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Crashing the Gates: How a Handful of Progressive Activists Brought Liberal Talk-Radio Back to the Nation's Capitol

DC is the most liberal region of the country, but until now all the talk on the radio dial skewed right.

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JH: And we're rooting for you. What was the station broadcasting before you took it over? Tell me it was Rush!

Kymone Freeman: WPWC used to stand for We Proud We Country. Now it stands for Washington's Progressive Working Community.

JH: So, the vast left-wing conspiracy knocked out that annoying Toby Keith guy? That's so full of win.

KF: Yes it is! And when the country music station was sold due to the owner's retirement, it became a Latino station. But then Prince William County embraced Arizona's racist law enforcement practices by giving the sheriff's department immigration enforcement powers. So over 50 percent of the Latino community vacated the area within one year – it made the station unsustainable, and that's how it fell into our hands.

JH: OK, let me throw this next question out to you, Alex: DC hasn't had progressive talk since Air America Radio went under three years ago. I'm sure you've done some analysis of why they failed, despite having some really good talent. So, what do you think they did wrong, and what will you guys do differently?

Alex Lawson: I don't think that you can call Air America a failure. I would say that we have Senator Al Franken due in part to Air America and that there are many progressive voices heard today because of the start they got on Air America.

Air America was also a huge part of activating me to engage in the political process. Knowing that I was not alone in my progressive values empowered me to search out a community that shared my commitment to building a world that values the inherent worth and dignity of every person. There are many lessons to learn from Air America, but the most important one is that radio is a powerful medium and we cannot afford to let the right-wing monopolize it.

Now, I have spent a lot of time on an analysis of how the right-wing came to dominate talk radio. And the answer is simple: they started small, built an audience and grew over time.

JH: OK, fair enough -- I don't want to trash Air America, which was great. But let me approach this a different way: how will WeAct Radio differ? Or will it?

AL: The thing is we are not even close to the scale of Air America. We're launching a single AM station in a single market that has a large population of politically inclined people. So while it's not a small undertaking to launch a new station in a top 10 media market, it is much more modest than trying to build a nationwide progressive talk station in one go.

And I think that by focusing on a single market we can develop content that is more responsive to what our audience wants to hear. So the biggest difference between Air America and We Act Radio is scale.

JH: Now, Kymone, I saw you being interviewed a few weeks ago -- I don't remember who the interviewer was -- and you were talking about how WeAct Radio was going to be really integrated into the community. And you were saying that rather than talking at people, there's going to be a lot of opportunity for the progressive community in DC to make their own voices heard. Tell me about that.

KF: We're providing all sorts of opportunities for the local progressive community to get involved and really do something.

We're launching Live Wire, which is our independent showcase of programming comprised of local activists and business owners that will air in prime-time hours 11am and 7pm. We're going to host film screenings, book promotions and other cultural events at the studio which will be open to the general public. I'm working on getting some grants to launch broadcast training programs for young people – to try to engage them in media and politics, and as a Green for All fellow, I have received support to create a community garden in the back of our studios. We fully intend to make our station as eco-friendly as possible.

 
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