As part of our 50th anniversary celebration, we're bringing
you stories from KUMD alumni to find out where the years have taken them and
how their time at KUMD has impacted their lives.
Profiles, Part 4: John de Graaf
By Barb Olsen
Today, you'll find KUMD alum John de Graaf hard at work on a documentary film
for a PBS television station or leading discussions in venues across the
country on subjects related to his nearly 40 films, such as “Affluenza” or “The
But from 1974 to 1977, you would have been likely to find de Graaf in the
recesses of KUMD studios, nose deep in a book or a newspaper. As KUMD’s Public Affairs
Director at that time, de Graaf was known for his thorough research on the
topics he tackled via the hundreds of books piled high in his home. Taking KUMD
into a new level of local public affairs programming, John de Graaf produced
his own programs and introduced our area to some of the most compelling local
voices of the time—in politics, labor, and community activism. He also
interviewed prominent national figures such as Ralph Nader, Walter Mondale and
”My time at KUMD was what got me interested initially in the value of the media
and in the communication of ideas,” de Graaf commented recently from his office
at KTCS Public Television in Seattle, Washington.
“I was an activist, and this was a way for me to get started thinking about
issues and learn how to reach people using the media. KUMD gave me a chance to
gain interviewing skills and the access to individuals for interviews. KUMD
shaped my thinking.”
It was during that mid-70s period that de Graaf met former U.S. Congressman
from the IronRange,
John Bernard. A former iron-ore miner, Bernard was in his 80s at the time and
renowned for having been the single vote in Congress in opposition to an arms embargo
during the Spanish Civil War. John de Graaf did an interview with Bernard for a
KUMD public affairs show, unaware the interview would launch his filmmaking career.
De Graaf was intrigued with the courage of this common man from the IronRange and began looking for an
additional way to tell Bernard's story. The Faculty Advisor for KUMD at the
time, Dan Johnson, connected John with filmmakers in the Twin Cities. By the
summer of 1977, de Graaf and photographer Jim Mulligan had produced the
documentary film, “A Common Man’s Courage: The Story of John Bernard,” which
chronicled Bernard's stand against the Spanish embargo, the subsequent loss of
his seat in Congress, and his life thereafter as a labor organizer and civil rights activist.
The program premiered on KTCA-TV in St. Paul,
and was shown on a number of PBS stations, including WDSE Channel 8 in Duluth.
KTCA-TV submitted “A Common Man’s Courage” to National Public Television for
annual awards, and de Graaf’s film won the top award as the best locally produced
public TV program for 1977.
“It was quite a shot in the arm,” de Graaf says today. “I
realized I could do this sort of thing, although the production of that firm
was definitely by the seat of the pants. The character of John Bernard was so
compelling, viewers forgave the film’s weaknesses and fell in love with the
guy.” De Graaf credits his work at KUMD radio for teaching him how to find
compelling characters and stories.
In the three decades since, John de Graaf has produced 37 documentary films.
Among them is “Affluenza,” created in 1997. It was a PBS hit and is still a
huge seller. “That,” de Graaf comments, “was my Andy Warhol 15 minutes of
fame.” The film and its companion book, which de Graaf co-wrote, have been used
in more than a thousand colleges, universities, and high schools to discuss the
troubling impacts of America’s
love affair with consumerism.
In recent years, de Graaf has helped to spearhead the “Take Back Your Time” effort,
an initiative to challenge this country's epidemic of overwork,
over-scheduling, and “time famine.” As part of that campaign, he edited
the book, “Take Back Your Time, Fighting Overwork & Time Poverty In
America.” This year, the campaign is attempting to win support for a national
paid vacation law in the United States.
But John is still making films. Recently, he wrote and produced “Silent
Killer,” about world hunger and “Buyer, Be Fair,” about efforts to support fair
trade and certified sustainable products such as coffee and wood.
