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Insight magazine, October 2008

Voicebox Radio

By Clarissa León

On an early Monday morning in August, Donnell Dike-Anukam made a last minute decision. He’d go from Reno to Las Vegas by plane, not by car. That way he’d save time. About five hours later, at 8 o’clock, the 24-year-old, six-foot, American-Nigerian, shot up from his couch. Late again. And as his plane landed, he was still running late.

Once outside the airport he called for a taxi. “Get me to Cox Pavillion” he told the driver. “Now.” Finally at Cox Pavilion, he stood five feet away from the man of the hour: former president Bill Clinton. Dike-Anukam had one question and one shot. “I got through the rope line, and there he is,” says Dike-Anukam. “And I’m just like this isn’t ever going to happen.”

But it did.

“Uh, Mr. Clinton, I have a question to ask you,” Dike-Anukam said, wavering in one-second pauses. “I interviewed Ralph Nader about this in November… about the issue of the growing number of America going green and all this public attention it. And he kind of saw this as a fad… do you see the same thing, sir?”

“No, uh, I don’t think it’s a fad because of the evidence of climate change. I think that it will uh,” Clinton hesitated. For a second it seemed as if Dike-Anukam had stumped the former president. But Clinton continued. ”It can’t afford to be a fad. We can’t afford to do that to our kids and grandkids. But, I think if oil were $30 a barrel tomorrow, we would lose a lot of juice behind it. So, the economics are driving a lot of this.”

In total, Dike-Anukam talked to Clinton for a mere 50 seconds before Clinton said good-bye to the Las Vegas Green Energy Summit. But that mere 50 seconds was worth the plane ticket Dike-Anukam could barely afford, the twisted ankle from rushing to get his press pass and the complete lack of sleep. It was worth it because he just spoke to president Bill Clinton, shook his hand and got the interview.

At a time of your convenience
Back in Reno, Dike-Anukam sits next to his boss Dan Lucas. Together they co-host the Voicebox Radio Show, a student political talk show airing on Wolf Pack radio every Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. In the past year, it’s become one of the most successful shows the studio has aired, producing more than 50 to 75 interviews of candidates and politicians such as Barack Obama, John McCain, Ralph Nader, and now added to their list, Bill Clinton.

Their list is impressive by any standard. But, after sitting down with them one can begin to see why. Van Pham, Wolf Pack Radio Manager, can attest to their work ethic. “Dan and Donnell are some of the most motivated pair of Djs,” she says. “They take their show above and beyond.”

When Dike-Anukam first came to the station to turn in his application, he wrote out a minute-by-minute timeline of his show and also included references, says Pham. Most other applicants wrote their show idea, a time they could do the show and then left it at that.

Here one can see how much Dike-Anukam and Lucas care about the show and about politics. “With politicians I’ve learned there’s a certain level of respect you have to have,” says Dike-Anukam. “It took me a year, a year to interview Harry Reid. I got two questions. Two.”

With everything it’s been a matter of patience. Just a few weeks on the show, the two finally broke into the political arena at the Conservative Leadership Conference held in October. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was speaking in the press gaggle and the two had come narrowly equipped.

“It was our first time out in the Press gaggle,” says Lucas. “Donnell and I beat out NBC and all its affiliates, CNN and Fox. They only had one question asked, we had both of our questions.” Then the two made their way outside where Dick Armey, the former House Majority Leader, was stepping into his limousine. “It was one of the most stressful times on the show, we didn’t know what to expect,” says Lucas. “I’d say it was scarier than my first date.”

Armey had exited the conference and by doing some volunteer work at the conference (and with help from a good acquaintance) the two jumped into Armey’s limousine. “It was like, holy crap, we’re in a limo with Dick Armey,” says Dike-Anukam. “We asked him five or six questions. It was 14 minutes of probably the most uncensored, untapped knowledge of Washington in politics at the time that no one else had. We beat CNN.“ At that point it became apparent how much they, and the show, needed to do.

What they do each week on their show aims for to deviate from any political punditry and “gotcha” reporting. They do the exact opposite. They let the candidates speak at their own comfort level and by doing so hope that students will listen to the candidates and in turn do one simple thing — vote.

Following political junkies
Describing Dike-Anukam and Lucas is akin to describing kindergartners who prefer playing with the Constitution rather than with crayons. They border on obsessive with their political interests, checking political polls and election stats many times during the day. Both are “junkies” and yes, they know Ken Rudin among many other elected candidates and officials. Dike-Anukam has also headed up the Students for McCain campaign. Lucas acts as the Independent or devil’s advocate on the show and also has done campaign time.

Lucas talked about politics to his friends, wrote letters to Harry Reid and Governor Richard Bryan before he hit middle school.

