On radio addiction, music for wanderers and #resisting in Berlin

Like loving the outdoors, live music and the ritual of brewing a pourover coffee, my involvement with radio isn’t something I found at random in adult life. More like: It was nurtured into my blood, lay quiet, then awoke into the full certainty of a chosen passion.

Sometimes I wonder if we really are destined to become our parents.

This story begins in 1985, when my father, on his own odyssey of personal discovery thousands of miles from home, found himself working as a park ranger in Sitka, Alaska. In his downtime, he attended a basic broadcast class and became a DJ on local station KCAW, also known as Raven Radio. There’s a charming tape of my older sister’s two-year-old voice, burbling on-air: “You’re listening to Waven Wadio!”

Dad and sis in Sitka, 1985.

When my parents settled in the Seattle area, my dad’s radio involvement continued. For as long as I can remember, he has been hosting a folk music show on a listener-supported community radio station, originally once a week, now every other week. There were free concert and festival tickets, access to vast libraries of physical music and other assorted perks, but never a paycheck for the station’s many volunteers. What donating time and money through a church or another community organization represents for some people, local radio is for me – a pillar of public life worth supporting, a passion that may not pay, but gives back in so many other ways. It makes you part of a shared consciousness, a tightknit community within a community.

My sister and myself in the KBCS studio, sometime in the 90s.

After leaving home, I managed to stay away from radio for all of one year, before I was irresistibly drawn to the threadbare do-it-yourself charm of my campus station. Hosting my own show Midnight Monsoon on KWCW 90.5 was one of the greatest joys of my college years, and in the summer between junior and senior year, I had the delight of interning at 107.7 The End, my favorite Seattle station, the legendary alt rock pioneer that made bands from Nirvana to Death Cab for Cutie and The Head and the Heart world-famous. Then I graduated and found myself back in Berlin, interning for Berliner Rundfunk 91.4, doing interviews, writing copy and cutting audio for a large commercial mainstream format, my first foray into radio abroad.

A joyous patchwork of radio adventures.

A joyous patchwork of radio adventures.

Then came the fallow season for radio as I refocused on writing, translation and photography, landed first my freelance visa, then ultimately a full-time agency job in addition to my freelance gigs, and kept busy for, oh damn, years, where did the time go. No studio time save for brief nostalgic moments tagging along with my dad when visiting the folks in the Pacific Northwest.

And then the quiet hunger raised its voice and demanded to be fed.

You know it’s bad when the sight of a dingy old studio makes your chest tight. When old photos from your radio time get you all maudlin, when you’re watching Pitch Perfect and the thing that makes you the most misty-eyed isn’t the romance or the lovely harmonies or the victorious story arc, but this scene:

Pitch Perfect radio studio

So when I heard that NPR Berlin’s FM license had been picked up by KCRW, that a fledgling public radio station was just starting to stretch its wings in my city, I hopped over to their homepage and looked for opportunities to get involved.

One of the best decisions of my year. The KCRW Berlin team is comprised of passionate people, kindred spirits, burning for radio and stories and art and music. Fitting the cushy cans over my ears in their cozy Steglitz studio, modulating my voice to record voiceovers or testimonials, watching the sound waves flow like a heartbeat across the screen, I felt… home.

Volunteering for the station meant an opportunity to be a part of my own community in a new way, to pursue interesting stories that touched on the meeting places between local culture and expat experiences, the things that bridge oceans and make up this beautiful patchwork place we love. In particular, I was drawn to opportunities to cover the music scene and the city’s thriving culture of political activism, whether Germans speaking out against homegrown xenophobia, or Americans and interested allies #resisting Trump-era erosions of human rights. The station is a unique voice on the FM airwaves here, and I would fully encourage Berliners and Berlin-interested folks to tune in on the dial or online, support with a donation or get involved yourself!

For KCRW Berlin, I shot photos at this year’s edition of the always-glorious Berlin Coffee Festival, interviewed folk-rock band Mighty Oaks for FM broadcast and an online long-form piece on their vagabond anthems, teamed up with a fellow volunteer to photograph and record audio with a wide cross-section of participants at the massive #Unteilbar demonstration and did bits of social media support here and there. I’m shooting photos this weekend at another demo in solidarity with the US trans community, and researching on a couple more fronts relating to music and nightlife in the coming weeks. And then the next radio opportunity awaits: A thrilling new beginning as a music editor at NRJ Berlin.

Interviewing Mighty Oaks for KCRW Berlin.

Interviewing Mighty Oaks for KCRW Berlin.

Moving into this full-time radio career will mean the end of my volunteer activity, and I am excited to devote my full energies – forgive the pun – to Energy, work with some of the most dynamic artists and labels around, and hopefully grow the station’s presence in the local community with live events and listener involvement. NRJ Berlin is already bigger than any station I’ve ever worked with, and I can’t wait to tackle this new challenge.

Funky little local stations have a way of coming back around in my life, though. Who knows: Maybe when I’m sixty-something, I’ll retire, move to Alaska, kayak like Audrey Sutherland and start a pirate radio station on a boat. Or even stop by a certain corvidesque community station.

Caw, caw.

Dad in Raven Radio gear, hiking in Nova Scotia, October 2017.

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