Story by Donna Schill, Photos Courtesy KRUU
Three years ago station manager James Moore turned on the microphones in the bunkerlike recording studio at the back of 100.1 KRUU-FM, where he spent most of his waking hours. Across from him sat former BBC correspondent Stuart Tanner, a new professor at the university in Fairfield. Moore, along with listeners, learned that day of Tanner’s trips to Ghana, Iraq, and China and of documenting the Palestinian and Israeli conflict in the Middle East. At the end of the hour, the interview ended.
Their conversation did not.
“Inevitably we started talking about world affairs,” recalls Tanner. “We’d sit and yabber, and we thought, ‘Why not turn on the mics?’”
This was the beginning of KRUU’s popular radio relationship, Tanner & Moore, a weekly news talk show. The hosts soon learned that they had more in common than a love of journalism and current affairs — they shared a deep concern about the environment.
“We are heading into a massive resource strain and a hugely significant environmental strain on the world,” says Tanner. “If we know this, why not plan for it?”
Sustainability experts were posing similar questions, and Moore had featured many of them in KRUU programming. During an on-location interview featuring the Iowa Office of Energy Independence (OEI), Moore and his listeners learned about funding opportunities for projects designed to educate Iowans about energy best practices. “It felt like such a natural fit for KRUU,” he remembers. “It was in our wheelhouse.”
On his drive home from Des Moines, Moore hatched the idea for a radio series devoted to energy. He and Tanner consulted with Fairfield Sustainability Coordinator Scott Timm, along with Maharishi University of Management’s Lonnie Gamble, assistant professor of sustainable living. Together they mapped destinations across the state, highlighting key cities, projects, and people to visit.
By the time they applied for a grant, Tanner and Moore had a proposed timeline, list of shows, and 70 pledges from the community for matching funds. With support from OEI, Tanner and Moore launched in May of 2011 an ambitious radio project — Dream Green.
They spent the summer producing 20 hours of programming, each week visiting a new Iowa location — a methane digester in the Amana Colonies, an intercollegiate solar boat race in Cedar Falls, solar manufacturerPowerFilm in Ames, and others. Tanner photographed while Moore carried a portable microphone, the two exchanging roles fluidly throughout their interviews. Editing often began in Tanner’s RAV4 on the way home.
The series played weekly on 100.1 KRUU-FM, reaching Fairfield’s population of 10,000, and streamed live on KRUU’s website, receiving more than a million visits per month. A new website, greeniowa.org, became a permanent hub to share the series’ content with other radio stations, libraries, businesses, and schools. Iowa colleges such as Simpson in Indianola and Luther in Decorah began downloading and airing programs on their own radio stations. Tanner and Moore also created a half-hour program for the Pacifica Radio network showSprouts, which plays on up to 50 radio shows nationally.
“Anytime you are changing behavior, it takes hearing something more than once,” says Brenda Easter, former manager of OEI’s Community Grant Program, about encouraging Iowans to reduce energy consumption. “At some key time, the listener is saying, ‘I need to pay attention to this. I need to implement this at home or in my business.’ What’s unique about this project is it has that capability.”
One Dream Green program took listeners to Dubuque, Iowa’s oldest city, nestled on the Mississippi River. Against the background noise of drilling in the city’s old millwork district, Mayor Roy Buol shared with Tanner and Moore a story of transformation.
The city revamped its downtown, explained Buol, preserving old architecture while retrofitting buildings to meet LEED standards, a rating system for energy efficiency. The city was the first in the state to employ a full-time sustainability coordinator. IBM chose Dubuque as a pilot town for its Smarter Planet campaign, helping residents to track water and energy use through a Web portal.
“It was a grassroots effort,” said Buol, describing the citizen committee that established the city’s sustainability goals. “I knew that there was that core of support around sustainability in the city of Dubuque.”
The strength of place became a repeated theme in the Dream Green programs, and Tanner and Moore say they witnessed numerous examples of locally driven sustainability. “Success all over the state happened because of community involvement,” says Tanner.
Stories of community commitment mirror the radio station’s own story. Fairfield residents and businesses donated dollars and students donated time to make KRUU the first solar-powered radio station in the Midwest in 2009. The glittering blue panels outside the station send a message about not only energy but also the power of community.