Freddie Bell has a voice made for radio, but he didn't always plan on becoming a broadcaster. That changed when he was in college at Creighton University in Omaha. One night he got lost on campus and found himself at the bottom of a staircase.
He glimpsed into a glass room full of vinyl records and microphones and asked a nearby student, "Do they have a campus radio station?" The student gave him a look that said, "Of course." In Bell's words, "My career changed radically at that point."
Decades later, he is still going strong in the radio broadcasting business.
"Now it's me standing at the bottom of the staircase helping others who are trying to get into our business," he said.
Bell has been involved at KMOJ, a small, community-owned station, since 2014 and has served as general manager since 2016.
In 2020 Bell was named Broadcaster of the Year by the Association of Minnesota Public Educational Radio Stations, an award he accepted with humility.
"To get an award for this job seems weird," Bell said. "I just want to do my work, communicate effectively and help people."
As Bell sees it, he has three duties: protect the station's license, train broadcasters and give the community information they can use to make rational decisions.
In 2021 Bell and KMOJ partnered with Ampers, the Minnesota Humanities Center and other groups and foundations to create Racial Reckoning: The Arc of Justice. It is a news podcast aimed at changing problematic racial narratives in mainstream news and helping the local community form educated opinions.
For Bell, the need to tell these stories to the community started with Jamar Clark's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in 2015.
"That story was one that impacted the people in the core area where the station was physically situated," Bell said. "I felt, in my opinion, that it was important to tell that story … until they reached a logical conclusion."
Bell felt it was his duty to keep the community informed during tumultuous times.
"We're not a newsroom, we're not an insert," he said. "To not tell these stories … was a miss for a community radio station that aims to give people information to make decisions."
Bell said it's important for the community to be able to relate to the person telling the stories.
"I think it is important to have young journalists from our BIPOC community tell stories that impact us. Even though it may be word for word the same as our white counterparts … I'm hearing it through a different lens."
Bell added, "I've got some good friends in the broadcast business … a lot of them don't look like me, don't have the kind of experiences I had."
Bell thinks the community has responded well to Racial Reckoning.
"They don't care about the name of the project," he said. "They care about the information we're sharing. That's the goal."
Bell is not doing this project for the recognition. Instead, he is doing it for the greater good of the community. Moving forward, Bell has many aspirations for Racial Reckoning.
"I want to see it continue in perpetuity for as long as our radio station is able to operate," he said. "I am hoping that we can continue to be the platform for aspiring journalists … to get the training they need."
Bell's next project aims to get young students involved in broadcasting and Racial Reckoning.