Q&A: Kris LaGrange, UCOMM Radio host
As host of the weekly UCOMM Radio show on Long Island’s 94.3 The Shark, Kris LaGrange is taking the labor unions where they’ve never gone before. Part shock jock, part advocate, this champion of the working class – or at least the dues-paying portion of it – is lending a loud and unexpected voice to the trades.
What’s UCOMM? UCOMM, for “Union Communications,” is an internal/external communication service for labor unions, nonprofits, labor federations and labor movement-oriented businesses. I represent 13 local unions and one labor council, handling all aspects of their communications with members, the public and corporate managers.
What unions do you belong to? I’m a consultant. The leaders of these organizations hire me to help frame their message and get it out there, but I’m not a member myself.
What’s your view of organized labor on Long Island? The Long Island labor movement is a lot better off than other movements around the country, because of our density and because labor leaders here get it: You must communicate with the public and with business leaders to get your message across. We face challenges when it comes to the nonunion worker and the nonunion manager, but we’re trying to get these people to realize that if we fail, eventually they’ll fail also, and vice-versa. A rising tide raises all ships.
Tell us about UCOMM Radio. UCOMM Radio was born out of frustration. A lot of media outlets wouldn’t return our calls or air our issues. So a small group of us, including the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Auto Workers, decided to put our dues toward buying block radio programming and doing it ourselves.
Are you pleased with the response so far? We celebrate our second birthday this month and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in our ratings.
The 7 a.m. Sunday slot seems a little rough, especially for a program targeting the business community. It is. But one positive of being on Sunday morning on an FM station that’s primarily dedicated to music is we’re capturing an audience that wouldn’t necessary listen to talk radio. And we’re building a huge audience off the Island as well.
You put entire episodes on the UCOMMradio.com website. We do. We have about 100,000 people listening every week, between the over-the-air audience and our Internet audience.
The show is not what people probably think. You’re loud, you’re crazy-energized and between the discussions of serious labor-related issues – sometimes during – you play rock music. It’s like Howard Stern meets the AFL-CIO. I like to bring what I call the “smartassness.” The music resonates with the younger generation, and I want the guy who’s up at 7 on Sunday to go to work, the guy who might have been demeaned by his boss the night before, the guy whose buddies in Brooklyn got fired because of the color of their skin … I want that guy to be inspired, to realize there are people out there who understand what he’s going through. Working people have a right to have their voices heard in their own way.
How do you pick your playlist? If I hear a great song on Pandora or on The Shark, or a song in a movie that I like, I try to play it. I’d love for musical artists to get a hold of us, too, to call in and let us know how they feel about organized labor. We’re an icon-driven generation. If Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington tells us to listen to UCOMM or to vote for Barack Obama, we do it.
Where does UCOMM Radio go from here? The best progression would be becoming our own station on satellite radio, but something like a regular morning show on FM radio would be great, too. I do think if I had a little more time and a little more funding, whether from organized labor or businesses that care about labor movements, we’d have a much bigger audience already. New Jersey locals want us to bring the show out there and so do unions up in Albany. It’s only a matter of time before we branch out and become syndicated, but we need funding to get there.
So you’re on the radio, you’re launching a UCOMM blog, you already have the website and a UCOMM Twitter feed. Basically, you’re organized labor’s king of all media. Is that your master plan? I wish that was true. There’s a lot of talent in organized labor, from L.A. all the way to Long Island. If I can be some kind of focal point and organize all that talent on the radio or the web or, maybe someday, on UCOMM TV, I’m more than happy to carry that banner. I’m not a labor leader, I’m a labor advocate, and I’m very proud of that.