John is KOOP’s Volunteer Coordinator. He also hosts Voyager every week and, once a month, Lonesome Stranger. We spoke on July 12.
Michael A. Brown: Tell us about your background and how it helped prepare you for your job at KOOP.
John Hardberger: I’ve always been a big music fan and a big radio fan. Growing up in Lubbock, the Texas Tech radio station KTXT was formative for me. In 2011, I enrolled at Northwestern University. Their station is WNUR, and I got involved right away. My degree is in journalism, and I worked at Chicago magazine for a couple years. I also interned at a radio station in Marfa, Texas.
MAB: Now that you’ve been Volunteer Coordinator for 8 months, how does the reality match your expectations?
JH: It has been extremely pleasant because KOOP is a very friendly and welcoming community. I have had good experiences since I first became a volunteer in 2019. And while there is occasional “family drama,” being the Volunteer Coordinator has opened up my connections with so many good people.
MAB: When new volunteers join KOOP, what sorts of things do they most often want to do at the station?
JH: Generally, there’s a lot of interest in getting started on the technical side of things. There’s a sort of “romance” about being part of the inner workings of KOOP. Plus, there’s a lot of interest in getting involved in the music or N/PA aspects of the station, either as a programmer or a music reviewer.
MAB: While new programmers are making their way through the training and certification process, what do they say is most challenging?
JH: They sometimes talk about how complex it all is. KOOP has a lot of history, a lot of information, and a lot of systems in place, and it can be overwhelming … partly because the station expects new people to be self-starters in participating and learning. And to be sure, it’s a big leap from one’s first volunteer orientation to getting on the air for the first time.
MAB: When would-be volunteers get started but then decide KOOP isn’t quite for them … what reasons have you heard?
JH: Some people have said that the time commitment is bigger than they expected and that their job or home circumstances limit their availability. N/PA shows, especially, take a lot of time to produce. But more often, folks just disappear without explaining why. It makes me appreciate all the more those volunteers who DO have a lot going on but still make time to produce and present good radio.
MAB: The volunteers with more tenure … many years in some cases … what are you hearing from them about KOOP nowadays?
JH: Mostly good things! A lot of them are thrilled that we’re still here and still thriving. In many ways, we’re doing better than ever in terms of reaching our audience and fundraising. Of course, from time to time, veteran programmers decide to move on. On the one hand, that’s always sad, but it does open up opportunities for new programmers and new shows.
MAB: Tell us about efforts in the community to attract more volunteers.
JH: Programmers promote volunteer opportunities pretty regularly. I’m always pleased to hear a programmer say on-air, “If you want to get involved … maybe do a show like the one you’re listening to … visit www.KOOP.org to find out how.” We also have dramatically increased the diversity of our tabling presence in the community, at lots of different events. Those have been successful in bringing new folks into the fold.
MAB: Your own show … please tell us about Voyager.
JH: My show was inspired by the 1977 NASA Voyager mission that sent probes into deep space. The famous astrophysicist Carl Sagan realized that the probes likely would go farther into the universe than any other man-made object. So he and his colleagues commissioned two gold records that would be testaments to life on earth. The records included music from all around the world, people speaking multi-language greetings to inter-stellar listeners, and different sounds from earth. I found that approach really moving and wanted to do my own version of sending radio signals out into space. The result is a program of eclectic music and sounds and listeners’ content contributions. It’s a lot of fun!
You can hear John Hardberger present Voyager every Monday 9-10am, and once a month on Lonesome Stranger, Thursdays 9-11am.
Interview by Michael A. Brown