Inside: WRFA-LP's Dennis Drew,, underwriting, podcasting
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Community Radio News & Notes from NFCB

“Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”
- Chinese proverb

In honor of the recently celebrated Lunar New Year, I have chosen to share with you a Chinese proverb that articulates the essence of how our medium of radio and our public service has changed.
We are no longer a one-way pipeline meant to deliver our content to an amorphous audience somewhere “out there.” There is a glut of people and entities telling us things that we rarely remember and a plethora of videos that demonstrate all kinds of things that millions of people are clamoring to watch. That’s the “tell me” and “show me” part. For our service to be impactful in this environment we kind of have to do all three. A new awareness of what engagement really means is showing the way to unlock the key of that third piece of the proverb… “involve me and I learn.”
Our content has to tell a compelling story, show a memorable image, and inspire active involvement for the circle to be complete. We certainly can’t attain that every minute of every day. Yet, by building resilient local media organizations that aspire to amplify, demonstrate, and educate we can, at the very least, rest assured that our efforts are on target with the changing demands of our audience and our commitment to community building lives on in our work. It’s not perfect, but it continues a valuable legacy, and that counts for a lot!

Happy Lunar New Year… bring on the Year of the Rat!

Sally Kane, CEO
National Federation of Community Broadcasters

FCC strikes back on underwriting

Over the last few months, the Federal Communications Commission has released a wave of penalties against noncommercial stations. What’s the problem?
The issue at hand is underwriting language. The FCC has presented specific rules on the noncommercial nature of community, college and public broadcasters. While the rules seem general, the standards must be followed. Failure to do so can create financial headaches for your station.
Of note, a handful of stations were caught violating the regulations and received thousands of dollars in fines. Let’s take a look at the recent cases:

  • The Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas’ two stations, KBPU of De Queen, Arkansas, and KTYC of Nashville, Arkasnsas, were fined $76,000 and will be required to implement a five-year compliance plan coordinated with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. According to the FCC, the stations aired multiple announcements that promoted for-profit underwriters’ products and/or services that contained qualitative descriptions and comparative language, pricing information, as well as calls to action. The school has been permitted to pay the fine over four payments.
  • The Cesar Chavez Foundation was hit with a $115,000 fine and a one-year moratorium on underwriting announcements from commercial entities because of underwriting language that aired on community radio KNAI-FM and KUFW. CCF violated the Commission’s underwriting regulations by airing announcements from August 2016 to March 2017, which promoted for-profit underwriters’ products and services and contained qualitative descriptions as well as comparative language, pricing information and calls to action.
  • San Tan Educational Media, licensee of low-power FM station KFXY-LP, accepted a $1,500 fine for several issues, including airing announcements that had promoted donors’ businesses or services in impermissible ways. Of note was the length of the spots, which implied commercialism.

The FCC is also said to be looking into a group of low-power FM community stations, following a complaint alleging underwriting violations. The complainant suggests a joint rate card that includes spot rates and classes of time for each station constitutes a violation. The LPFMs deny wrongdoing. Further action is pending.
What are the baseline rules related to underwriting announcements? While there are many nuances, in general, your community radio station should respect the following core approaches:

  • Do not make comparisons between an underwriter’s products or services and those of that organization’s competitors.
  • Do not make qualitative statements about an underwriter, such as regarding trustworthiness.
  • Do not include information on prices, savings or value.
  • Do not make calls to action, such as asking a listener “are you ready?”
  • Do not list a “menu” of products or services offered by an underwriter.
  • Do not create long spots (i.e. not longer than 30 seconds) for an underwriter.

Need more assistance? Are you concerned about your community radio station violating underwriting rules? Want to keep your station out the next round of FCC consent decrees? Join us in March for a webinar on underwriting copy, featuring public media veteran Beverly James.

NFCB members can log in to NFCB’s Solution Center for webinars, guides and other great underwriting materials.

