Breaking out on air!

Zed Tour April 2015
Zed Tour April 2015

Last week the group went to the 4ZZZ Community Radio studios in Fortitude Valley for a tour and some activities. We were six participants accompanied by seven support people (facilitators and students included), so there was quite a crew for the narrow hallways of 4zzz to accommodate. It was an exciting few hours.
First was a bit of a history lesson about 4ZZZ from Michelle, the station manager, and then the group split into two; one traversing the manifold staircases (note: 4ZZZ has poor accessibility!) for a tour whilst another group sat and listened to the show that was happening on air. After that each participant did some one on one recording with Aleho, one of the volunteer sound engineers for 4zzz who expertly recorded and later edited people’s answers to a few questions about radio. In the meantime, a few people had an opportunity to briefly chat on air with Anna from Radio Reversal, to ask and answer some questions in turn. It was a real thrill to have some speakers live on air, though someone later reflected that it wasn’t as scary as you would think, because you couldn’t see all the people listening to you. Lots of things were happening all at once throughout the day, but there was also a lot of time spent waiting around while single people went to do activities. I wasn’t sure whether the energy and focus of the group would sustain itself in the downtime and was concerned that people might start to lose interest if they weren’t being engaged in an activity. Thankfully, life always tends to turn out differently to my assumptions about it, and there did not seem to be any major stumbles or fizzling out. I found it best to go with the flow and just allow things to unfold, and when I wasn’t supporting anybody I just sat and chatted with different people, checking in and chatting with anyone who was sitting alone. The participants kept their own energy up by talking to each other and to people around the studio, and I took it as a fantastic sign that people were starting to come out of their shells and feel more comfortable in the group. People jumped at opportunities to go and take a look at rooms, be recorded, see how ads are made and talk on air, and went off on their own to explore the space, it seemed like most people were making full use of the opportunity. One participant held back and allowed the others to do most of the participation, as he had already had some prior experience at different radio stations. This person has reflected to me that they prefer to see themselves as a mentor who wants to build and support opportunities for other people, and would prefer to be more in the background. This is fantastic, as it meets one of the goals of the project to build capacity for participants to pass on their skills to future groups. At the same time it offers a particular challenge: this person has really valuable stories, strongly developed political and ideological perspectives and an innate gift to describe and articulate his experience as a person living with disability and the associated social barriers. It is important to encourage his direct participation and individual voice as well as their ‘mentoring’ role, as he has unique skills as a self-advocate that can contribute to building awareness of the wider public. In conversations with this person, they have expressed their hope that other participants develop their skills and voice to talk openly about their experiences and ‘get down to the real issues’ and ‘be controversial’. Upon reflection, this suggests an expectation for other people to view and articulate their experiences in a very particular way, and one that might not sit comfortably (or even accessibly) with them. As the group has progressed, it becomes clear that having this expectation is perhaps neither realistic nor supportive of many people, cognitively impaired or not. I say this in acknowledgement that I too had harbored similar hopes in the early stages that the project would ‘train’ and enable all the participants to adopt some innate self-advocate role that I had perhaps assumed was inside everybody, just waiting to be let out. I see now, yet again, that this is not a straightforward, nor does it need to be. Now when I speak to this man, I suggest that not all participants have his unique kind of voice, and the tools to put words to their experiences in the way that he does. People see and feel things differently, and relate to their experiences differently and with a diversity of expression. This is why it is so important that he lend his unique voice to conversations, because it is a rare gift that not everybody will have, whether you want them to or not. I thank Morrie O’Connor for the opportunity to discuss and bring these thoughts to the forefront of my mind. All in all, the trip to 4ZZZ was a great community engagement. All the participants expressed their enjoyment of the trip, and I hope it has brought a new energy to creating our own radio from here on in.

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