Friends & Neighbors

Friends & Neighbors is a new monthly column by Anett Gabriel. She brings her international perspective and entrepreneurial experience into discussions that feature Marfa residents. The column is presented in a question and answer format.

This week’s interviewee is Elise Pepple, the general manager of Marfa Public Radio. I couldn’t have asked for a better first interviewee than Elise, a strong woman in the radio industry. 

Anett Gabriel: I’d like to ask you a bit about your background, history and life before Marfa…

Elise Pepple: I grew up and worked in large East Coast cities for much of my life, then I had a big paradigm shift and moved to rural Alaska for five years. When I lived in New York and Montreal, I felt like I was in the middle of this enormous amount of frenetic activity. Then I moved to rural Alaska and learned how to be a part of a small community and what it means good neighbor. I also learned what it means to fail and succeed in public. It was kind of like one big family –– you see each other and root for each other and then say, “Did you really just do that?” and forgive each other. One year we had one graduating high school senior and the whole town was at graduation and we were all crying because we all loved and knew this one young person.

AG: What challenges have you faced working at the station, and challenges living in Marfa?

EP: The major challenge at the station is that we are a small team serving a large region. We have an inside joke/motto: no dull moments. The radio station never closes –– whether it’s breaking news or a lightning strike to our transmitter. It could make for a great reality TV show –– it’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday after a storm; cut to driving up a backcountry road to replace a power supply…then cut to the three good Samaritans you eventually recruit to help fix it once you realize it’s a bigger problem than you anticipated.

One challenge that is constantly on our minds is how we serve all the communities in our broadcast area. Every community is special and their stories are important, not just to our listeners, but in terms of adding texture and context to the wider narrative that is being constructed about this area of the world.

Running a station requires focusing on management, infrastructure, programming, fundraising, community building, capacity. This was a shift from my previous work, which focused primarily on people and their stories. I called my first year as GM, “learning by heart attack rather than by heart.”

Living in Marfa, I sometimes miss a sea of green produce or a sea of people.

AG: What it’s like being a woman in leadership and in the radio industry?

EP: I have two answers.

Being a woman in leadership in the radio industry is exciting. The majority of station leaders around the country are men over the age of sixty. I’m inspired to be a part of the next generation in leadership. Public media is facing big shifts. Marfa Public Radio has become a model for what rural radio can be, and is being recognized on a national playing field. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished in the past three years.

Being a woman in leadership can also be challenging. I notice that power dynamics are different than those I observe for my male colleagues. One thing I notice is women in leadership get less credit than their male counterparts.

AG: What are your favorite things to do in Marfa & places to go to?

EP: I love people, so my favorite places to go are where I will run into a lot of people –– the post office, Stripes, just walking down Highland. In the summer I like any opportunity to jump in a stock tank. Some of my favorite people and places are beyond Marfa. I love the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo. I like getting out of town to visit friends in Marathon and Terlingua.

AG: Since you have started to work for Marfa Public Radio, you guys have recently extended your network in the region within the past year and won numerous regional and national journalism awards.

EP: Yes, this year we expanded our broadcast to Presidio. This had been in the works for years and finally happened. We are thrilled. And yes, the station won three National Murrows. Something that comes up every week at our station is how we serve our region. The dedication of our team is unmatched. Everyone who works at Marfa Public Radio will go any distance to do what’s right. This past year our reporters focused on major events in our area. The awards reflect their dedication and skill.

AG: Are there any near future upcoming programs to your already existing West Texas Talk program?

EP: Yes, this year Marfa Public Radio will be part of StoryCorps’ western states tour. This means that StoryCorps will bring their Airstream trailer to Marfa (which is a recording booth) for three weeks to record interviews with locals. Our goal is to train one resident of West Texas to edit these interviews and air them as a special segment in 2021. The archives of the recordings will be housed in the Library of Congress.

AG: And do you have any New Year’s resolutions for the radio?

EP: Ha. Yes. I have both internal and external New Year’s resolutions for the station. My internal resolution is for our staff to feel supported and inspired. My external resolution is to better serve our friends and neighbors –– through reporting, interviews, music, public events –– and to inspire our listeners, make people laugh, cry and provide a space where people can connect. Ultimately, my resolution is to make you proud.

Anett Gabriel is a former New Yorker who moved to Marfa three years ago. She’s an entrepreneur who loves everything about Marfa and its people. The idea of interviewing Marfa residents came naturally to Gabriel, and the column is a collection of Q&A’s, inspired by new and old residents of Marfa – artists, business owners, neighbors and friends.