A radio booth is set inside Huron Lodge, a long-term care facility in South Windsor. Residents, staff and visitors are invited to come to the radio booth to make radio programming. For the duration of the project, these participants make radio to be played over terrestrial FM radio at 89.5FM broadcast from onsite with my own pirate radio transmitter at 8watts. In some cases the radio booth comes to the residents who are not mobile, in other cases residents come to the booth. The content of the programming is as far reaching as the imaginations and limitations of the participants involved. Our conversations cover topics like how to lose one’s independence with grace, comparisons of different nursing homes, how to accept one’s situation in life after a crisis, problems of geriatric care, living in community, the experience of losing your mind to dementia, and power imbalance between caregiver and care receiver. Residents also tell great stories. I facilitate broadcast, playing different roles for the station: technician, interviewer, DJ, writer, sound editor, recruiter, promoter. A half hour weekly radio show presents some of the more interesting conversations to a broader city-wide audience on the community radio station at the University of Windsor, CJAM 99.1 FM.
On one of my last days at Huron Lodge I went to see Richard. I asked him what he thought of the project. He said that the project was a good idea, and that he’s heard people talking about it, but he also said that most residents are not cognizant enough to participate in it, or grasp anything about it.
Maybe if I were here longer it would work better, get more staff on board, I suggested. “yes, that might work” he said.
I asked him if the project was interesting or meaningful to him in some way. “interesting, yes; meaningful, not so much”.
I asked him specifically what the experience of being on the radio was like and he said that nobody wants to listen to an old man like him speak.
I said that it sounds like the project’s a failure, but he insisted that no it wasn’t a failure, but that perhaps it was in the wrong context.
He emphasized that Huron Lodge is Death House where people are sent to die, families never come to visit. We agreed that this situation of how we as a society deal with the care of elderly and aging is problematic.
I asked him if nursing homes should be the site for other creative projects like mine. Again, he answered that most people are not cognitive enough to participate in projects like this.
He said that apartment style living would be a better situation for people who need longterm care, that it should be more like an apartment building.
He asked me how I got my job as Artist in Residence, and I told him. He then said that he’d love to be the Artist in Residence here. I suggested that that might be possible, and that I had only just needed to ask.
I thanked him for our conversations and his participation in the project, he wished me well in my travels and that was that.
I knocked on her door and she welcomed me in. The previous week she wasn’t feeling well so we agreed to meet on this day. We hadn’t set a time, so I just dropped by to see if she was available to chat.
Tell me, she said, and don’t you dare lie to me. Did you or did you not record our last conversation? I told her that I’d never do that without her permission. She warned me that if I was lying to her that she’d sue. “you’d have every right to sue me”, I said “but I didn’t record it”. I told her that it had been a great chat, and it pained me that it wasn’t on air.
She said she was still too sick to talk today, and that her family was coming tomorrow for a visit. Then this is our last chance to chat on the mic, I said. Still she insisted, “no, I’m not well, my voice is scratchy and my glands are swollen”.
She asked me how old I was (“So young!” ) and what my girlfriend’s name is. She was sad to learn that I am single, then she pressed me for the name of my first girlfriend and asked if I’d had sex with her. She told me that many of the nurses here have sex on the first date. Then she said that she was 24 when she got married and that she was a virgin then.
She asked me when my Birthday was and upon hearing the answer, asked if I have a violent temper.
Every fifteen to thirty seconds her face contorts in pain, she gasps and clutches her left hip. But she carries on the conversation as quickly as she can, as if it didn’t happen, hoping I didn’t notice.
She apologized that she was too sick to tell her story of her 5 alcoholic brothers who all died of cancer. She was very concerned that she’d give me her cold.
I asked him how he felt about being on the radio. “well, I’ve been on the radio before, in Scotland”. So it wasn’t that exciting to you? I asked. No. I enquired if it was worth doing the project at all. He said that yes, most definitely it was worth doing.
I asked if he thought a nursing home was a good place for creative projects like mine. Yes, he said “because people like me are written off”. We talked about what that expression means and agreed that it is an accurate one.
I asked him what kind of project would make sense in a nursing home, if not radio. “I would immediately think radio is the best to portray different viewpoints, to show we shouldn’t be written off”.
Lastly, I asked him, that if I had more time to make more radio shows, what should they be about. “they should be about the craft room”.
A nurse was listening to the radio while Anne Laliberty was in the studio. Afterwards he came up to me and said that she had a really great point. That most people see only white hair and a wheel chair, they don’t take the time to get to know the person for who they are.
Many, Many thanks to all of the participants, collaborators and contributors of this project: Dorothy Barnett, Richard Blair, Edna Rutherford, Thelma Butcher, Lorette Watson, Albert Cockburn, Safi Hussein, Karen Boutlier, Diane, Barbara D'Alosio, Alice Sheean, Margaret, Anne Laliberty, Jan at the front door, Betty Milne, Sarah Morris at CJAM, Judy Harling, Mary Fitzgerald, and Nancy Musson at Huron Lodge, Alana Bartol, Dave at Wavemach, Josh, Hiba, Justin, Michelle and everyone at Broken City Lab, Michelle Le Chien at Arts Council Windsor and Region.
Biggest thanks to Nadja Pelkey for all of her hard work on the project, and to the Neighbourhood Spaces program for the generous funding that made the project possible.