For Dr. MarkAlain Dery, an infectious disease doctor and social justice activist in New Orleans, HIV infection is endemic of racial, economic and societal injustice because it is prevalent at the intersection of poverty, homelessness, lack of education and incidence of sexually transmitted infections. That's one reason why New Orleans has one of the highest rates of the disease in the U.S., he says.
But Dery says his new social justice and community action radio station, Radio NOLA WHIV, which will debut Dec. 1 (on World AIDS Day), isn't exclusively about HIV — despite the name. "Will there be talking about health care? Will HIV be a thing? Will I have a show talking about HIV? Sure," he says. "But it's programming dedicated to human rights and social justice."
So why call it WHIV? Dery says he's seen people bristle at the word for too long, and that's one thing that he and the nonprofit he founded, New Orleans Society for Infectious Disease Awareness (NOSIDA), are trying to change.
"I called it WHIV because I wanted to hear the word HIV repeated minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year," says Dery, who is NOSIDA's executive director. "Because how do you de-stigmatize a stigma? You just say the word over and over and over again."
John Michael Alderson, a spokesman for the NO/AIDS Taskforce, says that the awareness and prevention organization looks forward to working with NOSIDA and WHIV FM.
"We're really in it together," Alderson says. "We work in partnership with (NOSIDA) to do testing and general education and outreach throughout the city, particularly focused on the bar scene downtown. We're in partnership with them to raise awareness around HIV status in New Orleans, but also about the stigma of living with HIV."
The NO/AIDS Taskforce will join forces with District B New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell next month to celebrate not only World AIDS Day but also the first ever NOLA HIV/AIDS Awareness Week, which will stretch from Dec. 1 to Dec. 6.
At first the commercial-free 102.3 WHIV, which is located in Bayou St. John, will pull most of its content from the Berkeley, California-based liberal radio consortium Pacifica Radio, airing shows like Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News and The Thom Hartmann Program. Most Pacifica stations broadcast where you might expect them to: across the West Coast, the eastern seaboard and in liberal enclaves like Asheville, North Carolina. A community radio station in Baton Rouge also is an affiliate, but a Pacifica Radio presence in New Orleans will be a first.
After six months, Dery plans to create at least 30 percent original content for the station, which will include mostly talk radio from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That original content will aim to "honor independent voices," he says. The waves of 102.3 WHIV will be open to anyone, except religious and conservative fundamentalists, whom Dery says already have a place on the radio.
"I want to create that vision you always hear about in the press," he says. "'The liberal media, the liberal media.' Well I've never actually seen it. So I could create it. So I'm going to do them a favor. When they talk about the liberal media, I want them to be able to point directly to WHIV, 'the liberal media.'" Funding is private for now, but NOSIDA will apply for grants and is partnering with Odyssey House, the largest nonprofit for addiction recovery services in Louisiana.
If we make young people talk about using condoms, safe sex, harm reduction, they're going to listen." — Dr. Mark Alain Dery, founder of WHIV-FM
Dery will have a show focused on health where he hopes to interview people he finds interesting. Once a month, he plans to interview notable HIV doctors around the world to catch up with current research and information about the disease. He also hopes to open the station's microphone to teenagers who have something to say.
"I'm a 46-year-old dude," he says. "No matter how cool I think I am, I can't talk to young people the same way that other young people can talk to young people. So if we make young people talk about using condoms, safe sex, harm reduction, they're going to listen."
After 12 months, Dery hopes to have original content account for 60 percent of WHIV programming. Dery's goal is to make WHIV more like WWOZ-FM on nights, weekends and holidays, with programming that includes local music and community events and news.
"If people want to DJ, they can sign up to DJ," he says. "If not, we'll just have it automated."
He is hiring a station manager, who will be WHIV's only paid employee to start, to oversee operations.
In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission opened space on the radio dial for a new crop of low-power FM stations and accepted applications for programs to fill them. Dery, with the help of Bob Dunn, a professor of radio production and mass communication at Delgado Community College, applied and got a license. WHIV is one of four stations recently awarded to New Orleans under the new plan.
With a 100-watt signal, a low-power station (also known as an LPFM) doesn't have the range of a bigger FM dial stop, but WHIV will reach halfway across the Bonnet Carre spillway, halfway across the Causeway and from Belle Chasse to New Orleans East. It also will be streamed on the Internet at www.whivfm.org, and a mobile app is being developed.
"We want to use WHIV to have all voices, undocumented voices ... black transgender women, anything that is not represented, I want," Dery says.
He wants WHIV to introduce listeners to marginalized communities. That introduction, he says, is ultimately what will remove social stigmas for everyone, from HIV-positive radio guests to black transgender women.
"The best thing that could have happened in the LGBT community was coming out," he says. "There was a time where you did not come out. In 1999, if you were gay, you were probably keeping it inside. Now, we have marriages all over the country. Coming out, and having that as an overall strategy, meant that people realized, 'Well, my neighbor's gay,' or 'My best friend's gay.' It humanizes it."
One in five people living with HIV in the United States is unaware they're infected, but Dery says that HIV is a much more manageable, much less scary disease than people realize, as long as it's detected and treated.
"The reason we are so aggressive with HIV testing is because, when it comes to HIV, we're set. Done. We know how to do HIV," Dery says. "So, if I were infected with HIV today, I'd start myself on HIV medicines tonight, I'd be on HIV medicines for the rest of my life. Done. I will not die. HIV is no longer a death sentence. This is a very manageable disease. Period, end of discussion."
How manageable? "If you take those one in five people, and you get them tested, they stop engaging in the activities that put them at risk of HIV in the first place," Dery says. "And I have heard many times over this phrase: 'I don't want to do unto others as has been done unto me.' So people stop their behaviors. And when you get started on therapy and your viral load is undetectable, it's almost impossible to transit the virus. I can get to that in six weeks, four weeks."
Opening the airwaves to those sorts of topics is Dery's main goal. "Anything that is not represented, I want," he says. "Anything that could be potentially stigmatized in our society, I want. I want it on WHIV to use it as a vehicle, and to help de-stigmatize these stigmas."