A Nod to Public Radio from the Masked Biologist

Jul 1, 2019

Sally Kane, CEO, National Federation of Community Broadcasters
Credit NFCB.org

Local public radio gives your friends and neighbors an opportunity to contribute to something truly special, and you—the listener—are an important component that makes radio work.

This week the Masked Biologist takes a step away from wildlife to talk about the magic of radio and the spoken word on Wildlife Matters.

As one of WXPR’s feature contributors, I had the good fortune to attend a reception earlier this summer during which the station hosted Sally Kane, CEO of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Sally gave a brief talk to all of us about the strength, the power, of local community radio. Her presentation really resonated with me. Obviously, if you are listening to me right now, you already know and embrace the power of hearing the spoken word. During Ms. Kane’s talk, she referenced another presentation to an audience of children. She described the way our words and music are broadcast as the way smoke lifts and spreads from a campfire.  I’m jealous, frankly; I wish that was my concept, but I am confident she won’t mind if I borrow it.

Journey with me, won’t you, for the next four minutes or so? It’s a beautiful night in the Northwoods. The air is crisp, the breeze is so light as to evade detection. The stars shine bright, and you can see the faint green and purple hues of the northern lights. The haunting wail of a loon pierces the darkness. You are briefly startled as a hummingbird moth buzzes through the space in front of your face, then bumbles back into the darkness. You catch a glimpse of a distant light flickering in the darkness. Instinctively, you walk toward it, and as you approach, you begin to hear the distinct crackle of a campfire. The dancing flames throw splashes of bright orange light against the trees, and you can see a welcoming bench that is perfectly positioned such that it will keep you not too hot, and not too cool, but comfortably in-between the extremes. I’m kneeling by the fire, using a stick to rake some red-hot coals underneath an old beat-up steel coffee pot.

You take a seat, and look deep into the fire. There are a couple of split white birch logs visible, the bark twisting and peeling as it curls into the flames. A piece of pine crackles and spits, sending the occasional spark or ember aloft in a column of opaque smoke. The smoke appears to rise straight up, carried on the fire’s unrelenting heat through twisting green leaves of maple and oak. Some distance behind you, a brave creature rustles the leaves on the forest floor. You hear the crackling of the fire, the percolating of the coffeepot, and the occasional wail of the loon, but otherwise it is quiet.

It’s my turn now, time to share a story. As I begin to speak, my voice carries through the still night not only to those of you around the fire, but to all within earshot. Perhaps others hear me as well; perhaps not. To some, the message I convey may seem familiar, but to others, it may be unfamiliar or new. Like the smoke from the fire, it rises above the treetops and begins to cool, drifting slowly to the lake where it settles on the glassy surface like fog, carried away by the next breeze. You may remember the story (or parts of it) or you may enjoy it and instantly it is lost to other thoughts or ideas. But for a few enjoyable minutes we were gathered together around the fire, and that is what matters.

I want to take this time to send a quick shout out to one of my fans, Rowan, who makes sure to join me each week around the campfire. And I want to thank him, as well as all of you, for tuning in to listen to my program each week. Your enjoyment and appreciation help keep me going, energizing me to research more stories and join you again next week around the fire.

Striving to make new things familiar and familiar things new, this is the Masked Biologist coming to you from the heart of Wisconsin’s great Northwoods.