Texas’ Oldest Native Radio Show – Scalawag
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It’s a dark, overcast Sunday night in August, and Albert Old Crow pulls a folding crate on wheels that contained two giant CD binders from his brown truck. Old Crow, 66, is the host of the radio show “Beyond Bows and Arrows” in Dallas. He’s tall with long graying hair tied in a low ponytail at the nape of his neck, dressed in a Head Start t-shirt and black basketball shorts, and holding a 44-ounce drink of Sonic. Old Crow, who is Cheyenne and originally from Hammon, Oklahoma, has brought hundreds of CDs with him to KNON 89.3 FM, as he has done every Sunday since October 1996.
“Beyond Bows and Arrows” has been airing since the inception of KNON radio station in 1983. The show was founded by volunteers, Frank McLemore and Dennis Wahkinney. At first it only lasted 30 minutes and the hosts only had one tape. Old Crow doesn’t remember the first tape, but says the second was a Chief Dan George album.
âMy initial duty was to answer the phone, answer the requests,â says Old Crow. “Then after a period of time at the microphone and finally was introduced to the work of the board.”
Every Sunday the show begins with the same song, âAll My Relationsâ by Lisa Gerrard and Jeff Rona. The lyrics say: “To those who survived resettlement, to those who died along the way, to those who carried on traditions and lived strong among their people, to those who left their community by choice or by strength.”
On a rainy Sunday, Old Crow puts on his headphones, adjusts the soundboard, turns on his mic, and his warm voice walks into homes, cars and holding cells in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: âOkay, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to “Beyond Bows and Arrows” your weekly Native American radio show is brought to you every Sunday evening. ”
The show is part of a long history of radio programming that was made by aboriginal people, for aboriginal people. Radio has long been an important resource for rural Native American communities, used to disseminate essential information, create a sense of connection, and share culture and language. There are currently 60 native-owned radio stations in the United States, according to Loris Taylor, CEO of Native Public Media. âThe stations that we have are unique because when they are tribally licensed they amplify the voices of the community and that is through song or music, through the art that they share,â said Taylor. One of them is KUEH 101.5, owned by Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo in El Paso. During the pandemic, the Pueblo people used the station to broadcast their cultural events when large gatherings were prohibited.
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Programs aired on non-native-owned radio stations provide a similar resource for inter-tribal communities in major cities in the United States. Unlike indigenous-owned radio stations, which focus on a specific indigenous community, urban indigenous radio broadcasts are intertribal and allow many different indigenous nations to be seen and heard. âBows and Arrowsâ features two hours of Native American music, jokes, stories and news every Sunday night. This show, the oldest native radio show in Texas, is aimed at the Native American community of Dallas.
In 1941, Don Whistler of the Sac and Fox Nation launched “Indians for Indians Hour” on the University of Oklahoma’s WNAD radio station. In the golden age of radio, the weekly half-hour show was one of the first radio shows to reach an Indigenous audience. Whistler even joked once that no white person would be allowed to appear on the show. This at a time when Western radio shows like “Lone Ranger”, “Tales from the Texas Ranger” and “Dr. Six-gun” perpetuated racist stereotypes of Native Americans.
The show reached nearly 75,000 listeners and pioneered radio, which was and remains a predominantly white space. Whistler has invited anyone or any group to perform on the air. The program included songs in Kiowa, Navajo, Apache, Comanche, Cheyenne and many other languages.
When the National Congress of American Indians began to organize and advocate for issues important to Indigenous communities, such as the protection of tribal sovereignty, Whistler kept his listeners informed. It was a time when Indigenous children were placed in nearby boarding schools, economic pressures during WWII led many to move to cities for work, and in 1956 the Indian Resettlement Act was passed. .
“He was very familiar with what was going on, both in Oklahoma, among the different tribes, not just the Sac and the Fox,” says Lina Ortega, associate curator of the OU’s Western History Collections. “He is also well aware of what is happening at the federal level because tribal leaders needed to be. They needed to know what was going to impact their own nations and their own people.”
