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WYSO gets Localore grant

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When a grant for public radio stations to collaborate with independent media producers came across WYSO general manager Neenah Ellis’ desk, she saw that it would be a perfect opportunity to work with local award-winning documentarians Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar. So Ellis walked a block from the WYSO studios near the Antioch College campus to their home on Xenia Avenue to pitch the idea. Reichert and Bognar, for their part, happened to be eager to collaborate with Ellis, whom they admire as an independent radio producer in her own right.

Last month, the burgeoning collaboration learned that WYSO was one of 10 public radio stations across the nation awarded $100,000 for them to produce local media together. Working in conjunction with WYSO, Reichert and Bognar will produce short and extended radio segments and online videos on how Dayton residents and neighborhoods are reinventing themselves after the economic crash.

The grant is part of Localore, a $2 million project of the Association of Independents in Radio, or AIR, that seeks to transform public media by blending traditional broadcast media with new media. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting donated more than $1 million towards the effort, meant to seed new models that can be used by the nation’s 1,200 public TV and radio stations.

WYSO was selected in an “extremely competitive” field because its proposal was a perfect fit, according to Sue Schardt, director of AIR. Enlisting veteran documentary filmmakers Reichert and Bognar meets the organization’s desire to “dissolve borders between producers and stations,” and to expand radio’s audience, Schardt said. Plus, the story of Dayton’s transition is relevant to the national economic crisis and the prevailing discussion on income inequality. And though WYSO is far smaller than the other nine stations selected (which included public radio stations in San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles), it has a long tradition of community involvement and a strong leader in Ellis, Schardt added.

“WYSO is a “beautiful, community-based institution,” Schardt said.

For WYSO, Localore builds off of its Community Voices initiative to train local people in media production and it fits with the station’s long-term goal to become a community media center, Ellis said.

WYSO’s new studios in the Antioch University Kettering Building, which will be completed this spring, will be available soon as production space for local independent producers.

“All of us [at WYSO] see ourselves as becoming more closely connected with the community and getting more people on the air,” Ellis said. “It builds on our history, our legacy. WYSO has always been a place where people come and learn.”

In fact, Reichert learned radio production at WYSO as an Antioch College undergraduate in the 1960s. She got her start in radio as the news and public affairs director at the station, then owned by Antioch College, before going on to become a documentarian.

With Bognar, Reichert produced The Last Truck: Closing of a G.M. Plant, which was nominated for a Academy Award in 2010 and broadcast on HBO, and A Lion in the House, a four-hour film which follows five families who each have a child fighting cancer. It premiered at Sundance, screened on primetime PBS and won the Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Nonfiction Filmmaking. Now the filmmakers look forward to the challenge of translating documentary filmmaking into radio.

Besides requiring less equipment, radio can be more focused, small-scale and intimate than full-length documentaries, Bognar said. And the filmmakers must learn new lingo, like “hot tape,” meaning the heart of the story, and “banking stories,” when short pieces are produced and ready for the air, he added.

WYSO staff will help Bognar and Reichert with the radio production, while Bognar and Reichert will train WYSO reporters in filmmaking. To begin, the team will walk the neighborhoods of Dayton for several months — knocking on doors, visiting community centers, chatting on porches — to collect stories. After that they will begin producing short, three-minute segments that will be rolled out gradually on WYSO and can later be aired together as longer shows. Eventually, online videos, slideshows and photos will be added.

Localore challenged its applicants to choose a theme that had “risen out of the community” and after lots of brainstorming, the economy was clearly a core issue for the Dayton area, Reichert said. Dayton, the city of invention, is re-inventing itself after the decline of its traditional manufacturing sector. Bognar and Reichert wanted to learn how Dayton residents are adjusting to life in what Forbes magazine identified as one of America’s “fastest dying cities.” The stories will be organized into three acts, in which residents will answer — who was I before the bottom fell out, what happened that changed my life, and who am I becoming, or trying to become now?

Schardt said the theme fits well with her belief that the role of public media is to find the “common humanity.”

“We are looking to shine light on what it is that binds us,” she said. “That’s what public media is about — documenting lives in a different way.”

AIR is a network of 800 media makers, journalists, producers, technologists, and sound artists interested in telling compelling stories across multiple platforms. Other Localore grantees will explore changes in Latino immigrant communication, how to “crowdsource” climate change data, participatory alternative reality games for high school dropouts and digital maps of music subcultures.

Bognar and Reichert first met Ellis in the early 1990s at Bognar’s Summer Media Institute for Ohio teachers, at which Ellis, then an independent radio producer in Washington D.C., was an invited instructor. Ellis has also spoken at Reichert’s film classes at Wright State University.

“Neenah really understands the power of story and how to tell a story,” Bognar said.

The respect is mutual.

“Julia and Steve are top-notch — they’re the best,” Ellis said. The grant helps WYSO continue to empower local independent media producers and is another reminder that a small station like WYSO can make a big impact, she said.

“I’m really proud that WYSO was able to compete with some of the biggest stations,” Ellis said. “We can say, ‘our story is just as important as all of the stories at these big stations.’ And we can pull off something incredible and useful in our community.”


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