WFMU, the "Freeform" and non profit radio station of Jersey City New Jersey (and sundry other points of the compass rose), is holding its annual marathon fundraiser. They like doing things their own way, and in practical terms that means keeping advertisers and underwriters out it. Not interpolating third parties who would only be tempted to install their own needs and definitions on them. Keeping the essential equation between themselves and their listeners.
Still, running a radio station is an expensive proposition. They work with small staff an inner and an adjunct army of volunteers who provide the on-air talent and administrative support respectively. Then there are the streams the ambition, and the disasters. The disasters? Well WFMU is close to the roiling waters of New York Harbor and Sandy, who was a punk, knew that. Electronic gear and water do not mix well. When a building tenant moved out they were able to reclaim their ground floor and begin plans to turn it into a performance space of endless possibilities. As the station slides into the internet age some years ago now they began streaming their broadcast and evolving new content streams. This gained them a world wide audience, but added a couple hundred thousand dollars of bandwidth that has to be paid for every year.
They choose to do this fundraising the hard way through direct donations by their listeners. There is always corporate underwriting, the back door advertising of non profits, lurking in the wings, but it is kept at bay. At times I think my local NPR station runs through a list of half the corporations in America every quarter hour. And I image they take calls from every one of them.
WFMU is a good cause. As a radio station and organization.
There are few stations out there trying to make this kind of thing work. It is also very different from all the build-your-own-playlists enterprises out there. Your peers may know a lot of pop tunes, but they will never be versed in it as much as a dedicated record collector. If they are, then they probably already know about WFMU, because WFMU also succeeds as a community of the like-minded.
Interjecting a small story here. In my previous post, one of an occasional series from a long-ago brief occupation as a Navy enlisted. I was trying to come up with phrase or idea that captured my entrancement with Google Earth and its ability to immerse you in complete detail of half remembered places. I searched the term "A map as big as the earth" which frankly gets you to a lot of things. One of those things was a book called Temporary Autonomous Zones (T.A.Z) by Hakim Bey [i.e. American anarchist-poet Peter Wilson]. After I finished reading a copy of the whole of this I found online. I went back and looked at the title page, where I noticed it said that the cover and type-setting of the print version that online version was derived from was by Dave Mandl. WFMU, I thought to myself, has a dj named named Dave Mandl. A coincidence! But it is no coincidence.
It is an uncommon phenomenon to find yourself in such situation where something you do leaves you feeling fulfilled, and part of a like minded community. Of course you, reader, may feel ready to dispute this. But as an on-going fully accessible thing? I don't mean the occasional project at work that engages you and that you hope redeems the rest of the week, or month, year. Or the earnest hobby that you put more into than you get out of. A garden with finally, after trucks of fertilizer, a rose! For most though through most of their lives in the bell curve of achievement; personal satisfaction lies in the tail and the frustration of tangental living the mean.
It's less a matter of luck that one finds that combination of community and fulfilling occupation, the right situation. More a matter of being able to objectively view a situation, and possessing the self knowledge would exist within it that most of us lack.
Only twice in 50 years have I felt I belonged to a group or community. Not in high school, not in the native nest of my home town Holliston. In high school my best friend moved away to a town called Spartanburg (who moves to a place called Spartanburg?) It was out of high school in the Navy, that I encountered the feeling of belonging somewhere. And out of those four years not the first or the last two, but that early middle year, which was mainly spent at sea on an aircraft carrier. A close knit group, which was enforced by the worlds largest moat -- the Pacific Ocean. There was plenty of work, and on board one of the country's leading investments in national defense. Additionally places and lands I had never seen turning up every few weeks just outside the grey steel walls . The Navy had an advertising slogan in those days we used ridicule mercilessly, but for myself I'll give the Bates agency(who came up with it) a pass on that one. For a brief season I felt engaged and a version of myself used to potential.
A few years later during my second semester at Maryland I joined the student radio station, which had only a year or so before been diverted from its purpose of training the next generation of programmed top-40 management to play the Clash and Birthday party. At first, through that semester, I did nothing but file records. Alex S, a hall mate, who dragged me over to their fall meeting, and myself were nominated assistant record reshelvers on the strength of attending that meeting (I have a group picture of that meeting somewhere). By the next semester I was on the fill-in list and doing more shows I could keep track of. Another semester or so on I had my own show, and a reason to buy the few records I have today; Radio Birdman, Big Star, records the station didn't already have.
