The earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 did more than take lives and topple buildings. It exposed weaknesses is Haiti’s infrastructure, including its media.
Two Anderson radio pros have returned from a week in Haiti, where they used their expertise to improve communication there. General Manager Don Boggs and program director Matt Rust of WQME-FM worked with Radio Lumiere, a nine-station network serving a population facing a greater need than ever before.
“Imagine that Anderson was hit by a tornado, causing a lot of damage,” Rust said. “Now put WQME in the mix. Think about us playing music non-stop, 24-7, with no news, no updates and no information on where to get help.
“That’s what they were doing in Haiti at Stereo 92. The earthquake was an excellent opportunity to get out there and serve Haiti.”
Boggs and Rust were commissioned by Marion-based World Gospel Mission to help Radio Lumiere update the format for its Stereo 92 station. Boggs said Stereo 92’s “beautiful music” format — a mix of classical music and traditional gospel songs — has been outdated in the United States for more than 20 years. He and Rust operated more as consultants in a professional setting than humanitarian aid workers.
“We were asked to consult, we were working for the Haitians,” Boggs said. “It’s easier to come in and do your own thing and leave. It’s tougher to listen and give recommendations and know that some of them won’t be listened to.”
After flying down to Florida, the pair caught a small plane to Port-Au-Prince that only flies on Thursdays. Stereo 92’s format included gospel music in English and French. Rust and Boggs received a surprising reminder of home when a decades-old Gaither Trio song began playing.
The destruction left by the earthquake left a strong impression on both Boggs and Rust. Many Haitians remain distrustful of buildings two months after the earthquake, and Boggs and Rust report that many Haitians prefer to sleep outdoors, under tents and tarps in the street or in parks, rather than return home.
“(The visit) was indirectly related, in the sense that the earthquake was kind of a wake-up call as to their programming,” Boggs said. “The have a sizable audience and they’re giving them the same old same old.”
Stereo 92’s audience is comprised of the minority French-speaking upper class, but Boggs hopes improvements to the station will trigger a trickle-down effect that benefits the masses. He and Rust plan to follow up with Radio Lumiere in the coming months to help implement the format changes. But the bottom line is serving the people of Haiti.
“Now is the time for them,” Rust said. “With so many people hurting, so many people need the services that Stereo 92 can provide. Much like the radio here in the states, it needs to be local as opposed to being automated and being a jukebox.”
—Justin Schneider is an online reporter / manager for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission. Photos provided by Don Boggs.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.