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WRMC Spotlight: Prasanna Vankina

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The name of Vankina’s show, “These Machines Kill Fascists,” comes from Woody Guthrie, who had the saying on his guitar as a symbol of resistance to fascism.

The name of Vankina’s show, “These Machines Kill Fascists,” comes from Woody Guthrie, who had the saying on his guitar as a symbol of resistance to fascism.

The name of Vankina’s show, “These Machines Kill Fascists,” comes from Woody Guthrie, who had the saying on his guitar as a symbol of resistance to fascism.

By Bilal Khan, Senior Writer

Prasanna Vankina’s ’18 radio show page on the WRMC website boasts a series of puns, which light-heartedly demonstrate the profound connections between music and political movements. The description reads as follows:

“How do ya address a broken system that perpetuates power and VIOLINS? What’s the deal with capitalism which vows to HARMONY one that stands in the way of profit? What do ya do when you catch the Russians TAMBOURINE with your elections? How do ya resist a government that CYMBALizes racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and continues to deBASS scientific consensus? How do you deal with a LYRE in office, a TRUMPET that totally blows?”

Vankina tells you how, loud and clear every Friday at noon, on 91.1 FM, WRMC.

Each week, Vankina sits behind the massive microphone in the tiny WRMC studio in Proctor and plays “songs of resistance.” These songs, coming from all around the world, have come to define social movements, as well as speeches of activists and revolutionaries.

The show is titled “These Machines Kill Fascists,” and Vankina tells me she got the slogan from Woody Guthrie, the iconic singer-songwriter who traveled with displaced farmers from Oklahoma to California and brought their folk and blues songs to mainstream audiences. In 1941, the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” painted “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar as a symbol of opposition to fascism, and it has inspired musicians and activists ever since.

In a “Trumpified” world, a radio show airing voices of dissent is Vankina’s own small way of playing a part in the resistance. She wants us all to realize the power of alternative forms of resistance, especially music. She wants us to listen to The Clash and “queen” Ella Fitzgerald and to remember that protesting does not have to be ugly. She wants us to listen to “Born in the USA” again, and stop misunderstanding Springsteen’s powerful (and ironic) lyrics. And there are musicians out there making this resistance music today; Vankina recommends Vikesh Kapoor and Valerie June.

This is not Vankina’s first WRMC show. She did a solo show for two semesters called “If Music Be the Food of Literature, Play On,” in which she selected a famous literary character or author each week and created a hypothetical mixtape for them. She enjoyed piecing together character sketches, biographies and quotes to curate a truly representative playlist each week, even though it took her quite a bit of time. Both her shows have required a significant weekly time commitment, but Prasanna enjoys the process. Her philosophy is simple: a bad radio show is worse than no radio show, and so she doesn’t see any point in putting together a mish-mash of barely relevant songs and disappointing her dedicated listeners. (Take note, other WRMC DJs.)

For Vankina, radio is an entirely unique platform for expression, since it puts her in the spotlight and lets her play all that incredible music though there is no visible audience. This allows her to be authentic in a way that is simply not possible in other media.

She loves to hear her friends, teachers and family tune in, but the really special moments have occurred when a stranger or someone she barely knows has called in, like the time a woman called in two weeks after sitting next to her on a flight from Detroit to Burlington during spring break. Or, when a few weeks ago, Vankina got an email from a high school teacher out in Maine with the following note: “Thank you for playing Phil Ochs this afternoon. He really thought he could change the world by singing and exposing the truth. He thought he could ‘sing louder than the guns.’”

It made her day, she told me. It would have made mine too.

Vankina is on a break till the end of term, but her show continues next fall. Be sure to check it out!

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