(Iowa City Press-Citizen "Our View," June 27, 2009)
Having been raised in Iowa City, University of Iowa student Nathan Gould was shocked last year when Iowa Public Radio announced it was canceling "Live from Prairie Lights" after 16 years on the air. After all, the "Live from Prairie Lights" broadcasts were listed as one of the many reasons why UNESCO decided to recognize the vibrant literary life of Iowa City.
The 2006 Regina graduate -- who describes himself as being on the "nerdy side" in high school -- already was disappointed that WSUI had stopped broadcasting the readings live after it joined the other public radio stations as part of a statewide network. But, like many other local listeners, he thought the tape-delayed readings were better than no readings at all.
Yet unlike the hundreds of disappointed listeners who filled IPR's e-mail and voice mail accounts last year, Gould was in a position to do something productive about the canceled radio series. The political science and philosophy major was in the middle of his first year as the general manager of KRUI 89.7-FM -- Iowa City's student-run, sound alternative. He quickly realized how "great" it would be if KRUI could pick up where WSUI left off.
While IPR officials were busy explaining how they had redefined the term "local" for their member stations to mean "statewide" rather than "Iowa City area," Prairie Lights staff began exploring new ways to expand the reach of the in-house reading series. One way was to partner with UI's Writing University program so that all the university-associated readings could be streamed live at www.writinguniversity.org.
At the same time, Gould began working with the KRUI's faculty adviser, Kembrew McLeod, and the Prairie Lights staff to figure out how best to transplant and to revive "Live from Prairie Lights" as a local radio staple. He and his staff decided to start slowly over the summer, and the radio station is now broadcasting the tape from one reading per week at 2 p.m., Sundays.
"We'll do a little post-production editing," Gould said. "But it will still be a live reading from the store."
Gould describes the summer broadcasts as "more than a test run." He said KRUI is fully commitment to broadcast programs for at least the next year.
"We're hoping to improve the product," he said. "The people at Prairie Lights have been very helpful and accommodating. And we're working together to figure out how the program should sound."
Gould said that, under his management, there has been a slight increase in the amount of talk programs on KRUI. And he stressed that, to him, "local programming" means providing quality conversation and music that isn't happening anywhere else in the Iowa City area.
Whether the next KRUI manager has the same vision for local programming is yet to be seen. Gould said he plans to graduate in 2010, and he already is in the process of applying to law schools.
But whatever the future may bring for "Live from Prairie Lights" as a radio show, we're encouraged that KRUI's staff of undergraduates, graduate students and community members are working hard to keep the "local" in "local programming."