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Frequency Modulation

Community Radio: Like Nobody’s Business or Ode to Radio Joy

by Claudia Shambaugh

As a long-time consumer of radio, since at least the Sixties, I could say that radio chose me. A treasured and near-constant companion, it was an affordable, accessible resource teeming with news, banter, and music, available in and from anywhere around the globe.

Then, in spring 2010 I chose community radio - enough consuming as opportunity knocked to begin producing. Having been around a lot of academics, I thought that someone should liven up their deliveries, or give their essential work a more public forum. Add to that my prowlings around a good many political and cultural scenes, I had an infinite amount of material that everyone ought to know. After having met several local Orange County folks who had their own shows, it was time to train and start broadcasting.

Radio, like nobody’s business, gives the host and the listener the gift of topical, creative, and quirky outcomes. Along with my listeners, I feel goosebumps when a guest teaches us something new, right in the middle of a live interview. I love when listeners graciously tell me about a show they heard; the others well, I’m still waiting to hear from them.

Eventually I realized the power in harnessing the autonomy of community radio; we’re not hindered by any focus-groups. We can be polished like the big boys and girls, yet also wear self-deprecation on our auditory sleeves. This niche must --- and does --- keep punching above its weight, serving as a reservoir of coverage in the ever-expanding media deserts.

Thirteen years and eight hundred shows later, I still shrink from requests to pick one interview that stands out to me. I mean every guest, regardless of where they are positioned on the social food chain, they all play along. They all give me great shows. Presenting their phenomenal work is my way of handing out assignments. It’s a job well done if listeners get off their duffs and do something that they’ve never done or do something with greater vigor. That’s why the indefinite article in Ask A Leader definitely needs to be capitalized – every guest is an A-lister. It’s a ridiculous show title and it works every week. By September 2020, Radio KUCI staff had declined; new shows had to be produced for weary listeners still isolated, waiting for vaccines, and looking for relief amidst the federal leadership chaos. Hosting a new show, Digging Out, I offered fresh programming to clear the debris that had accumulated.

Then, a cosmic display of community radio in June 2023 the United Ukrainian Ballet Company, a troupe comprised of refugee ballet dancers, was bringing its world tour to the Segerstrom Hall last June. Alexei Ratmansky’s new interpretation of Giselle showcased Ukrainian talent and culture and raised funds for a nation. Two principal dancers, Alexis Tutunnique and Elizaveta Gogidze, were available for a remote interview before arriving in Orange County. They knew I spoke no Ukrainian, but that I would be very mindful of their country’s traumatic situation. Among their remarkable commentary, we heard that Alexis was well acquainted with one of the ballet dancers who was killed on the front line, saying “It is difficult to talk about this, but we must talk about it.” Elizaveta asked for listeners to remain aware of the war, and to “send guns.”

Knowing that Elizabeth Segerstrom, Henry’s widow, was born in Poland, I asked the dancers about her involvement in this fundraiser, and we learned that she’d been paying her privilege forward on this project for over nine months. I closed the show with music that Alexei had posted on social media, Ukrainian composer Vsevolod Zaderatsky’s “24 Preludes and Fugue,” written during his detention in the Soviet gulag.

So, with that small if illustrative example, back to the big picture of choosing among media options. Consider the clutter factor when comparing visual media to radio: high production values versus two people talking, the look versus the voice. We all recognize the shiny newscast stage and the anchor ladies’ snug fitting V-neck sheath dresses. With radio, listeners just home in on voices: words, pitch, pauses, inflections, and interjections.

The consequences of our media selections are worth considering and were perhaps raised to yet another level at a recent talk in Irvine about coping with collective trauma and crisis in a presentation by U.C. Irvine social scientist Roxane Silver and crisis psychologist Natasha Frolova of Dnipro State University in Ukraine. In mapping the connection between media consumption and shared public trauma, these women actually endorsed radio. Visually graphic, over-the-top media sensationalism begets lingering trauma. As crises stack up, mass visual media shock values take their toll. With lingering effect, images are seared in viewers’ minds.

Radio, these researchers conclude, appears on the other hand to be a protective coping measure while also providing reliable information and analysis about collective traumas such as war, terrorism, mass violence, and other crises. They have the receipts, with more to come.

New to radio? Just try listening. If one station isn’t cutting it, move on to another. Stay tuned to channels where radio continues to try to best meet its obligations toward being purposeful, true, relevant, and original.

I chose community radio because I was a listener first. As a longtime host, I sign off each weekly episode of my show with both gratitude for my responsibility and a conscious acknowledgement of our relationship. “Thank you, everyone,” I say, “for listening…”


*Title Photo: Shambaugh with guest, student activist Lydia Natoolo.  (Photo: Guerline Josef)


Claudia Shambaugh hosts Ask a Leader, on KUCI 88.9 FM. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she completed her BA in political science at Scripps College and her Masters in urban and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. She worked in coastal zone management on the East Coast, and urban open space projects in Southern California. As host and producer at Radio KUCI, solely responsible for her radio programming, she divides the world into two parts; those who have been her guests and those who have not. Evidence is available at: . She continues collecting her receipts on politics and culture inside OC and beyond, having lived in Denmark, Spain, Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and all corners of the U.S.

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