StoryCorps’ One Small Step (OSS) brings strangers with different political beliefs together for a conversation—not to debate politics—but to get to know each other as people and in the process, rediscover their shared humanity. The work of OSS is focused nationwide in three Anchor Communities, as well as six Radio Station Hub locations. Critically, the Radio Station Hubs Program, a year-long partnership with six public radio stations who offer their own One Small Step program, drives local community participation and awareness.
StoryCorps recently sat down with two of our recent Hubs partners to find out more about their experience over the past year. They include Will Davis, a professor and Podlab manager at Tennessee’s University of Chattanooga (UTC), which partnered with local radio station WUTC on the project. We also spoke to Adam Burke, an independent producer who spearheaded the Hubs program at KSUT in Ignacio, Colorado, as well as that station’s Executive Director Tami Graham.
Why were you interested in participating in the Hubs Program?
Will: I like big, ambitious projects and I’m crazy about StoryCorps, so selfishly, I was very excited for the opportunity to be trained as a facilitator. It’s also an interesting time to be on a university campus and capture the voices of a younger generation, as they figure out their values and beliefs in real time. While many college campuses are liberal, we’re located in a more conservative part of the country, so I knew we could attract the diversity of voices needed to make this project happen.
Adam: It was an exciting opportunity to work with an organization like StoryCorps that is the gold standard for this type of work. I was excited to bring together people who wouldn’t normally have a chance to talk to each other.
Tami: As an independent producer, Adam was so committed to the project: he insisted on doing all of the interviews in person at the station, even though he lives four hours away, across two mountain passes. For the station, we were especially excited to widen our circle and have more people of all different political stripes pass through our doors.
How did the local community receive the program?
Will: The students, community, and partner organizations were very enthusiastic. At our listening event, we got lots of press coverage and a great turnout, including a lot of the local podcast community, which is big in Chattanooga.
Adam: We had a tremendous response and lots of interest. It was especially great to find so many community leaders across the political spectrum who were interested in civil dialogue and willing to connect me to their networks. At a panel discussion at our listening event, people were eager to talk about ways we could keep this work going. It’s had an incredibly positive effect on participants and they are grateful and moved by the experience.
What are your personal takeaways having managed the Radio Station Hubs Program?
Will: I’ve learned a lot—I feel more connected to people. I feel calmer and less angry about people who have different political beliefs than me. One of the interviews we did was with a young guy in his twenties who was very conservative, a youth minister. I thought I had him pegged. The minister was paired with someone who identifies as queer and as they talked, he mentioned that his sister was transgender and living with him because the rest of her family had shunned her. He was worried that his ministry would kick him out for this and his story was just so unexpected—it really challenged my own biases in the best way.
Adam: Working on this project has forced me not to be so goal oriented as a producer. I’m always listening for good sound bites, so it was refreshing to let that go and just be open to the interview process and ensure participants have a good encounter with each other. In general, I think it’s changed the way I think about the architecture of creating and facilitating an experience between people.
What would you tell the next cohort of radio stations who will become OSS Radio Station Hubs this year?
Will: To me, it’s a badge of honor and very special to be chosen. It’s definitely a lot of work and trying to schedule two people in person can be tricky. But doing interviews in person is best for audio and the more interviews you facilitate, the more comfortable you become with the process. I would also encourage stations to have agency around the conversations–it can have a whole new life once the project is over. For example, in my honors class, I am having my students listen to all the interviews recorded and then create original podcasts using the tape.
Adam: Stations need to have the capacity to take the Hubs Program on and be totally bought in, but it’s well worth it and you get an incredible rippling effect of goodwill and positive feedback from the community in return.
Tami: The project was very well organized by StoryCorps and the whole experience has been incredibly empowering.