John de Graaf’s latest filmmaking project was “The Motherhood Manifesto,” about
the difficult task of raising families in America
while working longer hours to pay the bills. It’s the film version of the book
co-written by MoveOn founder Joan Blades. When it was first released last year,
“The Motherhood Manifesto” premiered at the U.S. Senate building in WashingtonD.C. and was introduced by Senators Hillary
Clinton, Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Chris Dodd. Clinton
provided a copy of the film to every U.S. Senator.
De Graaf will be in Duluth to host
a showing of “The Motherhood Manifesto” and lead a discussion afterwards, on
Sunday, May 6th at in Montague
70 on the campus of the University of
Co-sponsors for the event are the UMD Women’s Studies Department and the
organization, Progressive Action. For more information on the film showing, which
is free and open to the public, see www.prog-action.org.
For KUMD alum John de Graaf, there is never a shortage of compelling characters
and issues. These days, de Graaf is delving into the U.S.
economy and what its goal should be—high gross domestic production, high Dow
Jones numbers, or a high level of health, happiness, and sustainability for the
U.S. worker. He
expects his research to lead to another film on the subject. De Graaf lives in Seattle
with his wife, Paula Wissel, and their son, David.
Barb Olsen is the author of “Out of Order! A Field Guide to the Duluth City
Council,” published in the Reader Weekly newspaper, and a commentator on KUMD’s
Wednesday morning “Coffee Break.” She also serves on the steering committee of Progressive
Action, an organization formed after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone to
help continue Wellstone’s work on issues such as affordable housing and living
wages (see www.prog-action.org). You can reach Barb at email@example.com
In planning our 50th anniversary celebration, we've heard from many KUMD alumni, including the people listed below. If you know of someone who used to work at KUMD who's not on this list let us know- e-mail Station Manager Mike Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Berman, Michael 1958-59 Announcer
Public affairs programming, announcer
Brostrom, John M.
"AJ the DJ (the Boss Jock With All the Rock)" 1969-1970
Buczynski, John "Buzz Buchanan"
Carlson, Tobin (Toby) 1974 Announcer, Moondance program
Cohen, Jan 1983-1993 Announcer, co-founder of Wise Women Radio
Dawson, Tim 1999-present Folk announcer
Dean, Lee Svitak 1971-1973
Announcer, continuity director
de Graaf, John
Public affairs director, news
Dittrich, Andrea 2002-2004
Office assistant and marketing intern
Eastlund, Randy Late 80s-early 90s Producer, This Way Out
Volunteer announcer, women’s music show, founder of the "Ruby Red Slippers" program
Announcer, host of “Good Sports” program
Announcer, Women’s Music Program
Gelle, Tod 1992-95 Announcer
Announcer, program director, station manager, news and public affairs director
Announcer, audio technician
Hedin, Doug 1957-1958 Co-founder of KUMD, engineer
Chief engineer (79-80), assistant chief engineer
Hemphill, Stephanie (Jean Johnson)
News/Public Affairs Director
Hyatt, Ken (Ken Hietala) 1959-1961
Evening Vespers producer, announcer
Johnson, Beverly 1998-2004 Announcer
Johnson, Gary 1959-1961 Announcer, engineer, traffic manager
1989-present Volunteer jazz and blues announcer
Jongewaard, Peter 1970-71, 1980, 1998-99 Announcer
Station manager (1968-69), news director, production director, documentary production, promotional production, board shifts
Kusunoki, Stan 1971-1973 Announcer, originated Folk Migrations
Langhorst, Glenn 1980-1990 Host of weekly astronomy feature
Laulo, Wilbur (Bill)
Marsh, James 1991-1996 Folk announcer
McCarthy, Terry 1970s, 1990s Announcer
Neff Dawson, Katie 1992-present Intern, folk announcer, women’s music program announcer
Olsen, Barb 1971-1978 Announcer, News and Public Affairs director
1969-1971 Engineering, announcer, news and production
Schmitz, Paul 1975-2006 Station manager (1984-2006), classical music director, public affairs producer
Smith, Andrew “Andy”
News intern, announcer
Smith, Bruce 1971-1973
News and public affairs, music announcer
Guest host for “Where’s Art” segment on Coffee Break