WYSO shares poignant tales of residents across the Miami Valley

It’s like a treasure trove of tales that touches on history and the future, hardship and rebirth, new friendships and long-standing families. Dayton’s NPR station, 91.3 WYSO, offers a variety of programs that attempt to tell the hidden gem stories of Dayton and the people who make it great. 

“WYSO has a long-time reputation for independent thinking, innovation and for staying true to the mission of public radio: giving voice to people in the community,” says General Manager Neenah Ellis.

Although many may believe the station is just about bringing the national and international news to Dayton residents, WYSO, located in Yellow Springs, is working hard to put Dayton on the national map, sharing the unique stories and perspectives of its residents with the world. 

One Story at a Time

Since 1958, WYSO has invited the community to learn radio skills and make local stories. Started as a radio experiment by students at Antioch College, the station has always had an eclectic format with locally made music programs. Still housed at the college, the station produces about 40 hours a week of local programming and is now known across the National Public Radio (NPR) network for its Community Voices program launched in 2011. 

Community Voices is an effort to get the community more involved with telling stories on the station. Local residents are trained to be radio producers, recording essays, commentaries and even oral histories that are then used on air. 

“When I go to conferences, managers and program directors say they’ve heard about our Community Voices program, both in terms of our teaching, but also in terms of letting community members tell their own stories,” Ellis shares. “We have done this in recent years with ReInvention Stories, Rediscovered Radio and the Miami Valley StoryCorps. All of these stories have been possible because we have trained local people.”

And the station is continually adding new programs to focus on groups of people who may not currently have a voice in the Dayton community. Veterans Stories, Dayton Youth Radio, WYSO Curious and Culture Couch are a just a few examples of the effort to reach out into the community and share a broader voice. 

Hearing from Veterans

A collaboration between WYSO and Wright State University’s Veteran and Military Center, Veterans Voices reaches out to Miami Valley veterans and focuses on their re-entry into civilian life. The stories are reported by student veterans attending WSU and trained through WYSO’s Community Voices program.

Whether it’s telling the experiences of a former Presidential Ceremonial Guard or a WWII vet, or tackling tough issues surrounding today’s military like the rising veteran suicide rate and post traumatic stress disorder, the series is finding a lot of fans around the region.

“It’s unique because it’s peer to peer,” says Will Davis, editor/programmer for the series. “Veterans learn to make the radio stories themselves, so it allows them to tell their own experiences in their own voices.”

According to Davis, the program is especially important in the Dayton region because there are so many military men and women in the area and because the stories work to humanize the military experience. 

“There is a serious civilian-military divide in this country, and we are trying to lessen that division with these stories. I think it’s working because civilians tell me that they are really moved by this series.”

Kids Today

One of the newest ways WYSO is working to expand access to the airways in the Miami Valley is through a younger audience. In 2015, WYSO partnered with Dayton Public Schools to offer 28 teenagers the opportunity to learn production and storytelling skills. As a result, the teens produced some amazing stories.

“Youth Radio stories are so honest and innocent and pure,” says Basim Blunt, the project coordinator and a 2012 graduate of the Community Voices program. “The teens covered the spectrum of the human condition: light-hearted stories about getting a driver’s license and procrastination to really serious stuff like absent fathers, sexism and the Black Lives Matter movement. I was so impressed with the hard work and deep introspection these young kids demonstrated.”

Blunt believes the program will inspire listeners to open up a dialogue with the teens in their lives. 

Curious about Dayton

WYSO gives listeners a chance to learn more about the city they live in with its WYSO Curious series. Listeners are encouraged to submit their questions through WYSO.org. Questions can be about anything related to living and working in the Dayton region. 

The producers and reporters select topics and answer them. Answers to questions like how many buildings are empty in downtown, why Dayton is called the “Gem City” and why adults can’t order from the kids’ menu add a unique perspective to learning about Dayton that is a popular feature for listeners. 

Culture From Your Couch

In 2016, WYSO will use a grant from the Ohio Arts Council to bring a new arts series called Culture Couch to the airwaves. The program will feature local arts organizations like the Victoria Theatre Association and the Dayton Art Institute as well as area artists and small galleries talking about the incredible arts culture that Dayton has.

WYSO invites listeners to tune in and get involved. In addition to becoming a member of the next Community Voices class, the station also offers a young professionals group and several volunteer opportunities. According to Ellis, the station will continue to look for ways to get the community involved in its broadcasts. 

“We have opened the doors to the radio station and welcomed people of diverse backgrounds, people of all ages.”

And the results have been something to hear.