Listeners would send out telegrams and postcards announcing upcoming powwows and community events. Whistler, or Kesh-ke-kosh, the first elected Principal Chief of the Sac and Fox Nation, never focused on the show and handed the mic to others whenever possible, creating a space intertribal.
âHe was a real role model and, for the time, it seems like a really dynamic space,â says Joshua Garrett-Davis, author of Resounding Voices: Native Americans and Sound Media, 1890-1970. âIn Indigenous history, as far as the general public knows it in the 20th century, Indigenous people are sort of invisible until the occupation of Alcatraz and the Red Power movement. I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of political and cultural activism happened before that. This is another example of that. “
Garrett-Davis spoke to Boyce Timmons, Whistler’s successor; he remembered that an agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Anadarko, Oklahoma once told him that they rarely tried to do business on Tuesday afternoons because everyone was crowded around a radio listening to WNAD . In a few neighboring boarding schools, the program was scheduled during the day to allow students to listen; some even went to the radio station in groups to perform.
âIt was a way to reconnect with their communities using this medium,â said Garrett-Davis.
McLemore and Wahkinney, founders of Beyond Bows and Arrows, were members of the BahÃ¡’Ã Faith. For the first five years of the show, members of Baha’i Faith kept it on the air with their donations during the annual giving campaign. Eventually, Wahkinney began attending powwows and other events to attract more Indigenous listeners. It worked.
The show went on at one o’clock and then finally at two o’clock. Old Crow was 41 when his voice first aired in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He remembers stopping in an old two-story white house. âI think our radio equipment was holding him back,â Old Crow recalls, laughing. As soon as the station moved, the house was demolished.
The radio station was on the second floor. Old Crow called the wood-floor cracks their security system, because he could see from the second story to the first and watch who came and went. The floor was eventually covered with a carpet after a volunteer said he felt like he was going to fall.
“After about five years, Dennis started to retire from the radio show, because he saw that I was reliable and that I could run the board, take care of it, that I had the show’s best interests at heart, so he just shot it. So we went from there, “Old Crow says. In the early 2000s he took over the show and KNON moved to a new location in far north of Dallas.
The show is relaxed with a loose structure that changes from week to week. On this Sunday in August, the show begins with 10 minutes of music before Old Crow takes the microphone. He talks about the rainy weather and the darkness of the studio. Next, Old Crow hands the mic over to co-hosts Cory Werthen, who is not Indigenous, and Jessica Johnson, from the Chickasaw Nation, to introduce themselves.
âMahli ishto ‘, we got a new weather word today guys, because it’s stormy outside,â Johnson says.
Old Crow plays “Stomp Dance”, conducted by John A. Gibson. âIt’s the only radio show in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where you can hear stomped music,â he says.
A longtime listener who is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute in Seagoville, Texas, wrote a letter to the show. The author has sent a brief update and an illustration that will be the program’s new logo: a drawing of an Aboriginal man looking to the right; below him is the Dallas skyline, with a microphone towering over the city. Overhead, he reads Beyond Bows and Arrows.
“It’s good to listen to you on the radio, playing good music. It really makes you feel good. I appreciate what you are doing. Thank you,” he read aloud in the letter. The writer says he drew and did a lot of beading during the pandemic.
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As Old Crow talks about currently incarcerated listeners, he chokes on him. These listeners are the reason he continues to do the show. âI have to wipe away my tears. I was telling a story, and it touches my heart. It has to do with this radio show and the inmates of federal institutions, men and women, Carswell, Fort Worth, Seagoville, how they listen to the show, âhe said.
Old Crow explains how people in prison tell her how much the radio show means to them and how she keeps them out of trouble because they don’t want their radio privileges revoked. The show offers two hours every Sunday where they can feel connected to their own community and escape their reality, he says. âWhat makes the radio station vital to this community, the people of Fort Worth, [is] they can pick it up on their own personal radio and be in their own little space. ”
Old Crow puts on his last two songs for the transition to the next host, puts away his CD binders, takes his Sonic drink, and leaves the studio.
The Texas Observer’s Native Affairs Stories are produced with support from the Economic Hardship Report Project.