Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 27, 2001 - Issue 28



O'odham Plan to Hit Airwaves on


New Station


by Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star

The Tohono O'odham Nation expects to break ground by March for a $1.2 million radio station, and its disc jockeys hope to hit the airwaves by July.

The 100,000-watt station will be heard throughout the 2.8 million-acre reservation west of Tucson, an area roughly the size of Connecticut.

KOHN, 91.9-FM, also will be heard in the Tucson metropolitan area, Florence, Coolidge and Gila Bend. It will offer talk shows as well as native O'odham "chicken scratch" and rock music for a young audience. Half the people living on the reservation are younger than 25.

The nonprofit station will help promote the O'odham language, said Daniel Lopez, a longtime host of KUAT radio's "Desert Voices," a half-hour Sunday program about reservation news.

"Our language is threatened at this point in history. The station will be a way to keep our language going," Lopez said.

The "OHN" in KOHN stands for O'odham Hewel Ni'ok, which means O'odham Air Voice.

"We can teach the young our language through programs about our songs and storytelling," said Lopez, adding that 70 percent of the station's talk shows will be primarily in O'odham with some English translation.

"There is a minority number who speak O'odham fluently, but the majority do understand it," said Warren Garcia, a station task force member.

He said potential listeners will be surveyed about their knowledge of the O'odham language.

"We traveled to Alaska and South Dakota and learned that there were communities where Native American languages were in danger of extinction, but, through the radio, they were able to re-educate the communities and bring back the languages," Garcia said.

"We were truly amazed," he said of those successes, which took up to 15 years.

KOHN programming will include talk shows on topics including health, education, art and politics. Call-ins by listeners wanting to voice opinions or to request music will be strongly encouraged.

"We will finally have a medium to express ourselves as a people," Garcia said.

A variety of music will also be aired, including recordings and live studio performances by O'odham chicken-scratch bands and rock bands. Chicken-scratch music is similar to norteño, a mix of country and polka with heavy use of the accordion. Music from other tribes, Mexican music and American popular music will also be played.

About 50 percent of the 24,400 enrolled tribal members are 24 years of age and younger, tribal enrollment statistics show.

"Our listeners also have modern interests and like alternative music. It will really be a tough job balancing all of that," Garcia said.

The $1.2 million cost for the station includes construction, equipment purchases and staffing for the first year.

KOHN will open with 10 full-time paid staffers and 35 volunteers to operate seven days a week, 18 hours a day. It eventually will build up to 24 hours a day on the air.

The tribe received a $380,000 grant from the National Telecommunications Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, for construction costs.

The Tohono O'odham Legislative Council approved the remaining $900,000 for the station from gaming revenues.

The Federal Communications Commission approved KOHN as a nonprofit community radio operation, similar to Tucson's KXCI. Nonprofit stations cannot sell commercial air time, but businesses can sponsor programs, Garcia said.

He said the tribe plans to apply for an AM license and an international license to broadcast into Mexico, where 1,238 tribal members live. It also plans to have Internet broadcasting and video.

Future listener Tissinna Pablo's favorite sounds are rhythm and blues and rap.

"I think having a mixture of music is a good idea. I like to listen to all types, including Mexican music and music from other Indian tribes," said Pablo, 21.

The government worker said she supports programming in O'odham because young people should learn their native language. She said she learned O'odham from her 67-year-old grandmother, Claudina Marrietta, who lives in the reservation's Gu Achi District.

In addition to hearing a mixture of music, Thomas "T.J." Pablo, 13, said talk-show programs focusing on school news and sports would interest him.

Tohono O'odham Nation




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