ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to (that’s the ‘rock’), something to read (that’s the ‘paper‘), and something to listen to (you guessed it, that’s the ‘radio’). Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
Hi, misfit fam. Big New Year news—I have left my job with KUOW Public Radio. It’s scary not knowing exactly what’s next. But also, LET’S GOOOOOOO.
With the closing of this chapter in mind, I was going to share some of my favorite features and experiences that I had the opportunity to be part of over the nearly four years I was with KUOW.
BUT. Earlier this week on Tuesday, public radio icon Audie Cornish shared on Twitter that she was joining The Great Resignation and leaving her post as All Things Considered’s host. Cornish’s game-changing career has inspired countless women of color to see themselves behind an NPR mic and on a national stage.
Her announcement comes on the heels of multiple other trusted women of color from NPR also putting in their notice, including Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Noel King. What has followed is a firestorm of conversation across Twitter about how employees of color are supported (and not supported) in public media and in radio in particular.
These conversations are complicated and long overdue. I’ve been wondering this week if these conversations had been ignited a few months ago, if I might be in a different place today. I’ve also been wondering if these conversations had been ignited years ago, if the many talented women of color I’ve worked with and have seen resign over the last few years would be in different places too. There’s no way to know.
But here’s what I do know: Change is good and possible and really hard. Thanks in no small part to 2020’s multiple uprisings, we’re ready for exactly the kind of change that’s being called for right now. And we can do hard things.
So, in the spirit of the cautious but determined optimism that is my entire personality, here are some things to listen to, read, and hold on to that might help us power through all this and be better on the other side. I’ll share my KUOW retrospective soon.
SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO
As All Things Considered’s host since 2012, Audie Cornish’s impressive catalog is deep and far-reaching. Because of that, it was hard to choose just one, but I love this 8-minute interview with knockoff artist-turned-luxury designer Daniel Day showcasing Cornish’s precision and compassion: Dapper Dan, Telling Stories In Leather, Fur And Logos.
This interview could have been about building a brand based on hustler uniforms inspired by Gucci handbags, but with Cornish on the mic, it turns into a story about the American dream.
There’s a heartbreaking scene with an Easter suit. There’s Day’s father who taught himself to read after leaving school in third grade. There’s the utterly unmatched Dapper Dan—endearing, hilarious, and awed by the internet. Then there’s Cornish at the very end—charmed, laughing, and totally human, wrapping up the piece in delight. All the best to Dapper Dan and his empire, and to Audie Cornish on whatever she decides to embrace next.
SOMETHING TO READ
When NPR’s public editor Elizabeth Jensen published this report in 2019, I was stunned: NPR's Staff Diversity Numbers, 2019. There’s since been a two-year-long pandemic and civil rights revolution and I’m still encouraged that NPR boldly put this out into the world. (Has there been a similar report for 2020 or 2021? If you have links, shoot me a msg please!)
In the wake of Cornish’s exit, NPR is being pressed to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, but they are not alone in needing to rethink how employees from historically disenfranchised backgrounds are supported and retained. Transparency like this is one positive step in the right direction. I’m crossing my fingers that we see more public reckonings like this from media leaders in 2022.
SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO
Speaking of women of color who leave big—and shiny—shoes to fill, if Gladys Bentley were alive today she would have absolutely no time for the soft pants epidemic we’re slouching through right now.
In her signature white top hat, tuxedo and tails, Bentley was an openly gay and unapologetically dapper performer in Harlem during the Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s.
And in case you doubt the power of her drag king stage presence, know this: In 1934 her performances were deemed so provocative that her show led to a nightclub being shut down and padlocked by police. Iconic.
Finally, nearly 100 years after her time, she’s being recognized as the butch boss and fashion icon that she was. May we all be a little comforted by the possibility that the troublemakers of today will be celebrated as groundbreakers tomorrow.
OKAY YES LET’S GO 2022
That’s a wrap on issue 65, friends. Thanks for listening, reading, holding on.
The New Year is already off to a fiery start and there’s still more news to share. Let’s just consider all of this a good sign and forge ahead.
Stay safe out there, everyone. And don’t forget to eat the last of those Sumo oranges in these winter weeks. Like Twitter scandals (but unlike the pandemic), these don’t last forever.
See you next Thursday.