Community Radio Love Fest

Anniversary Arkansas KABF Radio

            Marble Falls      In Finland, the Prime Minister is a young woman.  She kicked up a hornet’s nest in this reputedly happy-happy country by dancing with her friends at a club one night recently.  We’re a long way from the tut-tuting, eyebrow raising folks over there to know the details, but she passed a drug test after the scold.  What the heck, people need to have the space to celebrate, right?

We know the answer is “yes!” The other night more than one-hundred people gathered at the Ron Robinson Auditorium at the Central Arkansas Library systems main headquarters in Little Rock to celebrate the 38th anniversary of 100,000-watt KABF community radio being on the air in central Arkansas since 1984 and the long-serving radio career of program director of 85-year-old John Cain.  It was all smiles and no scolding; a virtual love feast where people from all walks of life seized the opportunity to say thanks to KABF for being a “voice of the people”, and to John for being the longtime steward of this popular megaphone and mentor to so many.

There was a panel that included jazz veteran Robert “Griff” Griffin, who shared the experience he and John had had transitioning from commercial radio to noncommercial community radio; Toney Orr, chair of the KABF board told about the tribulations and love that comes from sharing space in real life as well as on-the-air with John; Michael Hibblen, the local NPR station’s news director told about starting his career at 16 years old when he got a 1AM slot for an hour midweek; and J.T. Tarpley, whose documentary on KABF 88.3 The Voice of the People had opened the evening with several clips, told a bunch of great stories about being a 14-year-old “hayseed” with a buddy and driving to the highest point around Gurdon to listen to KABF and listen to the world they wanted to be a join.   All that led to John offering some remarks on his career and his excitement at finding a place at KABF where he could be himself, play jazz and anything else he liked, and make a place for social and racial justice in radio.

All of that was great, but the real celebration came from the audience as one person after another told their KABF and John stories.  Joe Fox, who had been the sparkplug for much of ACORN’s initial work in radio from Tampa to Little Rock, grabbed the floor even before the Q&A to make sure people knew the whole story of push-shove and finally negotiations that led KABF to 88.3 FM and 100,000 watts in a tug of war with UALR that was resolved by Hendrix College in Conway declining interest.  Later, when the microphone was passed around, the stories were a combination of testimonial and historical hilarity.  A woman asked John where the stuff from Jamaica was that he had promised her decades ago.  Another woman stepped up and listed the Saturday lineup and how great it was. One of the gospel DJs told a story about a woman coming in and demanding that KABF immediately play her song, and John throwing the CD across the room, and finally pulling a switchblade to usher her out of the studio.  Ah, as Toney, and I often say, there’s nothing like community radio!

Hosts met fans.  Hosts met other hosts so they could exchange tips and offer props.  Luckily, the doors opened an hour early, so people could mingle.  Hundreds of selfies were snapped.  Put a microphone in front of radio hosts and the celebration could have gone on for hours and hours.  Being there was a slice of heaven.  Like the song says, “Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music!”