“Radio is your most visual medium.”
That was an idea floated by radio veteran and This American Life creator Ira Glass almost twenty years ago. Although he went on to say that’s mostly wishful thinking, I’ve heard the phrase picked up by others in the radio world. It hits on something I love about the work we get to do at KNOM: We set the scene for our listeners using sound — and invite them to imagine it for themselves. That means when you listen to the radio, you are doing part of the work, and I hope it makes you feel like part of the story.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about telling stories through sound. I decided I wanted to make radio two years ago, when I was teaching English in Shanghai. I listened to hours and hours of podcasts, read up on radio online, and started recording on my old cracked phone: the stories of how my students chose or were given their English names, and sounds that caught my ear around the city — bleating traffic, sizzling noodles, dreamy waltzes for couples dancing in parks.
I learned about KNOM while I was living in Shanghai and was immediately intrigued, but I didn’t apply right away. Hoping to be (a little) closer to home, I returned to the continental US and settled in Durham, North Carolina. I loved Durham, where I took audio production classes, saved up money, and made a lot of wonderful friends. But after about a year, I started getting restless. I thought I remembered hearing something about a little radio station in Alaska…
So here I am! It feels like it’s been a long time coming, and I hope it’s the start of radio adventures for years to come. But not everyone comes to KNOM to start a career in radio. Volunteers go on to do everything from medicine to theater, and the experience of giving a year (or more!) of service at KNOM is, as people around here like to say, “something you’ll be unpacking for the rest of your life.”
I was curious how someone with a very different vision for his life might see radio and his work here at KNOM. I asked my co-volunteer Gabe about it, and I was surprised to hear that things have already started to shift for him as he’s found himself newly aware of the power of sound — and the importance of listening.
Image at top: An autumn sunset in Nome. Photo: Zoe Grueskin/KNOM.