I read a version of this at the 2013 Public Radio Program Directors Conference in Atlanta (PRPD).
My name is Luis Antonio Perez, I am a host/producer at Vocalo in Chicago, a member of the Association of Independents in Radio and this year’s AIR New Voices captain. I am also a non-traditional public radio listener. I’m a millennial, Latino, from a working-poor neighborhood in Chicago, some college, and I definitely do not make over $90,000 a year, and I LOVE public radio. Here’s the story of HOW I fell in love.
It was 2001. I was 19. I was in college full-time, working two part-time jobs, when I came home one night exhausted. I threw my bag to a corner and collapsed on the floor in the middle of my 500 square foot studio apartment. As I lay there my clock-radio came on. I had accidentally set the alarm for 7:00 PM instead of 7:00 AM. Then this dude with a nasally, crackly voice says,
“From WBEZ in Chicago, it’s This American Life, I’m Ira Glass…” The episode was “House on Loon Lake.” I lay there on the floor motionless listening for the full hour. I was hooked after that. I’ve shared this story with lot of the New Voice Scholars and many have told me that “House on Loon Lake” was the story that also introduced themto public radio.
For us, it was the beginning of something new. Before that experience, radio was forgettable. Now it was something else. Radio was something much bigger than it had been.
Everyone has had that moment. The spark, that turns into a flame, that rages into a fire.
A love that turns into passion and a passion that becomes a commitment.
A few years, after first listening to “House on Loon Lake” I was recruited by new project called Vocalo at Chicago Public Radio who were looking for non-traditional host-producers, for a non-traditional public radio station. I’ve now spent the last six years growing with Vocalo.
Now I’m in it. I’m not just listening to public radio. I am creating it. This is my 2nd PRPD conference and I’m struck by 2 things. 1.) How honest everyone is in discussing the need to diversify public media. 2.) That this conversation has been going on for-ev-er.
It makes me wonder if we’re actually playing the game or just wearing the uniform.
From the outside looking in it seems like the leaders of public media are sitting on the bench of contemplation, while many others have been out on the field season after season.
It’s time to get off the bench. It’s time take the uniform we all wear and run out onto the field together.
Speaking of teams… for the 4th year AIR has given scholarships to producers who strive to give voice to the underrepresented to help them attend conferences like PRPD. These are AIR’S 2013 Class of New Voice Scholars. They are eager, passionate, versatile, committed. They are storytellers. They are leaders. They are part of our future in public media.
It is up to us to create the space to give them the opportunity to do their work. It is up to us to connect them to our well established networks. It’s up to US to nurture them, and usher them into a place where they can serve the public through media.
If we don’t, there will be other opportunities luring them away. They will go somewhere else. They are committed to their communities. They will find a way to serve the communities that need them. They are leaders in their communities and the audience will follow them.
So, what can you do now? The first step is simple. Talk to these New Voices, if not today in this room then in the halls in the time we have left. Find out what makes them tick. One of the best things you can so is open yourselves up to them. Bring them into your thinking. What are your challenges? What are barriers you are trying to overcome. You might be surprised. You might be talking to your solution.
AIR is doing its part. The evolution of public media is right here in the room with you.
And while AIR have brought us here to have more access to people like you, this is also an opportunity for you to have more access to people like us. So make the move now. Because you don’t want to be in here, on the bench, talking to the guy sitting next to you about the game. While the rest of us are out there in the field doing what needs to be done, by any means necessary, for our communities, for the audience, for the public.
I first met Torey Malatia in September of 2007. I was interviewing for a job at the station with a new project (Vocalo) and in the middle of my interview Torey walked in. He was wearing a white button down, black pants, his key card around his neck, black framed glasses, and gym shoes. When the interviewer said, “this is Torey.” I said, “Hey Torey- oh wait… you’re Torey MALATIA.” He smiled, shook my hand with vigor, and left so we could complete the interview. Before I even got the job (I did get the job) I got a chance to meet the boss and he had the same energy that I had. Happy, passionate, goofy, pensive, and a little stressed. The stress of constantly looking for new ways to provide service to the public through media.
I never really got a chance to sit down and have a long talk with Torey but he made a big impact on me in the few times we did get to talk. There are 4 particular interactions I had with him that I will never forget.
For the first 2 years of my working at the station as a host-producer Torey would stop by my desk every 3-6 months and say, “Hey Luis, how are you? Are you enjoying yourself? Good, always enjoy yourself.” Some people might have thought it was weird, but I know he meant to remind me to love what I do, make sure I always I love what I do. I will Torey.
Two years ago, I caught up with Torey at a programming conference, my first industry conference ever. I was sharing with him some of the enlightening experiences I had been having, talked about the impressive people I had met, and we exchanged insights on the state of public media. I totally talked shop with Torey Malatia for ten full minutes. When we got to talking about people and organizations with the potential to change media he said, “I’m a big fan of you too, and I’m not the only one.” I had been running around for three days having so many conversations, I didn’t think I had made a big impact on anyone, but according to Torey I did, on a lot of people.
Just this past May I got the opportunity to guest-host a nationally syndicated show, NPR’s Latino USA, I was invited by another public media mogul that I admire greatly, Maria Hinojosa. It was my national debut, a significant milestone in my career. I got a lot of “good job” and congratulations from folks. It was one of the first times I received universal recognition from my co-workers and peers. A few days after the show aired I was standing in the hallway chatting it up with someone from another department when Torey walked by, his arm was in a sling (another one of his many random injuries over the years). He was brisk with his brow was furrowed, focused deep in thought. As he got only a step beyond us, he suddenly stopped, turned towards me, made a big smile, pointed at me, and gave me a big hug, then walked off still smiling. No words, just absolute sincerity. He was proud. I was proud.
More recently, just a few weeks ago in fact, he gave me the biggest compliment I had ever received. In more words that were necessary he effectively said to me, “you will run an organization one day.” Caught off guard and a little embarrassed I tried to shrug it off and move the conversation along, but he stopped me and made clear. “No, I’m serious. You will run an organization one day. You should be running it now.” Having Torey Malatia say that to me is probably the most significant validation I’d ever received. I’ve always believed in myself, mostly because no one else will, but now somebody does. Not just somebody, Torey Malatia. ‘Yes, you belong here. No need to be coy.’ That’s the message I received.
My boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, resigned yesterday. After 20 years of serving Chicago, innovating in media, constantly pushing the envelope, and becoming one of the few true visionaries in our industry he resigned.
After I heard the news and had a free moment I took off to a dive bar and ordered a double, Oban 14, neat. I sat over that drink thinking about everything. Thinking about those moments with Torey. Thinking about the organization. Thinking about me. Where I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going. There were a lot of questions (and few answers) over that glass of Oban. The second glass had just as many. Right now, I’m just appreciating how lucky I was to have had someone like Torey Malatia as my boss for the years he was, and especially at this point in my career, at the beginning.
Thanks for everything Torey, I won’t let you down.
[The] artist has to be a warrior… has to have the determination [and the] stamina not just to conquer new territory but also to conquer himself, and his weaknesses.