March 5, 2021

Mike Meyer: ‘I was fired for speaking up for diversity’

A pilot episode of Island Earth Radio is available on mixcloud.com. The show's creator, Mike Meyer, advocates greater diversity and power sharing in local media.

A pilot episode of Island Earth Radio is available on mixcloud.com. The show's creator, Mike Meyer, advocates greater diversity and power sharing in local media.

Mike Meyer: I feel very strongly that I was fired for speaking up for diversity. And it hurts.

John Q. Murray: Mike Meyer, long-time volunteer and creator of the locally-produced program “Island Earth Radio”, was recently booted off 4-J’s radio station KRVM. The call letters stand for: Keeping Real Variety in Music. Mike suggested that KRVM has forgotten the meaning of its own name. He joined us for a conversation.

Mike Meyer: KRVM is not the only organization that is dealing with severe diversity problems in our community.  I think our community is struggling with that now, to come up with a way of power-sharing in a place that hasn’t been all that welcoming to people of color and other marginalized populations.

And media has a very special and unique responsibility to the community because it’s a, it’s an overt reflection of the community. It’s really got the bias of the programmers themselves, not just from a demographic standpoint, but from a cultural standpoint.  We are in a white-dominated culture. So when we have triply the responsibility as white males to reach out and the efforts just are not being adequately done.

I was studying social justice in Canada a couple of years ago.  And there’s something in Canada they’re doing called two-eyed seeing where it has to do with pairing up traditional cultures and and modern cultures together towards making policy.  So that’s one model that I think can really work here.

John Q. Murray: Mike’s adventure started when he asked to move one of his four shows — the most diverse one — to a different day and time.

Mike Meyer: I had several shows, especially during the COVID era, I was filling in for about four different shows. And one of those shows was something that, really, the culmination of my 40 years of radio brought me to call Island Earth Radio. And it’s a show about environmentalism and I brought multicultural perspectives to environmentalism that I felt really contextualized multicultural music in a very important way. And I put a lot of effort to bring this very unique show. There’s really nothing like it in the world.  And they’ve been playing it in the middle of the night basically Thursdays at 11:00 PM and then they rerun it Sundays at 6:00 AM. 

So I asked for just one hour on Saturday that they could have diverse music, because it came to my awareness, as I was asking, that their Saturday program typified, their white male bias in programming.  To give you an example Saturday, January 9th, they had 111 artists that they played throughout the day on Saturday and 106 were white males. They said, no, and we’re the deciders.   So at that point I started to advocate for diversity.

The demographics of the age of programmers at KRVM, you really won’t find any young programmers at all. They tend to be over 50 to 60. There are a few exceptions.  It’s heavily a volunteer base that is white male oriented.  The content that comes over the air is generated by about 80% white males. It’s at least 75%. It gets towards 80%. There have been no recruitment efforts that I’ve seen for diverse programmers whatsoever.

They have a student broadcasting program, that does have a diverse population, but a small population.  It tends to be in the five to seven student range for an afterschool program. It’s a wonderful program. It trains students for public speaking, and I love what this program does for their confidence. And and yet students I would say the past 10 years, haven’t stuck around to continue program.

In 27 years of hanging around, I had never seen an African-American programmer ever on KRVM or an Asian-American programmer.  Women  I would say maybe 15% of the programmers are women for what goes over the air.

Diversity is something that again was not talked about at staff meetings at all, other than we’re doing these special programs that we love. 

But by and large the content of the music is an oldies station during the specialty programs. And of course that is geared towards more of a white audience and it tends to be white male types of rock and roll programs. I love that programming. I grew up on that music. I’ve done a lot of that music myself.  I’m just embarrassed that I’ve overlooked this issue of diversity for a long time, because I’ve enjoyed the music so much. And I think a lot of programmers are still overlooking the issue of diversity and really enjoying what they’re doing.

So I love the music. I think there’s a place for it in the Eugene community. And there has to be opportunities on a community radio station for a non-dominant demographic programmers, and I’m not seeing the interest or the outreach to find those programmers now.

So KRVM needs an outreach program. They need to respect their volunteers and involve them in reaching out. To include diverse members of the community. And I think a lot of this is about power sharing.  They would need more avenues towards expression of volunteers, ways to take suggestions, ways to take feedback, ways to take criticism and ways to take complaints that they don’t currently have.

So here I am. And I hope people will advocate for diversity. A lot of people have been advocating for me or for rehiring. And what I really want is the system at KRVM to change for them to include more diversity. 

The only structural change that is really going to work is power sharing. I’ve firmly believed that it has to be an outreach program of power-sharing and diverse voices in helping create policy for programming in addition to programming itself, anything short of that is simply not going to work, especially in a white-dominated community like Eugene, we have to be proactive and and do some inclusion in order for the airwaves to reflect the diversity that is going to be healthy for our community.

John Q. Murray: We invited the 4-J radio station to talk about diversity at the station. We also asked if they would consider engaging a mediator as conflicts inevitably arise. They weren’t able to get back to us this week, so we will remain available at their convenience to continue this important community conversation.

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