As part of our ongoing blog series about the One Small Step (OSS) Radio Station Hubs Program, we talked to WERU-FM in Maine—the most rural station in in the 2023 Hubs cohort. Last year WERU was selected as one of five Hubs stations, who helped raise awareness of the initiative and facilitate OSS conversations in their local community. OSS brings two strangers with opposing political beliefs together for a conversation—not to debate politics—but to get to know each other as people.
WERU is a community radio station that broadcasts from the town of Blue Hill, Maine, located in the state’s second Congressional district, which is also the country’s second-most rural district. Asked about WERU’s inception, Station Manager Matt Murphy smiles, “We were founded in 1988 in a chicken barn called ‘The Hen House,’ where we stayed for nine years before moving to our current location. Noel Paul Stookey of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary was one of our founders.” Today, with eight full-time employees, the station relies on community support, boasting over a hundred volunteers.
While Maine’s second district was the only one in New England that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, Murphy says that the district’s political makeup is diverse. He cites Congressman and Democrat Jared Golden who represents the district and notes that while there are significant conservative pockets, portions of the state’s coastal population are more liberal. This mix made Murphy think the program could be successful locally, while fitting the station’s mission of bringing community together and driving impact.
One of the challenges running OSS posed for freelance writer Michele Christle and her fellow facilitator and producer Chris Battaglia, is the rural nature of the area. She remarks, “It was time intensive but it got me out in the community and made me realize how important it is here to build support by word of mouth.” She continues, “[Working on this project] also challenged my own assumptions. I’d find myself talking to a farmer who received a letter signed by a number of community members saying that they were boycotting him because of the political sign in his yard. He wished they would talk to him rather than assuming his beliefs aligned perfectly with the politician in question. Listening to people talk about how incendiary national rhetoric plays out locally, and how we can counter this through connection, was eye-opening.”
Battaglia adds, “Michele and I thought OSS will only succeed if we can get the whole state involved and as daunting as it sounds, Maine is small enough where it could be a reality.” As a filmmaker and producer, Battaglia also experimented with content to help raise awareness of the initiative, with one of his OSS social media reels garnering 2,000 views.
Asked what they’ve learned from working on OSS, Christle says, “This project gives me scaffolding to engage with my community in a very different way. It’s so important to look beyond labels and just see each other as people.”