Some say that it’s not about what you know, but whom you know. However, any such distinctions are moot for husband-and-wife team and Marine Library Association stalwarts Gayle Knutson and Jim Maher. Their latest passion project, “River Radio,” is the newest initiative to come out of an unconventional Library with a long track record for creativity.
Marine Community Library is one of only a handful of volunteer-run public libraries in the Upper Midwest. Although formerly part of the Washington County Library system, the Library reconstituted itself as a Friends of the Library operation after budget belt-tightening threatened its closure in 2011. While small in square footage, the Marine Community Library offers most of the services available at larger and more conventionally funded libraries.
Knutson and Maher are prominent among the residents who regularly contribute their time and talents to the Library’s operations. In fact, Maher is currently chairperson of the Association’s board of directors.
Providentially, both Friends are also veterans of the radio world. After the heightening coronavirus pandemic brought normal operations to an abrupt halt in March, the pair decided to deploy their skills in service to the Library. With assistance from fellow Friends, they hatched “River Radio” – named in homage to Marine’s location along the St. Croix River.
Ingeniously, the partners realized that you don’t need FM airwaves – or even a true station – to pull off a successful radio show. They invest just a few bucks a month into a Zoom videoconference subscription, which they tap for its reliable audio recording and broadcasting capabilities.
River Radio debuted on March 28, and new episodes have debuted weekly ever since. Featured subjects truly run the gamut, and this impressive topical diversity is matched by guest speakers’ credentials in their respective fields. Knutson and Maher have welcomed Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, NPR/MPR senior economics reporter Chris Farrell, and award-winning folk musician John Gorka. Other guests to date have included the mayors of Marine and Scandia, University of Minnesota specialists in economics and epidemiology, and representatives from the National Park Service and varied history and culture institutions.
Unsurprisingly, given the origins of River Radio, speakers from area libraries and bookstores are also frequent guests of Knutson and Maher.
As you can glean from that line up, the program offers timely content on the unfolding COVID-19 crisis – as well as much needed diversions.
“We feel that River Radio has had great impact on the wellbeing of the Marine community, offering at least something from the Library during the continuing closure,” explained Loralee DiLorenzo, vice chair of the Marine Library Association. On-air surveys, available through Zoom to listeners who tune in live, corroborate the sentiment.
Fortunately for residents of Marine – and really, anyone in or even beyond Washington County who cares to tune in – River Radio is likely to stick around. “The Library is considering offering occasional episodes for part of the summer, and then a more regular schedule again in the fall.”