Take It Easy
Amanda Hutchins is a DJ on community radio station WFHB. They help host the Sunday afternoon show, Reggae Children, which has been on air since 1993. I met up with them to discuss the importance of local journalism and community radio.
I arrived in Bloomington, Indiana at the very beginning of summer. The air was cool and still as the massive student population had just abandoned the idyllic hippie-haven for break. A sapphire blue dot in an extremely red region of the country, Bloomington is the kind of college town where the businesses are local, the cars are hybrid, and the deodorant is aluminum free and vegan.
I met my tour-guide, local DJ Amanda Hutchins, and we bopped around checking out the town’s music and nightlife scene. Even without the student population, there were more things to do than in many large cities. House shows, music venues, drag bars, restaurants, and dives; and everywhere we went or passed Amanda ran into friends. “Oh hey! Who’s playing? What’s the cover?”
After hitting a few spots, we decided to do the most Bloomington thing imaginable: buy a to-go sixpack from a frat bar and break into an under-construction apartment building. We climbed up about five floors before reaching the roof; a relatively high perch in the town’s downtown and a perfect place to take in the view.
“How’d you get started in radio?” I asked, popping the top on my Modelo.
“In 2018 I was in Bloomington for grad school,” they explained. “I had friends who were doing radio shows for the community radio station WFHB. They knew how much I loved reggae– listening to it, reading about it, writing about it– and they reached out to me when the station was looking for someone for their reggae show. I was like, ‘that sounds fun!’ I didn’t realize how important it’d become in my life, but I love it and it even became one of my practicum.”
“Were you pretty nervous at first?” I asked.
“I have always liked reading out loud and public speaking, but I don’t love crowds,” they said. “So, radio is perfect for me… Someone early on told me to pretend like I’m talking to a friend. I’ll sometimes pretend I’m talking to a specific person.”
“And what’s your show like?” I asked
“My show is called Reggae Children,” they said. “It’s a reggae show with four other DJs, and we rotate. We all play a different style and area of reggae. My show is distinct; you aren’t going to hear Bob Marley on my show, it’s more Rock Steady focused.”
From the roof we could hear raucous cheers of drunken revelry from the occasional passing group of friends out for a bar crawl. “Do you like to banter with guests and your audience?” I asked. “Or is your love of being on the radio mostly about the music?”
“Oh, the music,” they said. “I love curating music. I love hunting for music. I’ll make each show a theme. If it’s Women’s History Month, I’ll do all women DJs. You can really tell in my shows what I’m going through. The music really reflects me and what’s speaking to me at the moment.”
“With community radio, you probably have a lot more freedom and choice with the music you want to play than in a corporate radio structure,” I said.
“Oh definitely,” they said. “As long as you are within the rules of broadcasting you can have a lot of freedom. My show sounds like me. With a community station, everyone’s library is their library. We are there because it’s our passion.”
“My show sounds like me. With a community station, everyone’s library is their library. We are there because it’s our passion.”
“With the conglomeration of journalism, it’s so important to keep these last bastions of independent voice alive,” I said.
“Yea, WFHB is a great advocate for local independent journalism,” they said.
“Do you ever use your platform to discuss politics?” I asked.
“My music can reflect things going on around the world, but I try not to get too political,” they said, laughing. “It’s Sunday afternoon reggae, I want to keep it light.”
How does your guys’ funding work?” I asked.
“WFHB is a nonprofit, and we get funding from grants, sponsors, and donors,” they explained. “We are looking for ways to keep ourselves on the air, keep our equipment working. If a turntable breaks we’ll ask for donations to replace it, or even just ask if anyone has one we can have. It’s not only radio for the community, but the community is the radio station. Our listeners give us everything.”
“It’s not only radio for the community, but the community is the radio station.”
“Oh, so no ads?” I asked.
“There are very few commercials. I’ll maybe read two underwritings for local businesses in a show. I love listening to them, because I’m not being hassled to buy things.”
“WFHB is a local staple,” I said. “And beyond that, your show specifically, has been around for forever. Do you feel like you are a part of a community legacy?”
“Absolutely,” they said. “Not only the people who work there, but also the listeners. Every once in a while I’ll meet someone and they’ll recognize my voice and tell me how much they appreciate the show. Reggae Children has been airing since 1993, and it has a really cool history. I’ll meet people who worked on it for 18 years.”
“Why do you think community radio is important?” I asked.
“Community radio allows for a network of support throughout the town,” they said. “We interview bands who are traveling through town and promote local business and venues. We are all there for each other and want to win together.”
Despite the locals’ love for their town, there is a palpable feeling that many yearn for someplace bigger, wilder, more diverse, and more exciting. Looking out at the canopies of trees, twinkling street lights, and historic buildings, I had to ask, “And what keeps you in this community? What’s so special about Bloomington?”
“I love all the music here,” they said emphatically. “Last week, I went to a show every day. Amazing venues, the radio station, house shows. So many fantastic people and acts come through here. Potlucks, music, just great opportunities to be cool.”
From the streets below, we heard the slurred and joyous sounds of a stumbling group of friends singing their way home.