Making Contact Uses Radio to Amplify the Voiceless

Giving voices to the voiceless is the primary goal of Making Contact, a 29-minute public affairs program produced by the National Radio Project in Oakland.



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Ingrid Rojas Contreras, a storytelling fellow, works with Andrew Stelzer in the studio.

Photo by Lori Eanes

Giving voices to the voiceless—that’s a primary goal of Making Contact.

Produced by the National Radio Project in Oakland, Making Contact is a 29-minute public affairs program that wants marginalized and under-represented communities to be heard. It is making headway on the social justice front with a fellowship program that pairs emerging storytellers without broadcasting backgrounds with veteran radio producers who provide them with guidance on everything from tone to editing. Making Contact airs its pieces, providing an outlet for stories that often go untold. The segments are heard on 140 radio stations in the United States, Canada, Africa, and Ireland, including KPFA in Berkeley and on the Internet.

“I have always been around immigrant communities and have always heard how there’s a different tone and there’s stories that we don’t tell outside of our own community, maybe because they’re too different, or sometimes they’re too painful to tell,” said Ingrid Rojas Contreras, one of Making Contact’s 2015 community storytelling fellows. “And I wanted to explore that side of it, too. The things that maybe you stop telling. The things that essentially don’t make it across the border, because they don’t have a place to be.”

As a storytelling fellow, Contreras gets a stipend and guidance from a veteran radio producer who shows her the ropes as well as all aspects of radio programming, and she will produce at least one story while being a fellow.

Originally from Colombia, Contreras is interested in conveying experiences that immigrants hesitate to tell—the stories that sound like fiction, or the ones, in the quest to assimilate, that get left behind. Her own narrative centers around her grandfather, a medicine man and folk healer who she said “moved clouds” and healed the sick in ways modern medicine could not.

 “I’m just really interested in the idea of a border and how, when you cross a border as an immigrant, you try to fit in, and there’s a lot of things that you drop along the way,” she said. “So in a very real way, it’s the things that you can bring across with you, with the limit of the suitcase, and then in an abstract way, it’s who you start to become in order to fit into your community.”

Making Contact has a history of sharing provocative voices, including Oaklander Lateef McLeod, a Making Contact fellow in 2014, who produced a memorable piece, Voice Recognition. It explored his disability of being voiceless while using a computer-generated voice to speak and perform his poems. The segment traced the history of the civil rights movement that led to giving people with disabilities access to speech-generating devices, and it addressed McLeod’s own painful experience of trying to find his voice.

“It’s so special when you have someone from the community tell a story of the community itself,” Contreras said.

Diversity in media, especially in radio, is at an all-time low. The Federal Communications Commission has said while minorities comprise 35.3 percent of the U.S. population, minorities represent 20.2 percent and 5 percent respectively of the TV and radio workforce. In the last 20 years, the U.S. minority population has risen 9.4 percent, but the minority workforce in television news is up only 2.4 percent for the same period, and the minority workforce in radio is half what it was two decades ago. Making Contact is doing what it can to diversify broadcasting.

To learn more about Making Contact, go to www.RadioProject.org.

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