Signals from the Homeland

Steens Pure Cane - Abbeville, Louisiana

Author in the KBON studio – Eunice, Louisiana

As I write these words, my laptop is logged into the online stream for KBON, a radio station in based in Eunice, Louisiana. The DJ has just wished happy birthday to Peggy Boudreaux in Church Point and is now playing a new version of the “Bosco Stomp.” The exuberant sound of Cajun music, with its accordions, fiddles, and distinctive rhythm fills the air, and no doubt bleeds into the hallway next to my campus office.

KBON Studio Downtown Eunice, Louisiana

As I listen to the familiar sounds from this distant station, I reflect on the way the telegraph was greeted when it was new. More than a century ago, observers celebrated “the annihilation of time and space.”  With electrical impulses now able to traverse great distance in the blink of an eye, humans would no longer be subject to the tyranny of geography. This grand academic concept, the “annihilation of time and space,” bounces around my head as I listen to the sounds from Louisiana; the station is now playing a zydeco song about a donkey.

Old Marquee in Abbeville, Louisiana

In the summer of 2023, I stayed with my aunt in Lafayette, Louisiana and researched the history of radio in Cajun communities. That experience forced me to reflect on my status as a displaced Cajun, raised as an Air Force brat entirely outside the region. After my Lafayette sojourn, I returned to my “real” job as a media studies professor at San Diego University. I put my research aside, and also focused on Nano, my aging mother-n-law, whose health began to decline. She’s lived with us for twenty years, and as I famously joke with my white American friends, “when you marry a Pakistani woman, it’s a combo deal.”

Mike Perron, Radio Announcer for KVPI, with Fred’s Lounge Band in Mamou, Louisiana

In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting my research an academic conference. This event has motivated me to organize the myriad of research files on my computer.  It seems only natural to listen to Cajun radio stations while I do this work. I could use one of the many online radio platforms to hear Cajun music. Some unseen algorithm would serve me a seamless blend of songs without the annoying interruptions of commercials. I, however, greatly prefer the live streams coming from Louisiana radio stations. The accents of the announcers and the promotions for local businesses are precisely the sounds that I crave.

Am I actually going to visit Paul’s Meat Market in Mamou for boudin balls or chicken leg quarters? Do I really need anything from Alario Brothers Marine Hardware in Golden Meadow? Do I need to know the weather in Morgan City? The answer is definitely no, but these signals from distant stations sonically transport me back to Louisiana. Modern media technologies have not “annihilated” space for me, but instead made geography even more relevant.

Dish outside KLEB Golden Meadow, Louisiana

I also witness this powerful effect of media on a daily basis through another scenario. Nano’s first language is Urdu, and as her mobility has decreased, she spends more time at home, comforted by the sounds of a familiar tongue. Before I depart for my campus office, I pull up a stream of “Pakistan news” on YouTube and hand her the remote, reassured by the fact that the algorithm is going to continue feeding her comfort audio.

Old Sign Inside KLEB Golden Meadow, Louisiana

Twenty years ago, when we moved in with Nano, we paid for a handful of new-fangled streaming channels, including Pakistani news and Bollywood movies. When I first met my wife in the late 1980s, watching a movie in Urdu or Hindi required a lengthy commute to Atlanta to rent a grainy VHS-tape. Years before that, when her family had just moved to Georgia, their only recourse was getting tapes by mail from South Asian shops in Chicago. So, instantly pulling up relevant clips on YouTube today seems like magic.

Paintings in KAPB Studio, Marksville, Louisiana

More visits to Louisiana are in my future. When I return, I know that I will once again feel the pangs of being an “outsider,” since I am not intimately familiar with the geography and all the local customs, but I will also feel an undeniable connection to the region. This connection is cultivated by radio from the region, sounds that are transported thousands of miles to me in San Diego through the power of modern media. I’m sure anyone reading these words can identify with this feeling, although it may be a different town or region where your allegiance lies. Rather than making geography irrelevant, modern media can also remind us about our origins.


All Photo Credit: Noah Arceneaux