Two Harbors Community Radio

In 2001, the late social worker and life-long activist Marek Fuller held a weekly study group on globalization out of his home in the small iron ore shipping town of Two Harbors, Minnesota. Normally he ran his study groups out of the University in the nearby city of Duluth, but this time he decided to take it 25 miles up the north shore of Lake Superior to his home town. He hoped to attract a different audience and bring more political dialogue to the town of less than 4,000 people. Among the nine weekly attendees was Fran Kaliher, a Minnesota native who has been living on the north shore since 1971. “Boy, it really [was] an eye opener for me,” said Fran.

After ten more years of assembling study groups in Duluth, Fuller announced that he would be holding a 2011 study group on participatory democracy. When Fuller got wind that many residents of Two Harbors, including Fran, were interested in attending but could not make it down to Duluth on a weekly basis, he decided to hold the discussions at the public library in Two Harbors. Despite the fact that Two Harbors’ population is only one twentieth that of Duluth’s, Fuller’s final lessons before passing away in 2013 did not fall on few or deaf ears--nineteen people came out to the weekly study group, and many participants have continued and deepened their activism in light of his teachings.

Fran was among the inspired residents. She began to see how creating a space for participatory and community radio could be the perfect extension of Fuller’s work and teachings on participatory democracy, and could help Two Harbors create a sense of identity distinct from Duluth. She enlisted the help of colleague and fellow “notorious liberal” Leo Babeu. But despite their progressive politics, both Fran and Leo think that having a multi-perspective, participatory media source would serve Two Harbors better than an exclusively left-wing station. This means having air time even for those with different political opinions. “We’re trying not to become known as the progressive radio station as it would limit people’s interest. ...We’re only about 4,000 people, …and, you know, we’re such a polarized country--people don’t listen to conservative talk radio or they only listen to conservative talk radio.” And while Leo says that the town, in fact, picks up a lot of existing radio stations, “none of them have anything to do with Two Harbors.” This masks what residents boast as a unique cultural and natural history, and the talents and perspectives of the town’s unusually large populations of artists, musicians, gardeners, and politically-active community members of both progressive and conservative persuasions.

In order to reach beyond their “small network of progressives,” and sticking with the participatory and democratic methods taught by Fuller, Fran and Leo created a survey available both in print at the local grocery store and online to ask the town what they would like to hear on the airwaves locally. They received 188 responses, with nearly one third of the respondents saying they would like to become involved with the station. In addition to plans to broadcast music, school events, student-produced programming and local business news, the survey also inspired the uniquely Two Harbors ideas of local and natural history reports through interviews with local naturalists and senior citizens, and the addition of a “roving reporter” to broadcast live from the town’s rummage sales on Saturday mornings.

As Two Harbors Community Radio moves forward they hope to engage more young people and people of all political ideologies, and will strive to be a platform for all members of their community to be given fair access to the airwaves. “I don’t see us as being the spark plug, but maybe the conduit for people to be aware. ...We would be covering [local] activism, so nobody would have any excuse for not knowing that there are people locally who are taking action and trying to get others involved.”