loacl media really means.