As I write this note there is a live radio program happening in the radio booth, a recording session for a radio program happening in the audio production suite, a pre-production meeting in the large conference room down the hall and a video editor working steadfastly on a documentary in the Premiere Pro editing suite. Tonight we’ll have live radio, live TV in the studio, two different classes – one in the boardroom and one in the electronic classroom – and both audio and video editors in the facility. Today is by no means unusual.
Anyone who has been to AIM knows that there is a tremendous amount of activity going on during all hours of the day and night. But hustle and bustle doesn’t always equal value. It’s not important that AIM and WERA are busy; the important thing is what results from all the effort.
Too often we fail to acknowledge the critical role that media plays in our life because we take it so much for granted. It speaks to us from our car radios and the billboards that we pass, from the back of the bus in front of us and the gas pump beside us, from our phone, our computer, our TV. Worse, the ubiquitous media tailors its mediocre messages to gratify our particular wants and desires. Whereas once we worried that the media would make us all the same, now we fear that it’s atomizing us, driving us apart, slicing and dicing us into hundreds of millions of satiated consumers each with our own specially designed “feed.” Few of us ever encounter media that challenges any of our preconceived ideas, introduces any cognitive dissonance or even looks at issues critically or skeptically. And almost no media does what almost all media used to do: provide us with a sense of place and a sense of community.
Except at AIM and WERA.
The Arlington Weekly News, one of America’s longest continuously running, local, weekly news shows, provides us with a regular dose of what makes Arlington special and week after week binds us together as neighbors who share twenty-six square miles of real estate across the river from our nation’s capital. And dozens of other TV and radio programs focus on the people, places, and events in and around our community and engage us in the ongoing discussion of our life and our future together. Political programs like The Square Circle ask us to consider alternate points of view, rather than rant about a political ideology and insult all who don’t follow it. Lifestyle programs on both WERA and AIM-TV give advice and interview experts as a service to our community. The Rosebud Showcase gives local video artists a platform for their work and radio programs like Music Alley, DC Music Rocks and The Antidote invite local, regional, national and international musicians to discuss their work and play their music.
Serving local audiences with local content created by the people who live and work here is what AIM-TV and WERA are all about. The hustle and bustle of the facility pays off each and every day with programs that speak directly to not only the producers’ interests, but also the things that matter to their audience. Watching this process – from initial idea through training, production, post-production, and finally, distribution – is as satisfying as it is instructive. As each new producer moves from their first “Intro to Community Media” class through their certification courses, their first production, their first experience as a volunteer, and, ultimately, to their status as a veteran producer of radio, television, and/or web content, we see them develop not just a new set of skills, but a whole new way of experiencing and appreciating the power of media to build community.
In the more than thirty-six years that AIM has existed we’ve watched our TV producers move through this process thousands of times. We’ve celebrated with them ten times as they were nationally recognized for being America’s best. In the three years since WERA went on the air, we’ve been amazed by not just the tremendous quantity of new shows that air each and every week, but by the quality of the shows, the DJs, the guests, and the music. We toasted them as WERA was named as one of the best radio stations in the market by the Washington City Paper and we feel a sense of pride as we drive down Wilson Boulevard listening and thinking, “One of the best? Hardly! The best is more like it.”
Building community, creating content that instills a sense of pride and place, entertaining and educating listeners and viewers, and defining what makes this geographic space that we share uniquely Arlington – that’s the value of what we do.
- Paul LeValley