John Gregg, Sr.


John Gregg, Sr.

John Gregg has known for a while that moving away from Lincoln, Neb., was a possibility. But the longtime AIROS manager and now project coordinator for Native Radio Theater has decided it’s time after 12 years producing Native American radio for NAPT.

Gregg’s wife, Martha, completed her Ph.D. in mathematics and the family will move to Sioux Falls, S.D., where Martha will be teaching college this fall.

“The way I am looking at my move is just turning the page,” Gregg, 53, said.  “It’s another chapter in my life and I’m looking forward to it.

“(NAPT) gave me the opportunity to look at a lot of Native cultures from a national point of view,” he added. “I’ve learned so much about so many Native cultures that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Gregg (Inupiat/Hopi) came to Lincoln from Tuba City, Ariz., when he was offered the assistant manager position at the American Indian Radio on Satellite or AIROS. Created in 1994, AIROS started as a Native American radio service to deliver programming, including music, news and entertainment, via satellite to the 33 tribal and public radio stations in the nation.

As one of AIROS’ founding fathers, it was Gregg’s responsibility to recruit producers who would provide the satellite service with Native programming, which was definitely needed. At the time, no one else in Indian country was doing it.

“We were running about an hour a day five days a week,” reflected Gregg of the early years. “From there we moved to about three hours a day…I’m proud of working with the many producers, and helping them get their programs out there.”

As program manager where Gregg continued to help with the development of AIROS, the Indian radio satellite service at its height distributed 10 regular series, including Voices from the Circle hosted by Jim DeNomie (Bad River Chippewa), UnderCurrents, AlterNative Voices and Reach the Rez Radio, with the first two still being produced and distributed by other companies today. In addition, a pilot show created to spur a national discussion on Native American issues was born. In 1994, Native America Calling debuted and the national radio talk show a year later went live and was distributed on AIROS. Three years later AIROS hit a nifty new communication technology tool called the Internet.

John and Gregg McVicar, Host and Producer of UnderCurrents, at NFCBBut it was a show that featured Native musicians that Gregg is best known for. With Gregg as host, Native Sounds-Native Voices featured not only new and established musicians but shared cultural elements about the artists. The National Federation of Community Broadcasters awarded Gregg with the Golden Reel Award in 1998 and 1999 for best national music/entertainment series.

“The Native radio system has grown significantly in the past 12 years, specifically the last three, and John has been a part of that,” said Peggy Berryhill (Muscogee Creek) of Native Public Media.

In 2006, the radio distribution service changed hands from NAPT/AIROS to Koahnic Broadcasting Corp., after the Alaska-based company outbid NAPT for the service contract. Now AIROS is solely Internet-based and plays all genres of Native American music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making it one of the oldest Native Internet radio-based stations in the country.

Although Gregg would step away from distribution, his movement wasn’t far from production. Later named project coordinator of NAPT’s Native Radio Theater, a job he would hold until now, Gregg would oversee a project to aid in further developing the Native American theater community.

Rhiana Yazzie, Thirza DeFoe and John Gregg. Photo Credit: Janine MarrThe first Native Radio Theater script workshop in 2005 produced three shows at the National Audio Theatre Festivals convention with stories about families and a spoof on a Native superhero called Super Indian.

“I’m really happy with the first shows that we did,” Gregg said. “Those were great shows.”

However, putting these shows together did not come without challenges. Like many other Native media outlets, Native Radio Theater faces shortages in funding, making it difficult to produce. Although NAPT receives grants or other funding from various organizations, sometimes it isn’t enough.

“We need more staff to really do the job and do it really well,” Gregg said. “We could use more site visits and doing evaluations to see what all is needed before we go in and actually produce a show.”

Despite this obstacle, Gregg has tried to make Native Radio Theater a success. The show is part of Koahnic’s national distribution service, NV1, and is heard on some public radio stations throughout the nation.

As Gregg currently concentrates on the big move, he also thinks about getting behind music-making as a possible next step. His love of music, after all, is the reason he got into radio in the first place. He was recruited for his first radio gig as a D.J. at a Tuba City station and during his time away from work Gregg enjoys playing guitar for several bands in Lincoln.

“I’ve always wanted to get into independent production that way I can work on some of the things that I would like to do rather than doing things that other people want to do or produce,” Gregg said.

John Gregg and John Trudell during an NAC remote in NebraskaRecording concerts, working as a stage manager or creating radio productions of his own may also be in his future. And he isn’t ruling out the possibility of finding a band in Sioux Falls.

But as he looks forward to a new chapter in his life, Gregg remains thankful for his time at NAPT and the things he learned.

“It’s just a fabulous experience and I have a deep interest in Native cultures and the differences, and the similarities and some of the customs and some of the language,” said Gregg, who is interested in learning some Native languages, including Cherokee, Dakota and Navajo.“That’s the best part of the job was learning some of those cultures.”

However, looking back, it will be the people that Gregg will miss the most.

“I’m going to miss more than anything all the friends I made working at NAPT,” Gregg said. “That’s something that I am really going to miss—a lot is my contact with a lot of friends and colleagues.”

by Zach Oliva

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