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Radio Stations titleBy accident, by luck and sometimes even by design, Reedies have launched their careers on the radio waves

By Todd Schwartz

How did he know? When Guglielmo Marconi was shooting static through the attic, building his “wireless telegraph,” did the Italian inventor know that someday radio would be perhaps the ideal medium for Reedies? Think about it: in the realm bordered by 535 kilohertz to 1.7 megahertz, and by 88 to 108 megahertz, there is sound and fury and talk and a million kinds of music and wacky ideas and occasional static. Dead air is a sin and expression is everything.

And that’s the Reed frequency, without a doubt.

Across the country, up and down the dial, behind the mike or behind the scenes, you’ll find Reed alums working in radio. Some of them got their start in the Doyle basement, narrowcasting over the 10 crackling watts of KRRC. Others found their way to the business as mysteriously as a Texas country and western station finds it way to your radio dial on a midnight drive across eastern Oregon. We tuned in a few of these radio Reedies....

When Margaret (Smith) Binda ’50 attended Reed in the late 1940s, there was no campus station, so it wasn’t until she returned from several years living and working in Africa that she joined the world of radio. Emphasis on world.

Binda’s thesis was The Two Germanies. She analyzed the viability of the recently divided nation and concluded that reunification was inevitable. She just didn’t know it would take four decades.

After several years living and working in Africa for the U.S. State Department, Binda returned to Washington, D.C., with a firsthand knowledge of African affairs and an interest in international broadcasting. In 1972 she landed a job at Voice of America, the congressionally funded broadcasting arm of the U.S. government. Working in the newsroom, she wrote stories on developments in Africa and the Middle East, and reported from Capitol Hill and the White House.

Margaret (Smith) Binda ’5 Picture
Margaret (Smith) Binda 50
She rose quickly within the ranks, and by 1981 was deputy director of VOA’s Africa division, sending out programs in eight languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Swahili, along with Hausa in Nigeria, Amharic in Ethiopia, Chinyanja in Malawi, and Somali in the area known as the Horn of Africa.

Binda spent a year studying security issues at the National War College in 1986-87 and eventually became director of all Africa broadcast services in 1989. The job was a constant balancing act.

“The tension between the journalists, who want to get objective news out, and the bureaucrats, who prefer to avoid any story that puts the U.S. in a bad light, is guaranteed,” Binda says. “Those of us on the journalistic side of the equation know that credibility is everything and that you very quickly lose your audience if listeners believe you are skewing news to protect America. As a senior manager, I had to walk a tightrope to get the news out and not get fired! The State Department and the Pentagon were often breathing down my neck.”

A case in point was the airing in 1993 of an interview with the Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed—no doubt one of the last voices the U.S. government wanted to hear on the air. Binda ran the interview, pairing it with an opposing interview with the U.S. admiral heading the U.N.’s Somali operation. Perfect journalistic balance, and lots of heat on Binda. In the end, the head of VOA backed her up.

“It was good programming and, of course, drew enormous attention,” Binda remembers. “I liked that moment. I’m proud of my tenure as Africa director—we were able to increase our audience in the many African countries we reached, and we brought in many more qualified African broadcasters. For Africans to hear trusted African voices on the air enhanced our credibility greatly.”

Binda left VOA in 1993 when she reached 65, the mandatory requirement age in the Foreign Service. She continues to live in Washington, D.C., and is a docent at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Half a century later, Binda remembers her Reed experience fondly. “At Reed I learned to take a thoughtful, critical approach to everything I do, and that helped in my career,” she says. And when asked to compare radio with other media: “In radio the pictures are better—more personal, more internalized than TV, and they stay in your mind longer.”

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