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New radio program geared toward combating isolation among senior citizens


A new, weekly radio program was introduced to the Reno community in late October. Bluebird Radio Hour is geared toward the community’s elderly population. It airs live on Mondays each week at 10 a.m. on community radio station KWNK, which can be found on the radio dial at 97.7. 

The show is rebroadcast Saturdays at 3 p.m. Those without radios can stream the show live by visiting KWNK’s website and clicking on the “listen now” button.

The radio hour is the brainchild of people involved with the nonprofit Note-Able Music Therapy Services (NMTS), which has worked in the community for more than a decade to use music as a means of promoting physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The organization provides services like music lessons, workshops and music therapy for people of all ages and abilities.

It’s also associated with the Note-Ables, a band comprising people with different disabilities. The band has been performing locally for 15 years.

“The band’s mission is to change the face of disability,” said Nate Eng, marketing coordinator and a music instructor for NMTS. “That’s why we go out into the community—and we have amazing musicians who are part of the band—so people can hear people who are disabled but still playing great music.”

The Note-Ables were the first musical guests to appear on the new radio hour.

Bluebird Radio Hour is funded in part through grants from Renown and the John Ben Snow Foundation. The hope is that it will help relieve some of the isolation that elderly people have been experiencing since the COVID-19 pandemic has brought normal socialization and even visits with family to a halt.

“We wanted to reach out to senior citizens, specifically, and kind of reach that isolated community,” Eng said. “Since COVID hit, we’ve basically adapted all of our services to go online—so, teletherapy, almost all of our clients and participants have been seen over Zoom and things like that—but the one population that is hard to use that technology with is seniors, right? It’s overwhelming to get on Zoom or Facetime and try to have those connecting moments. So, we went back and tried to decide which technology we could use—which is radio.”

NMTS Music Therapist and Eng’s co-host for the radio hour, Sharon Hickox, elaborated on the challenges the organization has faced in reaching seniors specifically—noting that things like a group for which she used to lead in-person music therapy at Northern Nevada HOPES has not been possible since the outset of the pandemic.

“I have people in that group that—they don’t have computers,” she said. “One of them doesn’t even have a TV; all she has is a radio.”

For that reason, Hickox said she and Eng tried to organize a show that would feel a bit like a local take on programs like “A Prairie Home Companion.”

“So we do a combination of focusing on historical things in Reno—’Reno Roots’ is a segment,” Hickox said.

For its inaugural week, this segment was done with volunteers who maintain Reno’s oldest cemetery, the Hillside Cemetery west of the university. This week, the segment was geared toward getting out voting information.

Radio is still a very viable technology, as we’ve found out.”

“We have sing-alongs, too,” Hickox added. “We’re hoping this is something assisted living facilities will use, so they can gather their clients around. They can hear this very locally focused information and then sing along. Each week, we have at least six songs that are designed specifically for singing along. And then we have a segment that features local artists of interest. The first two have been music, but we’re also interested in visual arts and different kinds of things.”

The Note-Ables band was the first. The second was the Free Range Quartet, a group of four women who went to the University of Nevada, Reno, together and in recent years reconnected to form their acapella group.

In addition to the Reno Roots segment and sing-alongs, the show features a guided relaxation and meditation at the top of the hour, a poetry segment, guest interviews and a “Good News” segment. It also features an almanac and a segment dedicated to upcoming events. The goal is to also create a news segment and a segment for listeners to call in and share their experiences each week or make requests for particular music or even just happy birthday shoutouts.

The plan is to introduce more live interviews and performances as the threat from COVID-19 wanes in the future.

“So many people are so isolated, so it’s a way of not only getting information and experiencing wellness through the different things we offer, but also hopefully of reaching back out to us, if they can, in phone calls and really feeling a connection even though we’re not in the room with them,” Hickox explained. “A lot of these people are old enough that, you know, people did that. People listened to baseball games and listened to the Sunday radio hour.”

“And radio is still a very viable technology, as we’ve found out,” Eng added. “It’s the same with Zoom. It’s all good, but we had to make sure that we adapt to the population we’re trying to serve.”

The hope is that Bluebird Radio Hour will not come and go with pandemic.

“Assisted living facilities and things like that—there’s always a need, even without COVID, to have these kinds of engaging things,” Hickox said. “Our hope is that it will take off and be well supported and we’ll be able to continue it after the grant period with sponsorships and things like that.”

Eng said he hopes that the show will help keep knowledge of local history alive.

“I think that’s a cool thing about Reno, too, that there’s so much vast knowledge—and it’s such a small but large community at the same time,” he said. “You just have to talk around, and you find out how everything’s connected.”

Eng and Hickox hope the choice of something as accessible as radio to promote these connections will help them spread.

“All you need is a radio. You don’t have to have internet,” Hickox said. “You don’t have to drive somewhere; you know what I mean?

“Just tune-in to 97.7,” Eng added.

Jeri Chadwell
Jeri Chadwellhttp://thisisreno.com
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.