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Local innovation: RadioBigSky connects community through airwaves

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During the Great Depression of the 1930s, radio was an inexpensive way to keep up with news and provided a means for escape through sports broadcasts and entertainment programs. It was the platform on which President Franklin D. Roosevelt rallied the country with his famous Fireside Chats, new talent emerged, and household names adapted music, theater, comedy and skits to radio waves.

Today in Big Sky, under a similar economic climate, one such emerging radio emcee is Jeremy Harder, founder of RadioBigSky, and technology teacher for the Big Sky School District. One of his first interviews for the ad hoc radio show that first hit airwaves on March 27 was local musician Brian Stumpf.

“Okay, guitar is tuned, let me pour just a little bit of whiskey—it’ll get me real talkative,” Stumpf said before playing an acoustic set on an episode of “Tuned Up in Big Sky,” the station’s live music program.

Captured via Zoom, the contents of Stumpf’s home can be seen behind him—an upright bass, a poster of a Philadelphia Eagles helmet and a stack of musical instrument cases queued against the wall. Harder’s backdrop is a digital rendition of the Northern Lights, churning around the neon text of his trucker hat, which reads “F—n’ Weather!”, a tip of the cap to the local theater troupe’s November performance of “Howl: A Montana Love Story.”

Between songs, Harder and Stumpf chat about how emotion and boredom are the perfect ingredients for creativity—both were necessary in the conception of RadioBigSky. 

“I think right now people need to hear stories, whether those stories are of successes or failures,” Harder said in an April 3 phone interview. “There’s a lot of really deep honesty opening up in those little 30-minute shows.”

After closing his classroom doors months earlier than anticipated due to the state’s stay-at-home order Harder—who is looking to update his official title to BSSD’s Lead Facilitator of Creativity and Innovation—thought up the idea for a small, local radio show to keep people connected as well as himself busy. 

The station currently broadcasts two shows: “Tuned Up” and “Pivot,” an interview-style chat with various locals about their journey to Big Sky. Harder also features short skits and puppet shows inspired by content from the Big Sky Community Theater, which Harder founded with Warren Miller Performing Arts Center’s John Zirkle six years ago.

The production of RadioBigSky is organic, from how Harder chooses his subjects (“Right now I’m picking out of a hat.”), to when he broadcasts episodes (“At first it was really organized, then I just wanted to post them right away.”) and postproduction editing, which is nonexistent (“I just let it roll organically.”)

One thing viewers can be sure of is the deliberate expulsion of what he refers to as the “c-word”—coronavirus.

“I think listeners might learn to look at things a little bit different right now,” Harder said. “Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here that life should be more humanistic and not so planned out.”

Featured guests include Peter Bedell and Rich Addicks on “Pivot” and Kevin Fabozzi and Stumpf on “Tuned Up,” with more on the horizon. Harder is driven by his goal to support local musicians during a time when their usual venues are closed, to recognize influential folks in his town, and to keep the community connected.

“I wanted to give people the opportunity to get to know the people around them even though they can’t go out and see them right now,” Harder said, noting that feedback so far has been positive.

Addicks, a photojournalist who has called Big Sky his home for nearly 20 years, talked with Harder about authenticity and vulnerability during his work capturing subjects throughout his career.

“My technique is I wear people out,” said Addicks during an April 3 episode of “Pivot.” “I’ll keep taking pictures until that person kind of gets sick of me, drops their guard, and it’s usually that one moment where they relax their body language, they get comfortable they find that place that is them. That’s what I strive for. A real, honest moment.”

The radio shows themselves have a gift for capturing honest moments, a refreshing reprieve in a world where we remain physically disconnected and our plans less predictable than they once were. 

The next time you need to unwind, avoid the “c-word,” and enjoy some raw, unmapped conversation with a friendly face, tune into RadioBigSky on YouTube and you’ll be greeted by Harder’s familiar mantra: “I want to thank the listeners and the viewers and the homebodies.”

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