At five years old, Dike-Anukam began requesting tapes of newscasters, hoping to emulate their cadence and character in his own made-up studio. In fact,the only two times Dike-Anukam admits he has cried for someone not related to him is when the Pope died and when Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” died.

It’s amazing to see that, even with their regular work (Lucas works for his parents and Dike-Anukam substitute teaches and waits at the Outback Steakhouse) both find time to produce the show, free of charge, and to relish their own political interests. “To do what we do on our show, you can’t be an armchair cowboy,” says Dike-Anukam.

Please call in. Anybody?
The Voicebox radio show began in the fall of 2007 and can only be summed up as an accidental learning experience. Dike-Anukam wanted to have a right-wing political talk show so he applied for a DJ position at Wolf Pack radio, then housed in the third apartment at 1262 N. Sierra Street.

The first show minutes had passed and Dike-Anukam soon begged for people to call in. Lucas, who agreed to listen to the show, heard his plea. “I had to call in and I played the Liberal,” recalls Lucas. “We talked about the war in Iraq and we ended up talking about that for 45 minutes. I wanted to get off topic and hang up after 15 minutes, but Donnell insisted.”

Later, Dike-Anukam asked Lucas if he wanted to help the show. He said yes and that night at 12 a.m. Lucas came up with the name “The Voicebox” while hovering over his kitchen sink. Afterwards, they both felt it was in their best interest that Lucas lead the show and become the boss.

They’ve since moved into the JCSU with the new Wolf Pack Radio station. Now, they represent all party positions with Brandon Nissl, Bryan Wachter and Adam Hunt giving a voice to all sides of the political spectrum and expanding on their political discourse.

“Dan loves to hate oil,” says Wachter, who is also the editor of the Pack Patriot. “But I’m very free economic policy…but when you bring in these passions it’s like, wait a minute, it’s not about oil, it’s about free market economies or alternative energy funding. Then it gets very animated and its get very fun.” Most importantly, with the new space, they have been able to bring in candidates, turn the mic around to them, and let them speak. And speak they do.

Another Edition of the Voicebox
In the wave of Hot August Nights, Jill Derby, a candidate for Congress, just finished working at her campaign office at 5 o’clock. Earlier, Dike-Anukam asked her campaign coordinator, Theresa Navarro, if Derby wouldn’t mind appearing on the show. “She told me the Voicebox program at UNR is a student station, and a student program and they’d like to interview me and I’d say really? Great,” says Derby.

Today she dresses in her trademark coral-colored necklace with matching earrings. Her hair is a bit frazzled. “We drove fast through traffic,” she says. By the time it took her to wake up at 6 a.m., it took her 12 hours to get to the Wolf Pack Radio station. But spending another hour talking on the show suited her fine. “I think an hour really allows plenty of time for conversation, we’re not talking sound bites,” she says. She sits down after chatting with Nissl, Watcher and Lucas. Then Lucas gives the go-ahead and raises the microphone volume.

“Welcome to another edition of the Voicebox,” says Lucas. “With us we have Jill Derby for Congress, running for Nevada, up here in Northern Nevada. So Jill let’s start with the basics. Tell us more about you and what you like to do in your free time outside of politics.“

The question is decidedly easy. But that’s what the Voicebox is about — not making candidates uncomfortable, but just making them open to talk. They ask questions that lead to debate but also questions that allow candidates to show their true colors. When Shelley Berkley called in a week later, Lucas first asked, “Who is Shelley Berkley?”

With this presidential election they’ll continue their open discussions, reporting from different precincts using their own cell phones and calling into the station. The task may be difficult at first, but hopefully, as with Derby, students will be listening in. The highest ratings of nearly 10,000 listeners actually came during the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno presidential debates last year and these are the student ratings that Dike-Anukam and Lucas are insistent on seeing each show.

But why? In the most recent Nevada caucuses only 5 percent of eligible Nevada citizens under the age of 30 participated, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). It’s unsure exactly how many students participated, but it’s certainly nowhere near ideal numbers and it’s nowhere near the voting average of those on the Voicebox radio show (all voted early in the primaries). Wachter may have summed it up best. “It’s hard to juggle that need between the requirements of being in college and the requirements of being a citizen,” he says.

Right now candidates such as Derby are streaming into the Voicebox radio show, hoping to catch the youth demographic in the upcoming elections. Dawn Gibbons even requested a spot on the show. And regardless of how time-consuming voting may be for some students, Dike-Anukam and Lucas still vote. As with each show they end with one question, “Why is it important for young people to vote and why do you think people should get involved with politics?”

“The thing is we can influence things,” says Lucas. “The most powerful person in the American political system is the American vote. Movement starts with the people.”