Women all day, all night

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Every March 8 for the past 17 years, community radio station KFAI has turned over the controls to women for 24 hours in honor of International Women’s Day. This year, say organizers, the event is bigger and better than ever and is expanding its reach to include more people and more attention to women throughout the month of March.

If you’re reading this on March 7, you’ll have a good idea what’s coming your way tomorrow; if you’re reading this March 9 or later, you’ll know to stay tuned throughout the month. In either case, you’ll have a better understanding of just what it takes to organize such a broadcast extravaganza. For the sake of clarity (and because this paper doesn’t hit the newsstands until March 7), we’re going to use the past tense to talk about this year’s event.

The hours behind each hour
At 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, March 8, the Women’s Student Activist Collective kicked off the celebration with an hour of party tunes; 23 hours later, at 11 p.m., the party wound down with an hour of music by queer women from around the world. In between, there were nearly two dozen shows about women produced by women: women musicians from Brazil and France; women’s blues and jazz; women talking about Somali civil wars, their first sexual experiences, mothers in prison, healing grief with music and what it’s like working in comedy.

DJ natOsha is in charge of one of those hours. Her show, “Ladies First! Behind the Decks with Local Women DJs,” explored sex discrimination in nightclubs. natOsha, who wanted to be identified by her stage name, interviewed eight local women DJs and found that sex discrimination is alive and well in today’s nightclubs. “I got some pretty frank answers because they know I do this too,” she said.

natOsha hadn’t heard of International Women’s Day until she saw something about it on KFAI’s website three years ago. She hosted her first International Women’s Day show two years ago, and last year she performed as part of the live broadcast from the Cedar Cultural Center.

Unlike natOsha, most of the women who host shows on International Women’s Day are brand new to broadcasting, said Nancy Skalkos, a KFAI volunteer who sits on the International Women’s Day program committee.

Skalkos assigns each first-time programmer a mentor—a KFAI volunteer or staff person—who helps them design their program and teaches them rudimentary radio guidelines, she said.

The mentor also engineers the show and makes sure that sound actually gets on the air.

This year, Skalkos invited all the day’s programmers to an open house at the station. “We had a little kick-off,” she said. “The vibe of the day is so great; I just wanted to see if we could get that started a little earlier.”

Programmers also visit the station before March 8 to record a promo for their show. “They can come in and feel a little bit more familiar with the equipment,” she said. “And we get together a poster and postcards to promote the live event and the day of broadcasting.”

Pat Nelson, co-host of Sunday night’s Womanist Power Authority, mentored programmers for two shows this year: Yolanda Williams of “Black Women in Music: Herstory,” and Sue Campbell of “Calliope Women’s Chorus Presents: SHEroes.”

Nelson, the coordinator of last year’s International Women’s Day broadcast, estimates that she’s spent about 10 hours a week on the project since July. She doesn’t mind, though. “To me it’s a huge effort for a huge reward,” she said. “When you see a woman who’s never been on the radio before and has done it and loved it so much that she wants to do more—when we see that, we want to help more.”

Live at the Cedar
For three of the 24 hours in International Women’s Day—7 to 10 p.m.—KFAI broadcasts live from the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. This year, the program, Girls Go Global, features Boston songwriter Rachael Davis and a host of local performers, including Dessa of Doomtree and Prudence Johnson.

Ellen Stanley, host of Sunday afternoon’s Womenfolk show, is organizing the live event for the second year.

“It’s amazing the details—how much time that can take,” Stanley said. “After you book all the musicians and come up with the schedule, then you get photos and their CDs to promote them at the station; meanwhile the subcommittee is meeting regularly….”

Girls Go Global will be broadcast online, as all KFAI programs are, Stanley said, and it will also be archived for several months.

Meanwhile, regular hosts on KFAI will help promote International Women’s Month by featuring women throughout March, just as they helped promote Girls Go Global by featuring the performers. The more programmers get involved, the more the community gets involved—and the bigger and better KFAI’s International Women’s Day broadcast gets.

“It’s really International Women’s Month,” Stanley said. “We don’t just want a day.”

A member of KFAI’s International Women’s Day committee, Nancy Skalkos finds mentors for women new to radio. International Women’s Day Wed. Mar.8th, on KFAI (90.3 FM in Minneapolis and 106.7 in St. Paul). For schedule information, go to www.kfai.org. KFAI archives all programs for 2 weeks after broadcast at www.kfai.org.

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