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Water on Air

By Tom Chalkley | Posted 8/23/2000

WRNR (103.1 FM) is not the first place I turn for educational programming. In fact, it's the first button I punch to get away from my usual car-radio diet of Too Much Information. Where else can one hear (as I did one recent Sunday) a playlist that roams from African-American spirituals recorded in 1909, through Lou Reed and Tracy Chapman, to early-'70s Turtles, early-'80s Elvis Costello, and the reunited Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks? The 6-year-old station, based in Annapolis, is the last local refuge of what used to be called "free-form" radio, the format pioneered 30 years ago by the original WHFS in Bethesda. Michael Buckley, 'RNR's morning drive-time jock and producer of the wide-ranging Sunday Brunch music-and-interview show, prefers to call his approach "progressive radio." "We progress from style to style," he says. "We bring classical, jazz, folk, and blues together in same set . . . and there have been bits of spoken word."

Now Buckley is progressing to an ambitious series called Voices of the Chesapeake Bay, which will air on WRNR for 10 weeks, from 10 to 11 A.M. on the Sunday Brunch show, starting Sept. 3. This time, Buckley says, "the spoken word is in the spotlight." The show will weave together interviews, oral history, and music (including tunes composed for the program), all relating to the culture and the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay.

The format sounds promising, especially given the diverse backgrounds of its producers and the range of interview subjects: Tangier Island watermen, eco-journalists such as The Sun's Tom Horton, poets, musicians, educators, lawmakers, and regular folks who just go to the bay for fun. Taped material will be meshed with live discussions, including call-in segments.

Buckley, whose pre-radio background includes work in theater, documentaries, and "town- hall meetings" on public affairs, is a great believer in multidisciplinary teaching and learning. One of the show's co-producers, Robin Jung, is a biologist and Sierra Club activist with previous radio experience as writer and narrator for a syndicated series called Watershed Radio that airs on a handful of stations around the Chesapeake region. The other co-producer is Claudia Donegan, an environmental educator currently working for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

I plan to tune in and see whether, compared to NPR's rather pious Living on Earth (Sunday afternoons on WJHU [88.1 FM]), 'RNR has an eco-show that rocks.

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