There is a sound that, next to "dead air," is assumed to be the least ratings-friendly noise you can imagine on the radio: people speaking in a foreign language. If listeners can't understand what's being said, goes the logic, they'll tune out faster than our president at a Korean peace summit. But many who listen to community radio savor just these low-comprehension moments, sticking with the DJs on KFAI who don't speak much English while on air. We patiently wait out the patter of Hmong or Somali hosts not only to hear their incredible music, but to experience the world as a suddenly tiny community. Call it the cosmopolitanism of chatter, or a rather literal dramatization of the global-local thinking-acting continuum. Either way, there's something both expansive and close-knit about the spirit that has infused nearly every minute of KFAI throughout its two decades on the air. Take the notion of "a different radio station every hour," as the slogan goes--a sentiment that presupposes an audience that uses radio for more than truck freshener. KFAI happily tosses out any sort of preselected music format--the kind of grids that hinder even our more listener-responsive public radio stations, KMOJ-FM (89.9) and Radio K (KUOM-AM 770). Instead, we get DJs who exercise total creative freedom. We get Amy Goodman's news staple Democracy Now!, an imported national opinion program that often breaks international stories. And most of all, we get great music--drive-time blues, adventurous evening jazz, raw midnight punk and funk. It's the music that defines local culture without attracting ad sales. Kind of like KFAI itself.


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