WABE on 90.1 FM is the radio station of Public Broadcasting Atlanta. It is also Atlanta's National Public Radio (NPR) station. Working behind the scenes is a Filipino American radio producer, Myke Johns, the son of Ami Bustillo Johns, who is originally from Caloocan City in the Philippines.
Johns can endlessly expound on the merits of radio. A very accessible medium, listeners have a personal connection with the medium. “The radio is perfectly suited for telling stories,” he explains. “It’s with you when you’re alone in the car, on your alarm clock next to the bed. So listening to the radio is something that we tend not to put a lot of thought into. At the same time, it is incredibly intimate.” Besides, listening to public radio is more enhanced because of the availability of programs that are not limited by commercial expectations.
Johns never imagined he would be working in the radio industry. He grew up in a Detroit suburb, where he and his brother were the only Filipinos in a group of friends. His family moved to Atlanta, and he earned an associate's degree in audio production at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
One of his college teachers introduced him to Dave Barasoain, who later became his boss on WABE. The station was looking for someone with a background in audio who could do the editing one or two days a week.
“I started to cut programs for them. My first assignment was a weekly choral-music show,” he remembers. “I would take the host’s recorded introduction and segues and mix that together with the week’s music, assemble that into a show, and make sure it was exactly 58 minutes and 30 seconds,” he adds.
Eventually, he was given more assignments, like recording interviews, gathering sound out in the field, and assisting reporters and hosts with their recordings. After two years, the station created a position for him, and he went full time.
As a producer, Johns is responsible for the content of a show. He is now a producer on “City Lights” an arts and culture show hosted by Lois Reitzes. He was previously a producer on “City Café,” which was also an arts and culture show. After spending years working the culture beat, Johns feels that he is now embedded in the Atlanta arts community. But still, stories don’t always turn out as planned.
A good example was the Literary Death Match, which Johns covered at the 2009 Decatur Book Festival, which is now the largest independent book fest in the country. The main event featured author Michael Muhammad Knight wrestling with retired fighter Abdullah the Butcher.
“They had a ring set up and a crowd gathered,” Johns says, “to see a 30-year-old writer take on the 60-something-year-old Butcher.” The elder fighter lived up to his name.
“I'd arranged to do the interviews after the match,” Johns recalls, “but Knight started bleeding really badly and had to go to the hospital. I stood there and watched my interview get put on a gurney, wheeled into an ambulance, and drive off! I was able to get hold of him days later and managed to file my story way past deadline. The lesson here is to always pre-interview.”
(Hear that story here: http://wabe.org/post/literary-death-match)
A radio producer can do some sleuthing, too, which Johns did in investigating the urban legend that Al Capone used to rent rooms or keep apartments in various hotels around Atlanta. He traced the story to a man who admitted to inventing it. The story that came out of that, “Capone on Ponce,” was funny because it combined a silly story and an urban legend, capturing the unique character of Atlanta and the way it embraces its tall tales. The radio feature won an award from the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.
Johns enjoys fiction writing, and he is a co-producer of Write Club Atlanta, which is the Southeast’s premier philanthropic competitive literary event. Every month, six writers are chosen. “We pair them off against each other,” Johns says, “and assign them opposing topics to write about, like Light versus Dark.”
The writers have two weeks to write. On the night of the show, they have seven minutes apiece to read their work in front of a rowdy audience, which picks a winner.
Myke Johns excels in whatever he does. He has the energy, creativity and perseverance to elevate radio and the arts to be living and vital parts of the community. Where did he get all these ideal qualities? “From the almighty lumpiyang shanghai (Filipino spring roll)!” he quips. “I eat boatloads of it every time!”
You can hear Myke Johns’s story on the legend of Al Capone living in Atlanta online here:
Rey E. de la Cruz, Ed.D., writes from Chicagoland when he is not loving the arts and traveling. He is the author of the children’s book, Ballesteros on My Mind: My Hometown in the Philippines, which also has Ilocano, Spanish, and Tagalog versions.
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