By E. Emmet Brady
Community radio never ceases to amaze. Sometimes the content is high-brow, polished and professional; at others, it’s haphazard and crafted by well-intended amateurs. But it always comes from the heart. Community-based media is — literally — the voice of the people we live with every day. As such, it’s not too often that a DJ broadcasting on a low-power community radio station steps into the middle of a national media whirlwind.
That’s what happened Wednesday night on KDRT, 95.7 FM, “where the grass roots grow” in Davis. Rod Moseanko — whose weekly show “The Grapevine” adheres to a strict music-only R&B format — took on the task of hosting an impromptu interview with the renowned and recently notorious folksinger Michelle Shocked.
The decision by Shocked to speak and perform on KDRT mirrors the decision by the station’s management to green-light the interview: Both see KDRT as a valuable platform for an open dialogue about the issues that matter most to Davis, and to a wider audience. The choice was risky on both sides of the mic, not only because it involves charged topics like freedom of speech, conservative religious beliefs and homosexuality, but because the artist is trying to repair her professional image after a self-implosive rant onstage.
A quick recap: Shocked began a 30-city tour at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in March. Part of the show apparently dealt with her music, the other with her new path as a born-again Christian. At the end of the show, she made a homophobic rant, in which she interpreted God’s “disapproval” of gays, that became a Twitter sensation — the wrong way.
Not only did the comments offended multiple segments of our increasingly fractionalized society, it alienated a huge swath of Shocked’s own fan base, who had come to know her over a 25-year career as an outspoken eco-feminist lesbian activist. A headline article from Rolling Stone magazine stated the about-face succinctly: “Michelle Shocked: Not the First Artist to Betray Her Fanbase.”
Most people interpret the event like this: Shocked brought a pentecostal hand grenade to the performance, the Twitter crowd the pulled the pin. The actual audio footage was far more apocalyptic and mean-hearted than the Tweets revealed. Shocked condemned Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage law, as signaling “the end of times” and “the second coming of Jesus.” She also cited “Chinese water torture” and “priests being held at gunpoint.” As Rolling Stone reported, the artist believed she was “caught up in the moment onstage and was trying to draw a distinction for the audience between ‘reality’ and ‘truth.’ ”
The ensuing backlash led to almost every club on the tour circuit to cancel her gigs. Shocked was blacklisted from many radio stations across the country. The Twitterati and other social media communities won’t let her off the hook, because she didn’t apologize or retract her statements outright.
Fast-forward to last Monday afternoon. DMA management received an email from Shocked’s management, asking if she could appear on KDRT to express the as-of-yet untold side of the story. What’s noteworthy is that this was to be her second media appearance since the meltdown — right here in li’l old Davis. The other appearance? A national apology on “Piers Morgan Live” on CNN. (That one did not go well for Shocked.)
It was a risky maneuver for her to appear on KDRT uninvited and not flat-out ask for forgiveness. The risk was far greater for KDRT, a station that relies on volunteer programming and local underwriting for its content. DMA is steered by a team of 4.5 committed professionals, who manage both the radio station, DCTV cable Channel 15 and the Davis school district’s cable Channel 17, mostly on a shoestring budget.
The potentially volatile interview came at an important time for the station, which is entering its annual spring fundraising drive (the “Thank-a-Thon” commences on DCTV from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday). An important function is that the station offers radio and TV coverage for many of the Davis school district affairs and sporting events. This hardly seems the platform to smooth the pavement for such a politically and socially charged umwelt.
But considering the station’s history, DMA is the perfect place for Shocked to fumble through a confessional. DMA has received accolades from around the region and the country for its programming choices. The station was recognized in the Columbia Journalism Review (June 2012) as one of a handful of public access stations nationwide that has been “forward-thinking in offering media on multiple platforms.”
Nationally recognized as a leader in low-power FM advocacy and for media democracy, the DMA management serves on boards including the Western Region of the Alliance for Community Media and Common Frequency. DMA is one of seven centers in Northern California participating in innovative collaboration exploring best practices and common projects. Now in its third year, the model is being examined for possible replication elsewhere. In short, DMA has never been afraid to take risks.
The saving grace for the entire event was how Moseanko navigated the interview. Moseanko, a longtime KDRT DJ, handled the interview with professionalism, and the appropriate balance of sensitivity and objectivity. He didn’t sidestep the tough questions, but he also let the artist have her say.
As a gesture of good faith for Moseanko, the KDRT management left the decision to host Shocked up to him. DMA leaders don’t edit content by the volunteers; they only guide the programming. As station executive director Autumn Labbé-Renault posted on Facebook:
“Moseanko accepted her request to be interviewed, and DMA supports his decision and right as a volunteer programmer to manage his show and interview Shocked. We assumed to do so is to promote dialog, and that dialog promotes some kind of education and understanding.”
A small segment of KDRT’s listening audience has already voiced umbrage with offering Shocked a platform to “justify” anti-gay sentiments. But the feedback proved that Moseanko was undeniably the right man for the job. One listener wrote: “I like how he maintained a clear and gentle guiding hand at keeping Michelle within a well tamed stage, considering the controversy of her as a subject.
“And keeping in mind that it was a surprise interview, I like that Rod didn’t compromise his show by making it fit to Michelle, but rather having her fit in with ‘The Grapevine.’ I feel that manner in which Rod took on the interview showed a positive reflection on KDRT of how open the station is to educating the public on all subjects no matter how taboo they may be.”
A bold move, but one that is consistent with the opportunities that DMA offers to everyone in the community. Labbé-Renault anticipated the liability of the interview, and issued an internal statement: “I’d like to be clear that neither DMA’s nor KDRT’s values support homophobia or any form of discrimination. But community media is also about allowing dialog to unfold, making room for a lot of different opinions. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, but I believe KDRT volunteer and host of ‘The Grapevine,’ Rod Moseanko, handled the interview with sensitivity and aplomb.”
After weighing the risks and rewards for the station, KDRT programming director Jeff Shaw told me directly: “It’s the type of thing that can only happen on a community radio station. You won’t hear that on commercial media — period.”
In my humble opinion, it was one of the most complete and effective radio interviews I have ever heard. As a Davis resident and a volunteer at DMA, I hope that the entire community will continue to celebrate DMA’s integrity and to support this very special media resource in Davisland.
As for Shocked, the verdict is still out on whether her appearance was a farce or a genuine plea for forgiveness. Perhaps it served as the seed of a greater reconciliation, one that was sown “where the grass roots grow.”
To hear the complete interview, click on this link:
— E. Emmet Brady hosts two radio shows on KDRT’s “Wednesday Science Doubleplay:” “The Insect News Network” broadcasts from 4 to 5 p.m. (with a replay on Fridays from noon to 1 p.m.), and “Expanding Science” from 5 to 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.insectnewsnetwork.com