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After three decades of working with public radio, Milton and Jamie Lee are helping develop the next generation of radio talent through the North Country Youth Radio Connection in the Bemidji area. Submitted Photo

Chance meeting leads to new youth radio program

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BEMIDJI — Happenstance often can lead to new and exciting ventures. And that’s what happened because of a chance meeting in Harmony Foods Co-op between a youth soccer coach and a pair of retirees.

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Don Gannon, the coach, describes it this way:

"I walked into Harmony and there were three people sitting at a table, one of whom I knew and she waved me over.

"Maggie Montgomery, executive director of KBXE/KAXE, introduced me to a couple who were talking about starting a radio program strictly by and for young adults at the new radio station in Bemidji."

The pair: Milt and Jamie Lee. Gannon himself had dreamed for years of such a show, first while working in Minneapolis and continuing after his move to Shevlin.

For Jamie Lee, it was coming home again to begin a new life as a retiree along with her husband, Milton. Jamie graduated from Cass Lake High School and Bemidji State University in the late 1970s. After three decades of working for and with public radio, she and her husband decided last year it was time to return to her roots.

"I graduated BSU with a degree in English and psychology and spent my business career in human resource management," she said. "Milt and I have always been successful in writing and producing radio shows and I have also written many articles and have some published books while we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Milt is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and lived in that area all his life. He was adopted by Warren M. Lee, who was a professor of English at Vermillion Colleges in Vermillion."

Warren Lee founded the Black Hills Playhouse at Custer State Park near Mount Rushmore. Milt spent many hours learning the craft of theater; creative and technical, which led to his career choice in writing and producing, both for radio and in video.

"In the early 1990s, Milt and I wrote and produced a series of 52 half-hour segments: ‘Oyate Ta Olowan’ on 52 recognized different tribes and their music, culture and folkways, which was broadcast under (Public Radio International’s) show ‘Hear a different voice,’" Jaime said. The programs can still be accessed on the Internet.

Jamie honed her literary skills in writing articles for magazines and a successful novel, "Washaka the Bear Dreamer, a Lakota Story." It was the decision to return to her childhood home and their extensive background in theater, writing and producing that led to KBXE offering the pair an official project: The North Country Youth Radio Connection, which began in August.

Gannon is on board as the host of DJDang on "On the River" on KBXE.

And that’s the story of how a youth radio show matched the dreams and skills of a young educator and retirees with the skills of professional producers. The group has already broadcast the voices of the young adults, and at the end of this month, there will be another show for area audiences. The first program was broadcast live in February from the Bemidji studios, which was hosted by two 17-year-old girls and the show also included interviews and readings of essays and poems from teens and music, with some original compositions.

NCYRC hosts youth producers camps for students in and around the Bemidji area. Teens are mentored in all aspects of radio production. After the first day, teens are separated into groups based on personal interests.. There is a core group of about 40 students who regularly participate, but Jaime Lee said there’s always an open invitation to any teens who want to learn radio/communication/feature writing, etc. She can be reached at jamie@manykites.com.

On Saturday, students from Schoolcraft Learning Center will be on-air at KBXE in a project conceived by Peacemaker Resources. The Peacemaker Club is an afterschool activity for middle school students. This year the group received a grant from Region 2 Arts Council to create an original youth radio program to air on KBXE and KAXE. The students chose to focus on exclusion and bullying in their essays, poetry, interviews and songs. "Exploring Exclusion," meant to educate, entertain and inspire listeners of all ages can be heard from 6 to 7 p.m. on the following FM stations: 90.5, 89.9 and 91.7.

"We just finished a producer’s camp with the Northern Lights Charter School in Grand Rapids," Jamie said. "Our idea is that if we get a motivated group and advisor/teacher, they can start their own radio club. We are learning as we go, but the important thing that we want to do is give young adults their own voice."

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