For the past four years a void has gone unfilled on the local airwaves: a weekly radio talk show dedicated to mail-related labor issues.
Beginning in 2002, WCLM 1450 ran an oldies show interspersed with the latest news on the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees, a union largely made up of mail workers that turns 95 later this year. But the show went off the air in 2004.
Four years later, Warren Powell has picked up the scene with his new postal-related show, "Let's Get it On."
It started in June, when Powell — treasurer of a national postal workers union — sat in as special guest on "Richmond Is Talking," the Monday afternoon radio show hosted by the president of WCLM 1450.
Response was so overwhelming after two weeks of his appearing on the show that Powell, who worked as a postal clerk and manager in Richmond for 32 years, bought an hour-long Thursday afternoon slot. It debuted July 10.
"There's so much misinformation and noninformation being disseminated," he says of postal matters. As an example, he says, "a lot of postal employees happen to be veterans," and helping untangle insurance and compensation issues is particularly urgent.
On last week's show, Powell discussed workplace harassment, job-related injuries and the finer points of a new early-retirement offer.
One mail carrier, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, says that many of the 7,800 employees in the Richmond Postal Service district are taking notice. "'Who listened to the show last night?'" he says the workers ask each other, "and it will become the talk on the floor."
Steve Kalb, an assistant broadcast journalism professor at the University of Connecticut, says the show is an oddity.
"Under the headline of niche programming this is the most unusual niche programming I have heard of," he says. "I have no reason to believe there is any long-term audience. Once you've talked about how you can fight off a bee or a dog or most unusual package I've ever delivered, then what?"
Despite his misgivings, Kalb sees some potential benefit.
"Unfortunately the medium right now is sucker-punched by a lot of right-wing, one-note sambas," he says. "I can't imagine the head of a labor union wanting to go on the Glenn Beck radio show because Glenn will interrupt him every 10 seconds. What would possess him to think he was actually going to get his point across?"
While it may be the talk exception, labor radio does seem to be gaining traction in other parts of the country. Frank Emspak, executive producer for Workers Independent News, says the postal show is "part of a larger movement."
Emspak earned a doctorate in labor history before discovering that the labor part paid better than the history part. He worked for 16 years as a machinist, was elected to lead his local union and started his labor news radio show six years ago.
Now it's a nationally syndicated, three-minute news capsule and runs on about 100 stations, including 1010 WINS-AM, a large, all-news talk radio station in New York City.
Emspak says his show brings to light employment rates, productivity and wages — issues largely ignored in daily economic reporting: "If you heard news framed not from the stock market point of view but from the union point of view you might have a different view of labor."