McKosato returns to radio after search for balance 4-20-07

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, Harlan McKosato is back on the air as host of the national radio show “Native America Calling.” The show addresses issues affecting American Indians. His return is significant because it follows a crisis that led the Sac and Fox tribal member and Albuquerque resident to resign in April 2004. Humbled by a series of events, McKosato says the time off gave him a chance to re-evaluate his priorities and find a much-needed sense of personal balance.

“Before, I was trying to be a perfect host, but now I'm flawed and open about it,” says McKosato. “The thing about coming back to 'Native America Calling' is I get to complete that circle. A lot of people don't get that chance.”

In late 2003, McKosato was arrested in Albuquerque on charges of domestic violence - a case that was eventually dismissed, according to court documents. A few weeks later, he was arrested for DWI.

During his hiatus, he also went through a divorce. McKosato left the show, saying he had no intention of returning.

“I decided I had to take something out of the equation because my life was so unsettled and chaotic,” says McKosato, now 40. “I needed to reel things back in.”

During his time away, McKosato focused on raising his son, who is now 5, connecting with family, receiving counseling and dabbling in other media ventures. The difficult experiences, he says, have inspired him to take “Native America Calling” to the next level.

McKosato grew up on the lands of the Iowa tribe in Perkins, Okla. He received a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. At age 25, he worked for the United National Indian Tribal Youth, or UNITY, traveling to reservations nationwide and attending Native conferences to promote youth leadership.

“It turns out that working with UNITY was the best training I could have had for (hosting 'Native America Calling'),” he says, adding it helped him meet people in tribal leadership positions and learn about reservation issues.

After leaving UNITY in 1994, McKosato worked as a reporter for the Southwest bureau of Indian Country Today in Scottsdale, Ariz. He joined “Native America Calling” in 1995 as an associate producer and began hosting the show in 1997.

The show is among the most-established radio broadcasts for Native listeners, according to McKosato. It addresses, through on-air dialogue, many of the difficult issues they face on and off the reservation, and celebrates successes.

“'Native America Calling' is a starting point for bringing up tough issues in Indian Country,” says McKosato, who broadcasts from the University of New Mexico campus. “For non-Natives it's a way of educating, dispelling stereotypes and the misinformation people have digested.”

Recent topics on the show include the advantages and disadvantages of living on the reservation; Indian preference laws; debate about whether non-Natives should be legally allowed to possess eagle feathers; male menopause; and an elder protest about the construction of a new coal power plant in Shiprock.

McKosato's crisis hit at a time when the show's popularity was on the rise and he had become a well-known public figure. The show is broadcast on 52 stations throughout the United States and Canada.

“At the height of the show's popularity was when I was personally out of balance the most,” he says. “There was some embarrassment and humility. But now that I look back, that's what needed to happen.”

After leaving the show, McKosato produced half-hour radio pilots, filmed public service announcements for Native youths and wrote as a freelancer. He taught journalism at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe.

“The time I was off gave me a chance to re-evaluate my priorities,” says McKosato. “Fatherhood has sort of solidified my conviction. I know for sure what I stand for.”

Susan Braine, chief operating officer for national programs for Koahnic Broadcast Corp., says she hired McKosato back because of his popularity with listeners and skill as an American Indian journalist.

“Everybody was really sad to see him leave,” says Braine, adding many listeners said they thought Koahnic Broadcast Corp. wasn't supportive enough of McKosato during the crisis. But feedback about his return has been positive.

“People like that the show is very Indian, and Harlan has his finger on the pulse of what's going on in Native America,” she says. “He truly cares, and that comes through loud and clear on the air.”

McKosato says he enjoys being back at “Native America Calling” and working with the staff, whom he credits for being willing to put in the hard work it takes to make the show great.

“I have a different perspective producing the show now and a real appreciation of the position,” he says. “I want ('Native America Calling') to be leading the charge of Native journalism.”