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Posted by on May 27, 2020 in ACE Learning Center, ACE School Report, Continuing Education | 0 comments

Radio is the Democratic Way to Reach People ‘Cause the FM Dial is Available to All Claims KALW Audio Academy Fellow

By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, Audience Supported Public Media and Sona Avakian, Audio Academy Fellow ‘20

We’re getting close to graduation day for our current Audio Academy class. As with so many graduations around the world, we’re going to hold ours virtually — but as with all the classes of 2020, the pandemic does not diminish from these graduates’ accomplishments.

One fellow in our graduating class is Sona Avakian. I was immediately struck when she came into the Academy by her incredible enthusiasm. She signed up for our (not good but spirited) softball team, even though she hadn’t really played before. Showed up to pretty much every contest, too. She was game for every excursion and assignment. And she could voice a story, sounding engaged and convincing, right off the bat.

Claude the albino alligator stars in Sona Avakian’s most recent story
CREDIT: Creative Commons

While her path has taken several turns — most notably, of course, the coronavirus crisis that has shaken up the world — she has persevered, and last week a story she produced aired about somebody who couldn’t leave her job for a series called “The Essentials.” This one is about one of the animal caregivers at the California Academy of Sciences. Check out that story, featuring Claude the albino alligator, by clicking here.

Here are some of Sona’s thoughts about reporting in this time:

Academy fellow Sarah Lai Stirland and Sona Avakian share an award at the station (prior to our team working remotely)
CREDIT: Ben Trefny

My last day in the station was March 9th. People were talking about how easy their commutes were. I don’t think the students were in school at Burton High where KALW is located, but honestly, I don’t remember. At one point the fire alarm went off; we all grabbed our computers and ran outside to continue working at the picnic table. Later that afternoon I opened the door to the school hallway and the smell of ammonia was heavy in the air.

The first few days of shelter-in-place are a blur. So many phone calls and Zoom meetings trying to figure out how we were going to report on this. In some ways it was exhilarating. Then I crashed. Trying to make radio alone isn’t easy if you’re a novice. Working from home can be isolating; but it’s also a privilege. Just being able to stay home is a privilege. Some days I don’t recognize my own life anymore. Other times in the middle of my confusion I feel extreme euphoria at just being able to wash my hands as often as I want.

I was slow to take this seriously. But two people I know have died and my great aunt, who is in assisted living has tested positive. So far, luckily, she has no symptoms. I can’t believe how naive I was.

I don’t know what I’m going to do after Audio Academy. A few of the stories I was working on are on hold because I need more tape. This is disappointing because I thought I would have more finished features under my belt by this time. What I do know is with much of the online news behind paywalls, radio is the most democratic way to reach people. It will always be the medium to deliver thoughtful and truthful information which can be accessed through your phone, computer or a good old-fashioned terrestrial FM dial.

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