If you have ever woken up early Sunday morning to tune in to Madison’s WORT 89.9 FM, you may have heard the voice of a Hmong broadcaster.
Local Hmong communities rely on this two-hour slice of airtime in the Hmong language to learn about news and current events. This is particularly helpful for elderly Hmong refugees who feel more comfortable listening to stories than reading them.
Given the emphasis within Hmong culture on oral traditions and storytelling, radio is a meaningful and resonant medium. Unfortunately, owning an entire radio station is often prohibitively expensive for this relatively small ethnic community.
In my research on Hmong American media, I’ve learned about an even more valuable form of Hmong communication that helps to fill the airtime 24/7 with Hmong voices without costing a dime.
Hmong teleconference radio stations are built using free conference call software that holds up to 2,000 listeners at once, and callers tune in using nothing but their cell phone.
Each station has a staff of volunteer DJs who host call-in programs every hour on topics like relationships and family, food, music, finances, and Hmong culture.
The shows give callers a lifeline to Hmong people all over the world by providing a forum for sharing news, debating important issues, educating, giving advice and just chatting.
As communication technologies grow more sophisticated, my research reminds us that it’s important to keep asking how even a simple phone call can play a role in creating innovative and culturally specific mass media platforms.