For WHIV-LP saying the name of the station is a part of the mission. “HIV is, unfortunately, still a highly stigmatized disease. … But by just saying the word, or calling out the letters over and over again, WHIV, or HIV... it becomes destigmatized,” says MarkAlain Dery, assistant professor of medicine at Tulane University and medical director of a sliding scale HIV clinic. He cites the enormous stigma surrounding diabetes only 50 years ago, now significantly lessened due to the fact that people loudly and boldly give public name and recognition to the disease.

Dery and his colleagues formed the New Orleans Society for Infectious Disease Awareness (NOSIDA) in 2009 to raise awareness of the silenced HIV epidemic, which has hit New Orleans and neighboring Baton Rouge very hard; the two cities repeatedly rank at numbers 3 and 2, respectively, for new diagnoses. NOSIDA strives not only to erase the stigma and raise awareness surrounding the epidemic, but also to promote knowing one’s HIV status, explaining that one in five carriers of HIV are unaware of their infection, and that these cases account for 50-60% of new infections. To promote HIV testing, NOSIDA hosts the annual “HIV Awareness Music Project,” a concert at which local celebrities and musicians promote testing through publicly simulating an oral HIV test, quickly swabbing the inside of their mouths with a Q-tip-like device to demonstrate that the test is painless, simple, and fast. Free testing is available on site at the events.
But NOSIDA wanted to diversify their outreach and employ new and more lasting strategies for raising awareness of, de-stigmatizing and getting tested for HIV. Dery, who has always had an interest in broadcast media, had been following the media coverage of Low Power FM licensing. But it wasn't until he saw Prometheus on Democracy Now! that he realized community radio would be the perfect tool for longstanding, local, and participatory community education for NOSIDA, and that applying for a low power station was possible even for an organization of their small size.

While NOSIDA has only five staff members, they have built a deep community network of doctors, legal professionals, youth, educators, musicians, artists, clinicians, and healthcare advocates. This network has rallied enormous community support for WHIV, whose full name, Radio NOLA HIV: Programming Dedicated to Human Rights and Social Justice, more accurately describes the diverse programming the station intends to feature. While Dery says that New Orleans radio has some great local music, he believes that WHIV will fill a gap by providing a participatory forum for local political discussion. Plans include airing largely youth-oriented and youth-created programming, promoting broadcasting skills while providing space on the airwaves for peer-to-peer education about safer sex and healthy choices in a state where abstinence-only education dominates the high school curriculum. In addition to public health-related broadcasts, Radio NOLA HIV will air Spanish language programming geared toward immigrant and undocumented communities. Dery says he has communicated with community members about broadcasting legal advice in multiple languages for populations repeatedly targeted by hate crimes and police harassment, especially undocumented and transgender communities. Dery also hopes the station will be a lifeline for the city in case of another environmental disaster, and has taken preemptive steps to locate the transmitter in a building with a generator and make the antenna highly windproof, ensuring continued broadcasting ability in power outages.

“When I talk to people… there’s really more of a sense of disbelief, like, ‘Really? The people are gonna get a voice?’ ...And I think that any new voice that really focuses specifically on the community is a positive thing.”