Editor’s Notebook: Karaoke vs. KRCL and why we write

by Greta Belanger deJong How many people do you know who have written a book? A lot, I bet. When I was a kid, most people could play a musical instrument. At family gatherings it was what people did. Apparently it still is that way in some circles: Peter Au, manager of Wing Tai, a Chinese import shop in Murray, also rents out his karaoke machine, which has thousands of tunes in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese in addition to English, French and such. He let me try it. Scary but fun. I sang “That Old Black Magic,” in a slinky, Bjork mood, which didn’t exactly fit the swing orchestra accompaniment. Anyway, Peter said that karaoke is very big in Asian cultures. “We get together. We eat. Then we sing,” is how he describes it. His machine is very popular.

Instead of making music anymore, everybody I know seems to write, or aspire to write. They buy books about journaling, and blank books to write in, or carry their laptops everywhere. Writing classes abound, for those interested in mining their pasts for the gold of something worth remembering and repeating, or inventing new lives from hearsay.

People write for all sorts of reasons, and it’s commonly said that “real” writers write because they must—that it’s painful not to, much like a cow with an udder full of milk.  They get cranky if they don’t. Which is not to say that it’s necessarily much less painful to actually write.

I will reveal something potentially embarrassing: I like to write because I like the feel of my fingers on the keyboard. I love the tapping, the rebound; I like to wiggle my fingers. (Perhaps this is merely an extension of my earlier piano-playing family life.) It gives me pleasure to see the letters, words, sentences appear. I like the look of punctuation, and the declarative thump of a period.

A fellow once endeared himself to me by saying, after a thoughtful pause, when I asked him what were some things he liked: “I like to spell.”

Similarly, I like to hear my own voice in a microphone. For a few years I did open mic poetry readings, not through any strong belief in the writing but for the joy of hearing my own magnified tones, so lush and round.

I remember about 20 years ago Carly Jimenez had a chapter-a-day program on KRCL, Salt Lake’s community-sponsored radio station. I always wanted to participate but I wasn’t brave enough, having not yet discovered the joy of the microphone. Addressing thousands of people you can’t even see… how do people do that? 

But hundreds of KRCL volunteers have done exactly that, for almost three decades. A community of supporters have listened, attended events such as Day in the Park and other KRCL-sponsored gatherings and voted for their favorite programs with their call-in donations.

KRCL staff, management and board took it in the shorts last month with the announcement that volunteers are  soon to lose the 6 a.m.-6 p.m. slot. The move to hire three people to handle those hours was characterized by some volunteers and listeners as a “corporate takeover, ” a camel’s nose in the door that will turn our gutsy, feisty station into pablum. 

I interviewed station manager Donna Land and board member Paula Evershed recently. It was a good interview, full of great quotes and useful insights. The recording equipment worked fine. The next day, my computer ate the interview, taking a few fire-spinning videos with it. Yes, I was bummed.

But I can tell you this: I came away with the feeling that KRCL will still be our radio station.  The music will still be like nothing heard elsewhere in town. Volunteer d.j.s will still be at the microphones more than half the time. We’ll still hear all the public service announcements that guide our social-activist lives. And live musicians will still show up and goof off. As for Day In the Park: It stopped several years ago because the previous volunteer organizers stepped down. Maybe new volunteers will appear.

Last I heard, six volunteer d.j.s were among the many applicants for the three paid on-air positions. The change should happen in May.

Radiothon is this month. I will call in my pledge. I say let’s give the new format a chance.

Perhaps even more important than my financial pledge: I am making an effort to listen more. I want to be a KRCL supporter not just in theory—not just a moral supporter—but in my actions.

FM 90.9. If you’re not already familiar with the station, check it out. And if you don’t like it—well, let’s get together and I’ll sing you some karaoke. u

Greta Belanger deJong is founder, publisher and editor of CATALYST. greta@catalystmagazine.net.