In 1939, two University students living in Clark Hall broke into its tunnels and used the water pipes to create a makeshift antenna and broadcast a grassroots radio show to their peers. They could scarcely have imagined that 70 years later, WESU would be a thriving radio station celebrating its anniversary with one of today’s foremost pioneers of independent media, Amy Goodman.
“We need independent media that supports the free flow of ideas,” said Goodman, discurssing her decision to speak at the Memorial Chapel on April 4. “As networks gobble up smaller stations, we need to celebrate stations that have been here, to make a non-corporate oasis.”
Goodman has a long-standing relationship with WESU. For years, she has helped fundraise for the University-based radio station, participating in annual weeklong pledge drives and speaking at the University during a book tour in 2004. WESU also broadcasts her radio news program, “Democracy Now!” every weekday.
“‘Democracy Now!’ is a purely independent media,” said WESU President Noah Hutton ’09. “It really fits in with [WESU’s] philosophy about what kind of public affairs program we want to put on—not corporate media, but independent, underrepresented voices.”
When WESU Station Manager Ben Michael contacted Goodman in the fall of 2008 and mentioned that WESU would be hosting its 70-year anniversary in the spring, she offered to come and speak on campus as part of a month-long series of events.
“Amy very generously did not take a cut from the ticket sales,” Hutton said. “I would say it was our most successful fundraiser ever.”
In fact, 170 tickets were sold for the event, and five donors paid 100 dollars each to meet and receive signed books from Goodman; almost all of those proceeds will go directly to WESU.
“The media is the place where we work things out,” said Goodman during her talk. “I see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe [where] we sit around and discuss the issues of the day; anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society.”
With “Democracy Now!” Goodman aims to create just that kind of media, exposing perspectives that go unnoticed by major news networks. In 1991, while reporting for her news program in East Timor, which at the time was fighting for its independence from Indonesia, Goodman was infamously beaten by Indonesian soldiers after witnessing their murder of Timorese demonstrators.
During her talk, she recounted another brave news report, this time at Mount Misery, the Maryland plantation where abolitionist Frederick Douglass was enslaved and tortured.
“Today, that property is owned by none other than the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,” said Goodman at the Chapel. Goodman explained that as she went down Mount Misery Road and got out her video camera, she was thinking, “could Donald Rumsfeld not know the history of this place?”
According to the President and Vice President of WESU, their radio station seeks to follow after the example of “Democracy Now!” and represent voices of dissent to a diverse set of communities.
“WESU broadcasts to listeners from Wesleyan students to residents of Middletown and throughout the Connecticut River Valley,” said WESU Vice President Aliza Simons ’09. “We have a ton of Caribbean programming on Saturdays by DJs from the community. That’s just one example of the many ways WESU serves communities through grassroots efforts.”
With the success of Goodman’s visit and a series of events throughout the month of April, Hutton and Simons believe that WESU will continue to thrive. WESU is also making plans to expand its audience.
“We’re hoping to upgrade our antenna,” Hutton said. “It’s a big project, a very mechanical goal, but it will do a lot for the station in helping us to reach a much larger listening base in central Connecticut. That might even mean we can get out of the red in terms of deficit and become a much stronger independent source.”
Serving as part of this strong base, Goodman said that her support for WESU will remain strong. In the interview, she concluded by returning to the theme of mass media and radio broadcasting.
“In this high-tech age, still all we ever get is static—veils of distortions and lies and half-truths that obscure reality,” Goodman said. “We need a media that covers movements and makes history—that is why we need independent stations like WESU.”