New Orleans Over the last couple of years as I’ve acted as station manager of KABF 88.3/FM, the “voice of the people” broadcasting at 100,000 watts from Little Rock, Arkansas and live streaming, I’m sometimes asked by various associates “if this is the best use of my time,” to which I reply heartily with various justifications, all of which I totally embrace and believe. These include the power of the medium, the opportunity, still untapped to use the internet internationally to broadcast, the value of providing a unique voice to often powerless and voiceless people, and so on and so forth.
But, there’s another part of the answer that is equally real. I view my three or four days up there at the station every four to six weeks almost as a fun-filled change of pace. For the most part, the problems are so different from the normal work of community and labor organizing, that it’s often just hilarious, and other times just satisfying because sometimes it’s little things that can be done that make a difference in simply making the “trains run on time,” by coming in from time to time.
The best story of my recent trip was a doozy. KABF and the Local 100 office in Little Rock occupy perhaps a bit more than half of the space on the second floor of the 1950’s era building on the far southern part of Main Street in the city. The property was – and is – owned by a nonprofit building corporation similar to many created by ACORN for this purpose and in fact is named after the first building we bought to house our offices many years ago on 15th Street. It’s a collective enterprise and as such when things go well for all of us, it’s good times, and when there are hard times, the apples don’t fall far from that tree either. The good news on my last trip had been that a tenant had finally been found for the space the union had occupied formerly on the second floor. There was some downside fallout of course. Two of the rooms we had cleaned and cleared of mountains of junk were now repopulated with the detritus that had been in the space now rented, so we were once again going to have to push those rocks back up the hill, but renting the space was all to the good.
Turned out there was some excitement in this tale though. When the new tenant began to move to occupy the space and opened the door to get on with the task, they were totally stymied and stopped cold until they could figure out what the heck was happening. In the middle of the now vacant space they found a tower of recording equipment, taping away as if they had unearthed an old Stasi spy operation in East Germany or an Edward Snowden operation right in Little Rock. Was the whole building and its work now under surveillance?
The search for an explanation was on! It ended quickly though when various parties asked John Cain, the longtime program manager of KABF, if he had any clue about what might be going on in the space. Turns out that indeed he did. One of the volunteers had approached him and asked if he could set up some recording equipment in the building to catch the sounds of ghosts (yes, ghosts!) operating in the space. They had been recording for days. John saw no harm in the project, and in his long experience with the thousands of different volunteers over the 30-year history of the station, didn’t even seem to find the request or the project that unusual.
We’ll have to await the final report from this name-unknown volunteer on what he did or didn’t hear when he tediously listens to the recordings. In the meantime, the space is now fearlessly occupied, and the ghost-busting volunteer is now more infamous for having parked his car and blocked the dumpster from being emptied, costing an extra fee for a return pickup, and perhaps inadvertently solving the long time parking disputes of the building once and for all, than for his efforts to catch Casper the friendly ghost in his hideaway on South Main with the rest of the special people and crazy antics that make every one of my visits such a hoot.