My name is Frieda Werden. I’ve been a radio producer since 1972, when I put together what was probably the first syndicated feminist radio series (“Women Today” for Longhorn Radio Network). Many years and many projects later (including two docu-drama series for National Public Radio), I co-founded WINGS: Women’s International News Gathering Service, which syndicates a regular news and current affairs series to noncommercial radio stations around the world.
The initial idea behind WINGS was to keep women around the world listening to each other and sharing information, as they had begun to do during the UN Decade for Women. Unlike any of the other media we knew of, we decided to devote most of our airtime to women from the regions covered speaking for themselves, instead of Western reporters doing the analysis and throwing in an occasional soundbite.
Our first show, a newscast released in May 1986, was paid for with a small pilot grant from NPR’s Satellite Program Development Fund. It included news by and about women from the Big Mountain Navajo reservation, the Pacific Rim, France, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, India, Chile, Sweden, and Alaska, plus an in-depth story about the Norplant trials. In the more than eight years since, WINGS has released hundreds of stories and worked with nearly two hundred reporters covering women’s issues and women’s actions all over the world.
Many of the first reporters to send WINGS their work were from a mailing list of women who had attended a women’s radio meeting in Nairobi, organized by Genevieve Vaughan and her associates in the Feminist International for Peace and Food. These women were so commuted to international women’s radio networking that the continued sending us tapes after the pilot was finished. Everything we got was so interesting, WINGS decided to go ahead and produce regularly even without funding, as long as we possibly could. NPR didn’t support us after the pilot grant (they abolished their granting arm a few months later) so we paid for the new shows out of our own shallow pockets and started looking for help. Gen Vaughan was the very first person to send us a donation (under the name “An Anonymous Texas Woman”). Her support buoyed us up immensely and gave us great encouragement lo keep going.
During our second year of operation, Genevieve invited my co-producer Katherine Davenport and me down to Texas for a women’s radio meeting at Alma de Mujer that included women from Pacifica and NPR and and assortment of independent and station-based producers, to discuss the possibility of a national women’s radio station. At the time, WINGS had a fairly substantial grant from the Skaggs Foundation, and several smaller foundation grants; but in our third year, once the penumbra of the Decade for Women had faded, Skaggs lost interest in women and didn’t renew us. Once again, we were able to turn to Gen, and she made a substantial grant to WINGS for operating funds. Over the five years since, she has helped WINGS put together around ten thousand dollars a year from her own or various other foundations, and in the past year has also given me salaried job for the Foundation for a Compassionate Society that helps sustain both WINGS and me financially.
In 1990 Gen decided to approach Radio for Peace International (RFPI) a shortwave station in Costa Rica about broadcasting a regular, large block of women’s radio airtime. My co-producer Katherine Davenport was hired to do outreach for that project, and I was included in the core group that met via telephone conference calls over the course of six months or so to plan for the program. Many other women participated in these telephone conferences at various times – but regulars were Gen, Sissy Farenthold, Deborah Latham, General Manager of RFPI; Giselle Mills of the “Third World Women’s Project in Washington DC; and eventually the producer who was hired to begin the project; Maria Suarez. Gen named the program F.I.R.E. (Feminist International Radio Endeavor).
In May of 1991, during the time we were organizing F.I.R.E., Genevieve made me a surprise gift: a trip to the Philippines for the “Who Calls the Shot?” conference organized by the Women’s Media Circle. This was the first time I got to meet Debra Latham from Radio for Peace. I recorded a lot of interesting tape and broadened my horizons tremendously as I had never been to Asia before. In November 1991, Gen again gave me a trip, this time to Miami, Florida, for the World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet. Again, I recorded an immense amount of important audio, and began to grasp the extent of the worldwide women’s environmental movement. After that meeting, she took me on a side trip to Costa Rica, for the Board meeting of RFPI, which clarified for me what that station was about and helped cement relations between F.I.R.E and WINGS. We do a lot of tape exchanges to this day.
