On the radio in Germantown: A ‘twisted love letter’ to the neighborhood

The 8-episode season will cover the ongoing “struggle for equality” in the Northwest Philly community.

Lawanda Horton Sauter is working on an eight-part series with Germantown Radio.

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

When she first announced she was moving to Germantown, Lawanda Horton Sauter didn’t get a lot of support. Then a South Philly resident, she heard only negatives from neighbors and friends, which she attributed to the regular bombardment of news coverage about the area’s violence and poverty.

“My parents were like, you’re moving to Germantown?” Sauter recalled. “There was like this horror music playing in the background.”

Sauter gave it a shot anyway. And in the seven years since she and her husband Henry migrated northwest, they’ve been pleasantly surprised by their community’s rich history and its vibrant arts and culture scene.

By now they love the neighborhood so much they could talk about it for hours on end — so they do.

Hosted by Sauter and co-produced by her husband, The Missing Branch is an hourlong show that airs every Wednesday at 1 p.m. on Germantown’s community radio station.

The first eight-episode season focused on local government, and the second honed in on the neighborhood’s network of small businesses. The current leg of the show has a broader scope. Each episode will explore a different Germantown attribute, from the neighborhood’s history to its modern crime, poverty and housing inequity. Also featured will be good stuff, like residents organizing to better their surroundings — something Sauter, as founder of the nonprofit capacity-building firm Mission Incorporated, knows plenty about.

“The radio show was just another one of those ideas we had,” Sauter told Billy Penn, “that we could bring people from the community on to talk about the ways they’re solving problems too. We knew there were a lot of voices that weren’t being heard.”

The season kicked off at the beginning of the year with the story of the Sauters’ migration to Philly from upstate New York.

A second episode featured invited guest Tuomi Forrest, the executive director of Historic Germantown, to explore what in the neighborhood’s past might explain the culture and behaviors of the community today.

“The thread that runs through…is the struggle for equality and the challenge of diversity,” Sauter said. “The history really explains a lot of the character and color in people here.”

The neighborhood wasn’t incorporated into Philadelphia until the mid-19th century, and its unique identity has stood the test of time.

“It had a different character and sense of being vis-à-vis the city,” said Forrest said. “There’s still this sense of independence and separate-ness, and partly because of that, this area has really produced a lot of innovation, civic leaders and arts leaders.”

One upcoming show will feature reps from the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, which Sauter suspects will provide a new outlook on safety, compared to the traditional police viewpoint.

But the last episode, Sauter said, will likely be the best. Focusing on the hopeful aspects of the community, she’ll spotlight local business owners in an effort to prevent gentrification.

“We’ve seen whole neighborhoods in Philadelphia transform and leave behind no sign that communities of color were ever there,” she said. “Having and supporting those kinds of institutions is super important to me.”

The season finale will also provide a lead-in to the May primary elections. In the weeks prior to the show, Sauter plans to collect community questions for District 8 Council candidates, including incumbent Cindy Bass. She’ll solicit answers, then read the responses aloud on air.

Politics and public service are what inspired The Missing Branch’s name. Sauter sees the American system of government as missing one essential branch: the people.

Her radio series aims to add the voice of the community to important conversations — in the neighborhood, the city, and around the nation.

“Germantown is real life,” Sauter said. “And this radio series is like my twisted love letter to Germantown.”