Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Speak Up, Las Cruces!" - What We Hope to Do

“Speak Up, Las Cruces!”

For two weeks now I’ve been saying that a lot, mostly during the hours of 8-10 a.m., Monday through Friday.

Keith Whelpley and I co-host a daily two-hour radio show called “Speak Up, Las Cruces!” on KOBE 1450. We first aired on Labor Day.

We took it on in the perhaps foolish hope that it could become a useful tool in the community’s ongoing dialogue with itself.

We discovered that we share certain assumptions: first, that we live in a community.  That community members can and will disagree, sometimes vigorously, without necessarily leaving – or tossing someone else out of – the community.  That communities, both in elections and otherwise, make decisions that affect the lives of their members; that decisions are better made when a community has the fairest, and most complete information; and that this sort of information is often best found, or developed, in frank but reasonably courteous discussion and debate.

While there will be shows in which Keith and I tallk with each other and our listeners who call in, we frequently bring in guests.  With a controversial issue like the gross receipts tax hike, the funding freeze on mental health providers, and same-sex marriage, we bring in knowledgeable people who disagree.  Aside from specific issues, we’re inviting community members we disagree with to spend time with us, if they’re willing, and let the listeners figure out what it all means, if anything.  (Among those count Neal Hooks, Tea Party representatives, and Steve Pearce.)

Wednesday we discussed same-sex marriage with: the newly famous Lynn Ellins, our County Clerk; Republican State Sen. Bill Sharer, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Ellins; Neal Hooks, a Sun-News Op-Ed Columnist who disagrees with Ellins as strongly as Sen. Sharer; and Carrie Hamblen, who’s the President of PFLAG Las Cruces and one-half of a newly-married couple.  Callers were free to question anyone, or comment.

Earlier that day, we had an hour-long, reflective conversation with the new Bishop, Oscar Cantú.  We wanted to introduce listeners to a prominent member of the community whom many, particularly non-Catholics, haven’t met.  (I’m far from being a Catholic, but thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and tend to think Bishop Cantú is a pretty good guy.)

Our vision, if I may over-dignify our hopes with that word, is that through honest and sometimes bold reportage, but with courtesy and respect toward guests, we can examine facts or situations – or bring together others who’ll do so – in a way that’s useful for all of us.

That’s a challenge.  We also want to have fun doing it and make it fun for our listeners.  We’ll do that through occasional flippancy and irreverence, a lot of goofy news items when we’re without guests, and an openness to all sorts of guests and all sorts of subjects.  We’ll have the mayor and senators on, but also a number of people who are lot less well known but just plain interesting.  The college basketball coach who went to Ireland to coach, so as to learn Irish fiddling, and ended up a writer, teaching at NMSU.  The guy who felt like making rainbows, and did, and now gets flown around to foreign countries to make rainbows.  A former Hollywood stunt man who as a youth gained a wealth of knowledge from the Mescaleros, is now developing an interesting breed of horse, and has also recently put out a book that isn’t really about any of those subjects.

Tuesday after a spirited discussion of the gross receipts tax with City Manager Robert Garza and City Councilor Miguel Silva, we talked with three members of Crossroads City Roller Derby.  Who would have supposed that a conversation about roller-blading would lead us into frank talk about how their sport had helped each of them in some profound way in their careers, including helping one of the three guests recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after eight years in the military?

If you’ve tune in, you know that our two weeks on radio have featured a comical series of mistakes (by me) and misfortunes in the technical end of what we’re doing.  Like most things, hosting a radio show takes a little more than outsiders might imagine.  The variety of things that can go wrong (including forgetting to put on headphones and then construing the silence as being off the air – or forgetting to turn off everyone’s mikes the moment a commercial starts and everyone mistakenly thinks s/he’s off-air and might say anything.)

But it’s fun.  Keith and I are both curious.  We’re also experienced reporters. Sometimes we feel like a couple of curious kids just given free reio their town and ask folks all sorts of things, serious and silly.

And there are light moments. Wednesday when I invited Keith to read the list of our sponsors, I led into it by asking him to “remind us who brings us here” – and instantly realized that when you use a phrase like that around the bishop, it’s capable of meaning someone other than your sponsors.  He’d had the same thought, and we kidded about it with the bishop.

But then, what do I know about who brought us there?

What started in hopes we could contribute to our community also turns out to be enough fun that we’ll keep letting it turn out lives upside-down for awhile, and see where it leads.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, September 15.

We really are interested in suggestions, criticisms, and what-not that could help us improve the show.  We have a Facebook page (if you're on Facebook, please search "Speak Up, Las Cruces" and "Friend" us or "like" us or post a comment) and even an email account at KOBE (send to peter and/or to keith  at

The Sun-News headlined the column "More than a Radio Show."  That bothered me, although I had to admit maybe that was what I was saying.  But I wasn't, exactly.  What I hope I said was that we hope it'll be a damn good radio show -- and, yes, more than a radio show.  A community water well where folks from all walks of life stop to drink, and gab.  A chance for each of us to connect with a whole lot of interesting folks with whom we share this valley but whom he don't know at all.  

But I'm selfish, too.  I'm curious, one of those guys who's always watching everything, overhearing everything, wondering how folks got the way they are and where they dream of going from here, and how the world looks to 'em.  I'm a curious guy, and journalism has often served as a way to satisfy curiosity without being impolite.  It gives me a socially acceptable reason to ask all sorts of folks all sorts of things.

Just walking through the market yesterday talked to half a dozen potential guests.  A fellow named Jerry whose mission is helping veterans with PTSD fit back in to our community.  An artist whose work we thoroughly enjoy, who stressed when I asked him about being on radio that God was a big part of what he does, and that if he came on the show that's something he'd be wanting to talk about -- that helping spread the Word would be why he'd come on.  I urged him to think about it, and he gently corrected me:  "I'll pray about it, he said."

I don't happen to share his religious views, or those of our delightful guest last Wednesday, Bishop Cantú; but I've noticed, in working sporadically on a documentary about folks who produce healthy food and sell it at the market here, that God is a major part of what they're doing and why they're doing it.  I find that interesting.

Rush Limbaugh (aside from wanting to promote Rush Limbaugh) has a set of positions he wants to convince you to take.
Well, I have some views too; but I also find a whole lot in the world that fills me with wonder, or sparks my curiosity, and so I want to check things out -- and, by doing so on radio, invite you to check 'em out with me, and share your thoughts by calling in.  
It's tough not to sit at home mornings with the hummingbirds and the beautiful morning light, rather than in a studio so small Lynn Ellins announced he had bigger closets; it's tough to be somewhere by 8 a.m. with some semblance of brains turned on; it's tough to crash early night after night; but the show is fun.  And I'm learning a new trade.]

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