Background photo by Don Sylor

Just Listen

Terry Pommett

At our public radio station here on the Cape and Islands, we carry mostly hour-long blocks of programming, but in the cracks between those shows we broadcast the voices of our neighbors. These are little one-minute stories, overheard conversations, memories, jokes, poems… fragments of life as we live it here.

All right, here we go… now you’re going to see the correct way to put the wash on the line. —Eileen, Nantucket

These little vignettes (we call them Sonic IDs) come from people living here or passing through. They come from old timers, teenagers, tourists, lifers, washashores.

I just moved here this year from New York. And I can’t swim. How can you be surrounded by water and can’t swim?! —Ian, Martha’s Vineyard

Our eventual goal (impossible, but we’re sticking with it) is to put everyone on the air and create a living chronicle of this place—an ever-growing oral history, like an epic poem or a community autobiography, written in short stanzas by all of us.

Perhaps you remember the Store of Three Wonders in Falmouth, gone now for many a year. The proprietor gave away yardsticks and one-foot rulers that bore the place’s name and motto: “You wonder if I have it, I wonder where it is, you wonder how I found it.” —Dick, Woods Hole

Because these little moments arrive unheralded in between the news of the day, they have an uncanny effect. They give as much importance to a little boy imitating a chain saw as to the tics of the stock market.

I actually find sailing stressful. Like, a perfectly nice normal person asks you to go sailing with them? And then they just slowly turn into Mussolini. —Susie, Truro

We are reminded that we are connected, not just by the wires and waves of media, but by our place, and our humanness. And, of course, that’s what life is like for most of us. The distant news of the world affects our lives, but we spend our lives right here, where we live.

Everyone should have a passion in life, and mine’s boats, I guess. And dogs. I like dogs a lot.  —Carlo, Vineyard Haven

Do you know your neighbors, the people on your street? Do you know all their names, their stories? I don’t. But I feel I should. Our radio project is a somewhat feeble attempt to create a broad sense of neighborliness. In creating these vignettes, we essentially go door-to-door, carrying microphones. It’s liberating to have the “excuse” to ask questions, to satisfy curiosity, to meet people. They are full of surprises.

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Jay Allison is an independent broadcast journalist and the founder of WCAI (90.1, 91.1, 94.3 FM). He was the curator and producer of This I Believe on NPR and produces The Moth Radio Hour. His nonprofit organization in Woods Hole, Atlantic Public Media, created the websites and (the Public Radio Exchange), dedicated to helping citizens tell their own stories.

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