A Story of a Radio Community
By Tina Antolini
In the relatively small public radio documentary world, there is one event that serves as a kind of combination Oscars/family reunion/Christmas morning (at least regarding level of excitement): the Third Coast Audio Festival. Several hundred of the most enthusiastic radio producers in the country (plus a few international folks too!) descend upon Chicago for a couple of days of workshops, listening sessions, and drinking bourbon (well, perhaps that’s an unofficial part of the conference). Just having returned from this year’s festivities, I’m riding on the thrill of connecting with all these other folks who are just as big radio dorks as I am. (There are others out there! Thank God!)
What struck me this year was that these people are witnessing the convergence of community in their particular pockets of the U.S.A.—and, sometimes, their radio stories create that community, even across great geographic distances. A case in point is a story that won a Third Coast Award at this year’s festival, “American Dreamer: Sam’s Story.”
In this beautifully-constructed piece, Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister of Long Haul Productions take us into the world of Sam, an illegal immigrant who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico when he was so young that he’s only really known an American life. He’s been thriving in the small Indiana town he grew up in, a star saxophone player, a college-bound high school grad. Except there’s a complication in Sam’s seemingly promising life: his undocumented status means he can’t get college loans, can’t apply for a job to earn money for tuition, can’t even get a driver’s license to drive to campus. Bravely, Sam shared his story with Dan and Elizabeth, risking possible deportation by being so public about his status… And here is where community materialized out of the radio waves. When NPR’s All Things Considered first aired a version of the story in December 2009, hundreds of emails and comments poured in. “Many of them were very negative,” Dan Collison told me, “even vitriolic and hateful.” But when All Things Considered read some of those comments on the air, another wave of emails ensued. It was a “backlash of positive emails and comments;” Dan says, “some of those folks donated to Sam’s tuition fund that Indiana University of South Bend set up. It’s helped him start his sophomore year at IUSB, though he dooesn’t have enough money to finish the year yet.”
Thanks to a radio story starting the conversation, hundreds of listeners coalesced to help send a young man to study music in college. This is the sort of work that the Third Coast Festival celebrates, and the kind that we here at State of the Re:Union are inspired by.
To listen to “American Dreamer: Sam’s Story,” go here.