Broadcasters in the world’s newest country are hoping a medium perfected in Alaska can help introduce community-based journalism in the region.

Troy Etulain is a former Sitka resident who now works for the World Bank. Over the past year – while he was with the US Agency for International Development – Etulain help organize and fund a regional radio service in South Sudan, in central Africa.

Etulain says he had community radio stations in Alaska in mind as he created the new service. He was in Sitka recently, and spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey.

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South Sudan was created only last year, after a peace deal ended years of civil war with the north. During the war, USAID delivered news and civic education via shortwave radio. Once peace came, USAID sent Troy Etulain to the new nation’s capital, Juba, to introduce a more traditional form of media.

“So I designed a program that involved setting up what we refer to as a learner’s FM radio station. One kilowatt in Juba. Because the country had no media education whatsoever.”

Learner’s radio station? This may sound familiar to communities in the Alaska Public Radio Network. The system has a well-deserved reputation for training reporters. This looked like the shortest path to success for Etulain.

Listen to an extended interview with Troy Etulain.

“They had sort of a fledgling university, but it didn’t have a program. So there were no journalists to perform the role of the media in South Sudan. The idea was that we needed both the journalistic activity to take place right away, and for there to be an opportunity for journalists to learn on the job.”

Etulain won approval from USAID to create a broadcasting organization and build a small radio station. His role ended at that point, but not the influence of Alaska media. Someone had to get the ball rolling.

“Just by chance, the person that the organization hired to do the work was John Newstrom.”

That’s John Newstrom, who began his career as news director at KCAW in Sitka over two decades ago.

Etulain knew of Newstrom from growing up in Sitka, of course, but the two had also worked distantly for the same non-governmental organization, Internews – Etulain in Tajikistan, and Newstrom in Afghanistan – both setting up radio stations.

Etulain calls Newstrom’s selection to head Juba’s new station a coincidence, but in reality the pool of people with the skills to launch a community broadcaster from scratch is limited. Etulain says Newstrom wasted no time in bringing in additional help.

“I think within the last six months or so John has brought in as a consultant in the South Sudan Mr. Rich McClear.”

That’s Rich McClear, who was the founder and first general manager at KTOO in Juneau, and later a founder and first general manager at KCAW in Sitka, where he worked for fourteen years.

“So we have three sort-of Sitkans very much influencing the development of media in South Sudan.”

Local journalism is critical to community broadcasting, but it’s not everything. Etulain says listening to KCAW – or Raven Radio – over the years helped shaped his vision for the project in the South Sudan.

Etulain — The kinds of programs that people would do here with limited resources. Over the years as I’ve grown up here, you just saw a lot of creativity coming out of Raven Radio. And when we would talk about – for example – doing a travel program without traveling: when Barb Morse would be connected to the community such that she knew someone had been somewhere interesting, and bring them in. I would often use that as an example of what you can do with community media.”

KCAW – When you were working for USAID and you set this up you had Raven Radio pictured in your mind?

Etulain – Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Note: Troy Etulain was in Sitka to celebrate both his twentieth high school reunion, and his father’s 75th birthday. Dan Etulain is a founding board member of KCAW. Troy’s next assignment will be in Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, where he’s moving with his wife and daughter.