Having a Louder Voice Can Make a Difference

Affiliated Media Foundation Movement Arkansas Radio Voice of the People

            Helena, Arkansas        We were up and out before 5am.  This was my monthly trip to Arkansas, but it was going to come with a twist.  We were going to stop on the way in Helena West Helena, Arkansas to finally meet Andrew Bagley, publisher and editor of the Helena World.  I had been talking with him via phone, email, and text for more than six months, but we had never actually met face-to-face.  We had come close months ago, when he was going to meet me in Little Rock and tour the KABF studio, but it turned out there was a water crisis in Helena due to a freeze, and as chairmen of the board of the housing authority, he had to make sure thousands of tenants got water.

To make a long story shorter, AM/FM had partnered with Bagley and a nonprofit he created to be one of the forty-seven applications we assisted communities in filing before the FCC for a low-power, 100-watt construction permit to build a station.  His application and one where we had partnered with one of the family of organizations of Action NC in Fayetteville, North Carolina, were the only two that had thus far succeeded in winning a construction permit.  I needed to finally see what the terrain looked like, how an antenna could be affixed to the building, where and how a studio could work, and the whole nine yards, but mainly I needed to finally meet Andrew.

We had to be timely, because he was the featured speaker at noon for the local Rotary Club.  His topic was the reason he and many others were promoting an initiative to enshrine freedom of information for citizens about the actions of government in the Arkansas constitution.  There has been a huge threat earlier when Governor Hutchinson Sanders had tried to gut this long-standing right, ostensibly claiming she needed it to protect her family.

The last time I had really walked the streets of Helena was with ACORN’s Caravan for Justice during the time of Jesse Jackson’s campaign when I have door knocked in the neighborhoods with my very young daughter, Maude Hurd, and a busload of other members and leaders from around the country going state by state in the south.  Now, downtown was a picture postcard of a Southern Mississippi River town on the ropes.  The city was clearly making an effort, but there were empty and boarded up storefronts block by block.    The Helena World building was only blocks from the center of town, but buildings surrounding it were vacant, dilapidated, and open to the stars.  Cotton and the river had been king.  Both dethroned now, what they had built was suffering.

I said something like the town seems to having tough times, but Bagley sloughed it off, saying there was a lot of happening, and quickly mentioning that crime was almost nonexistent.  He had a point.  There were murals of blues heroes from Helena.  Levon Helm of The Band famous in its own right and as Dylan’s backup band was from here and had a street named after him.

I got it pretty quickly.  Having a radio station here, even if low power, was part of the project, just as the print and internet paper was.  The World office was papered with awards from the Arkansas Press Association, and Bagley mentioned he was going to be president of that organization in the next year.  We always talk about our stations being part of a “voice of the people” network.  It is clear that we’ve found a friend in Helena who has the same dream of providing a voice in his community as well.  There’s a need, and the station will fill it.  That’s a promise.