Joel Christiansen

Community Radio

September 23, 2023
This week, I’m thinking about community radio. Specifically, I’m taking time to appreciate and be thankful for it. 

When I first moved to college, my roommate Dave introduced me to community radio.  Dave was older than me and had lived in our eastside Milwaukee house for a few years before I arrived. He had taken over the basement as his creative lab for a stop-motion animation project in film school. 

While Dave worked late into the night, he played 91.7FM WMSE at a high volume on room speakers. Since my bedroom was situated directly above his basement movie set, I began involuntarily consuming several hours of public radio each night. In the kitchen, NPR played nearly constantly. Elsewhere in the house, it was a steady stream of WYMS. Over time, it all grew on me. I was college-aged and didn’t know what public radio was or why it sounded so different and much more interesting than what I was used to. Like most other kids in 80’s/90’s middle America, my exposure to radio came from the usual diet of corporate stations. 

Public radio became my soundtrack. I came to learn and later memorize all of WMSE’s programs. I took in world, ambient, electronic, noise, punk, and every other genre of music. Then, I moved to the West Coast and found myself drawn to KBOO and KXRY in Portland, KEXP in Seattle, and now KZAX in Bellingham. These days, thanks to the internet, I can also tune into or listen to recorded broadcasts of my favorite community radio shows from nearly anywhere.