LIANE HANSEN, host:

There are now 33 tribal radio stations broadcasting in the United States and many of them just started in the past few years. The FCC recently approved construction permits for 30 more.

Producers Jesse Hardman and Maura O'Connor recently hit the road to investigate the emergence of tribal radio.

Here's Jesse Hardman.

JESSE HARDMAN: Loris Ann Taylor grew up on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. There was no electricity, telephone or even running water. But one day, a passing tourist gave her grandfather a transistor radio.

Ms. LORIS ANN TAYLOR (Radio Advocate): I thought it was just marvelous to hear, like, this music that was so alien to Hopi culture. You know, it was something I didn't hear except very late at night, and I was, like, who are these people? Who's Patsy Cline, you know? Who's Elvis Presley?

HARDMAN: It would be another 40 years before the Hopi reservation, where Loris Ann Taylor spent her childhood, got its own FCC license. Finally, in December of 2000, KUYI was launched, a Hopi-owned Hopi produced radio station serving the reservation.

Mr. JIMMY LACERO (Southern Thunder, Disc Jockey, KUYI-FM): This is Southern Thunder. You're on the air. Take it away. Give me four push-ups. Hookah. And you are listening to (Foreign language spoken) and this is 88.1 FM. And good morning.

HARDMAN: Jimmy Lacero is a part-time farmer, Hopi elder and the morning DJ on KUYI.

Mr. LACERO: Everybody likes me, and everybody calls in. You know, it's a good thing for them 'cause they like to hear a person that talking Hopi, their own language, on here. And when I put my pow wow music on here in the morning, too, I like to put that hookah in there, you know, and all that good Indian words.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Mr. LACERO: (Foreign language spoken)

HARDMAN: Most of America is inundated with new forms of communication technology, but an old standby - radio - is still the most important and oftentimes only medium delivering information to Indian communities.

Unidentified Woman #1: You are tuned in to KOHN 91.9 FM Tohono O'odham Nation, South Arizona. The voice of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Unidentified Man #1: You're listening to KIDE, (unintelligible) the Hoopa tribal radio from the greater Hoopa Valley.

Unidentified Man #2: On KPYT, 100.3, your (unintelligible) radio.

Unidentified Woman #2: The voice of the Basquiaki(ph) Tribe.

HARDMAN: Loris Ann Taylor is now the executive director of Native Public Media, a nonprofit organization that is spearheading the surge in tribal radio stations nationwide.

Ms. TAYLOR: I mean, you can do banking online. I mean, on your mobile handheld you can get the weather, you can get the latest news. I mean, you can text, you can tweet. I mean, there's your connection in your hand and yet, in Indian country, it's just an unknown. People don't know that that kind of technology exists.

HARDMAN: Taylor says that less than 10 percent of families on native reservations have broadband connections, a third still don't have telephones. That means that radio is often the only way to get information on important issues like safety, health, education and tribal government.

Joseph Orozco is the manager and DJ for the Hoopa valley Indian tribe's radio station KIDE in Northern California. In the summertime, he uses his airwaves to warn locals about forest fires that threaten the reservation.

Unidentified Woman #3: Learn about wild land fire, emergency preparedness and home ignition preventions. Fire agencies…

Mr. JOSEPH OROZCO (Manager, DJ; KIDE): If it comes to emergencies, radio is the thing because everybody tunes into KIDE during those times.

HARDMAN: At KOHN, the radio station run by the Tohono O'odham Nation, near the Arizona-Mexican border, public health nurses host a show on issues such as diabetes and children's health.

Unidentified Woman #4: Hello. Once again, it's the public health nurses from self-service unit. We're here to talk today…

HARDMAN: The Tohono O'odham reservation is the size of Connecticut and tribal members often live in isolation without access to roads or power lines. The hosts of the health show say that for the price of batteries, everyone can stay in touch.

Unidentified Woman #5: This is a lady. She says I'm 29 with kids ages eight and ten. They're fathered by…

HARDMAN: As communities around America search for ways to connect through new technology, reservations are using what some consider an outdated platform to make those same community connections. Radio advocate, Loris Ann Taylor.

Ms. TAYLOR: It's wonderful to hear the Sioux language on the airwaves or the Tohono O'odham people speaking their language or the Hopi or the Navajo, and how vibrant that makes the community and how robust and healthier the communities are, because they feel that their identity is validated, that they matter, that their culture is valued and that their history is being told.

HARDMAN: New tribal radio stations from Hawaii to New York expect to begin broadcasting in the next three years. But if you want to listen to more tribal radio before then, you can't do it online. Most don't stream over the Internet. You have to get in your car and go hear them live on the air.

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Hardman.

HANSEN: That piece was produced with assistance from the public radio Web site transom.org.

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