At the World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet I also met Trella Laughlin, the video producer of “Let the People Speak!” which is funded by Gen’s Foundation for a Compassionate Society. Our two programs have collaborates often since then, with Trella sometimes supplying audio to both WINGS and F.I.R.E., and my helping with some of the video productions. Last summer (1993), Gen sent Trella and me with a delegation to Vienna for the World Conference on Human Rights, and insisted we make a side trip to Zagreb to visit feminist organizations that were helping in refugee camps. Again, there was an immense amount to record and learn and I’m proud to say that some of my audio went into the award-winning video production Trella made, “Spansko Refugee Camp.” On our return, we gave a number of speeches about the situation in the former Yugoslavia. Our reports contributed to a Foundation decision to raise relief supplies for refugees.
After the death of my co-producer in the fall of 1992, I drew closer to the Foundation for a Compassionate Society. Gen invited me to a major planning retreat, and eventually I moved to Austin (which was my old home town), in part to enjoy the camaraderie of the women in the Foundation. It’s been intensely interesting to be here. Women from all corners of the earth show up at the weekly staff meetings, and often I’m able to arrange to interview them. The Foundation itself puts on fascinating events where I can record for broadcast, from co-sponsoring appearances by great women orators like bell Hooks and Dr. Helen Caldicott, to hosting groups like the Midwives’ Alliance of North America, to major conferences like “Low-Level Radiation and the Breast Cancer Epidemic” (February 1994).
Travel opportunities I’ve had lately through the Foundation include last fall’s Women Legislators’ Lobby in Washington; the National Women’s Studies Association meeting this summer in Ames, Iowa; and a chance to attend the regional preparatory meeting for the upcoming World Women’s Conference in Beijing.
My salaried work for the Foundation itself includes recording tapes of events and making copies available both to F.I.R.E. and the Foundation and its friends (for example, a book is forthcoming based on transcriptions of the Breast Cancer conference), networking and brainstorming with various projects and organizations, giving talks and writing, and especially training other women to do radio production. The training is sometimes done in workshops or meetings, sometimes in my WINGS production studio, but will soon be mainly at W.A.T.E.R. (Women’s Access to Electronic Resources). I’ve committed to (and begun to) train the members of the Women’s Collective of a new community radio station getting started in Austin, as well as women who come to the W.A.T.E.R. training courses from around the world. This summer, I had a lot of fun training a group from the annual Foundation sponsored Feminist Media Pool.
W.A.T.E.R.’s audio studio is still under construction, but I’ve already done a couple of interviews in the new soundproof studio (including one with four women members of the Polish Parliament). I got to consult on the studio’s construction before it began, and have been purchasing a good collection of second-hand audio equipment for it, since I’m more likely than anyone else in our group to find and recognize what we need.
My wish for the near future is to get both W.A.T.E.R. and F.I.R.E. computer-based audio editing equipment and to set up an experiment in sharing audio files between Costa Rica via super-high-speed modem. I’ve spent several years studying the technology that is emerging, and the components to do this are all available on the market at last; however, nobody is yet sending broadcast-quality audio on-line. The major networks are still using what I call “lock-step” distribution, where everybody has to catch a satellite signal out of the air at the same time, and only a few institutions can afford the equipment to do the sending. Computers, on the other hand, get cheaper and cheaper. Audio is even being sent over Internet today, though not yet good enough sound for broadcast.
As we’ve seen with written computer networking, non-hierarchical information distribution is very democratizing, and women take it very well. The main uses I foresee for a women’s audio computer network would be to facilitate exchange of audio among producers in various countries, to allow cooperative editing involving editors at various sites, to make audio files available to the public and radio stations, and to distribute broadcast-quality audio in a timely fashion from major events (e.g. the World Women’s Conference in Beijing). This new technology could help fulfill the dream of worldwide women’s radio networking that Genevieve Vaughan put forth in Nairobi nearly ten years ago.