Trying To Run Somalia and Other Radio Stories
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
SAN DIEGO This week an NPR story held me hostage in my car. They’re called driveway moments though this one was in a parking garage. The story was about Somalia. It was one of a series of pieces assembled by Frank Langfitt that reminded me why I got into public radio.
Listen to it if you haven’t heard it before. In the story you hear the voices of former Somali expats who have moved back to try to build some kind of government in a chaotic land that barely exists as a nation. The man who’s serving as prime minister moved back from Buffalo, where he was working for the New York Department of Transportation. The minister of education had worked in IT management in northern Virginia.
Hearing their middle-class American accents amid the gunfire and mortar rounds gave the piece a surreal quality. This story also featured the terrifying racket of automatic gunfire as it cut down innocent people at a cultural festival. Being a radio reporter I immediately wondered who captured that deadly sound. Langfitt credited the recording to a Somali reporter.
San Diego is second only to Minneapolis-St. Paul among American cities in its Somali population. The NPR series makes it clear why those Somalis came here. It remains unclear to me why any of them would want to go back. Abdulkareem Jama, the IT guy, said in Langfitt’s story that told his wife he wanted to go back and “she thought I was nuts.” Maybe she was right.
Nobody tells me anything. So there I was, in conversation with one of our radio engineers, when I first heard that KPBS was planning a dramatic upgrade of its FM radio signal. Here’s a little background.
The station has been trying for years to relocate its transmitter from Mt. Miguel in the east of San Diego to Mt. Soledad in La Jolla. I’m told we now have an FCC permit to do that and to boost our signal ten-fold to 27,000 watts.
I’ve followed this saga for as long as I’ve lived here and it’s been frustrating to me to drive to North County, or to San Ysidro, and hear our radio signal peter out. But maybe those days are over. Our permit requires the work to get done in the next two years, though it may happen well before that. Stay tuned, as they say. You folks in the broadcasting hinterlands may actually be able to finally tune in.