That was it. Two brief periods lasting only a few years. Two situations quite different nearly opposite and never feeling fully represented in the one or the other. For the rest; however, nothing.
Vocation? It's hardly worth mentioning. There is nothing I've ever done which was deliberate or desired. It was all just work, to earn rent, the hand on the shovel.
The library where I work currently has some positive attributes. The mission is educational, research focused, Acadamic libraries are reasonably avante tech. But not as a clerk. Librarians keep ownership of the work to themselves, leaving to support staff only the menial work. Whatever bores, irritates or repulses them. In the end the job is only a dull frustration.
Avocation -- the part of your life you turn to when work fails you, takes the form of internal or external projects. Volunteer work or hobbies. I've never felt like volunteering for most concerns; though, when I first discovered WFMU I lamented that either they were not in Washington DC or that somehow (and this was the greater stretch) I did not reside in the New York metropolitan area. There is something, maybe being originally from Massachusetts, maybe the density of life, the shear weight of unknown details, but I often regard the New York area as being a foreign country.
I gravitate towards inner-directed tasks like writing. Writing takes a lot of forms; though, each quite different from the other. Like those who can write easily I easily accepted the truism that anyone can write, and began this weblog. Intending to turn out an observant mix of polemics, philippics and fiction. A few years ago my friend Tran countered my expressed belief that this stream of occasional journalizing might lead to offers to write for compensation with "Hows that working out for you." A rare glimpse at a more arch persona she otherwise keeps behind layers of polite quiet conservative Viet catholicism. She is right; though, the writing here is anodyne well short of declarative, more prescriptive than narrative.
Looking back to WFMU's fundraising carnival season there is a temptation to ask, is the Marathon just another staid economic transaction? Symmetrical and mutually informed, a bill of fare. An invoice for goods or services.
Ordinarily, with such a lack of information there would be transaction costs to the deal. Dependent on an uncertain funding process, that process would need to over-compensate in significant ways, there would be inefficiencies. The audience probably knows more about station, than station about the listeners (lacking big data). Local volunteers know far more about stations intents and bona-fides than Long distance listeners. It is still a ordinary terrestrial radio station with its heart in northern New Jersey.
Or does all the effort imply or result in a community bonding or building. A sum of all its parts and attendant mutual obligations. Broadcasting in the Internet era is broadcasting 2.0. Already an information/communication medium is WFMU passing along far more information and through this effort erasing the gulf between audience and initiators.
I read a review of a book recently, whose title and author I couldn't recall although, after some searching I believe it to be this: Missing Out in praise of an unlived Life - [book] WorldCat by Adam Phillips which takes the position that part of the active mind keeps thoughts of other career paths occupations places to live, existences, in play on a semiconscious level -- to facilitate flexibility and change if necessary but also being part of ongoing assessment of current circumstance. They are our latent desires the interests we keep up on though they are not part of our daily lives. They are patterns and blueprints on a shelf.
I keep similar ideas for other lives, other communities, other professions and avocations in mind. Not directly in mind, of course, which is reserved for the day to day charnel of getting up and going to work. These are dreams, the ones we all have but can never quite remember, that point to something and somewhere else. Some tell seemingly pointless stories such as what it would have been like to grow up in Plymouth instead of Holliston where my family moved when I was seven. That dream created a strange synthetic environment, Polistyn. I don't think such what-if dreams are supposed to be remembered in any comprehensive fashion, that's not their function. These slivers of other lives are like a glimpse of a ball being thrown in a just out of sight bullpen. Dream lives half remembered. You see the ball then you are bending to scoop the ball off wet grass, it falls away, leaving only a Dell workstation. The ball just another book that needs a barcode on it. At least its a book and not just WorldCat Knowledge Base ether. The Kamikaze fun-machine missed the segue there you think, turning the volume of the FMU higher, I would've gone with the Big Boys out of Adrenaline OD. Rehearsals for extinct anatomies.
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