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Dennis Drew, WRFA-LP

Dennis Drew has been the general manager of WRFA-LP since 2004 and has 38 years of experience as a composer, performer, record producer and touring musician. As a founding partner in the multi-platinum rock group, 10,000 Maniacs, he oversaw much of the band’s fiscal, legal and creative activity including the writing, rehearsing, recording, mixing and promotion of their published works. Over a 38-year period, 10,000 Maniacs produced 11 albums and sold more than 11 million units while presenting concerts across the globe. He has performed for dozens of radio and television programs. 10,000 Maniacs still perform more than 40 concerts a year.
Dennis Drew was born in Buffalo, N.Y. in August 1957. He migrated to Jamestown N.Y. with his parents and two sisters in 1964 and has maintained a residence there ever since.
In 2004 he joined forces with the Arts Council for Chautauqua County to create a low power community radio station, WRFA-LP 107.9, dedicated to providing access to the arts, educational and cultural programming and a forum for the discourse of public affairs. The WRFA license is held by the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.
How did you get into community radio?
I had early experience in college and commercial radio in the 1970s, but this community radio opportunity was dumb luck. I tried to gain a construction permit for a commercial channel starting in 1993. The process was expensive and arduous. After a few years of the process, they changed all the rules and sold it to the highest bidder. So around 2002, I met an old friend on the street -- he’d been part of the college station in 1978 -- and he told me the FCC was opening up a window for low power stations. I investigated. Went to our local Arts Council and convinced them the station would pay for itself and even make money for the Arts Council. Wrong!
Of what are you most proud about your station?
15 years! We are staying alive. Of course the incredible programs we've developed with the school system and the youth outreach we've done. But most of all the great programming. We program like a 20,000-watt station. With a 2.5 person staff.
Your situation is unique in that your licensee is an arts organization not specifically devoted to radio. How have you won over people to see the importance of your station to the organization’s mission?
I don't know if we've won over everyone and budget time brings extra stress for all of us. I don't know if the governing board really understands what we're all about. But slowly they are beginning to understand the role of media arts in the community and we are striving to become public media rather than public radio. Economic development is a big issue here in the rust belt. 70% of the school age population is in poverty. The community understands the role the arts can play in improving the quality of life.

How does the station’s affiliation with an arts organization benefit it? Are there challenges to that as well?
The benefits are multitude. We are WRFA, Radio For the Arts. We have ready access to many artists, musicians, actors, comedians, authors, storytellers and community leaders. We have a 1,200-seat theater on site and we've just built a multi-media studio and started to produce shows in it for live audiences, streaming, on-demand video and radio.
What personal talents have you found have served you best in your role?
I'm a performer and any teacher, radio host or fundraiser needs to be a performer.
What is your biggest station mistake, and what did you learn from it?
Getting involved with a controversial local talk show host. I loved his program, but when he wanted to come here the local powers that be got wind of it and they came down hard on me. We lost financial supporters for a program we only talked about producing. Crazy.
What is the best advice you ever received, and why does it matter to you?
I was told by the executive director of a local foundation, "Don't worry about costs and money. Start with content and find a way to finance what you can. Have a vision.” Also, an early supporter told me, "If you ask me for $500, I'll have to discuss it with my husband. If you ask me for $100, I'll write you a check."
Who has been your best mentor and why?
Steve Shulman was our program director until he retired this fall. He had a long career in radio before he retired from the local station and came here part-time. I relied on his talent and wisdom for everything radio related.
What is helping you to be most effective?
A strong support system here at the Reg Lenna Center For the Arts. I get finance, marketing and technical support. Also delegating authority. I come from a collaborative musical background where each person does their job and it all fits together. That's what we have here.
Is there one thing that has gotten easier with time at your station?
Actually, being on the radio. Talking local or national politics or sports. Being on the mic is a relief from the other management duties.
Are there any tips you have for the next generation to lead community radio?
Get out of the office. Surround yourself with people you trust. It's a people business. Low Power To The People!

Want to nominate yourself or a colleague for a profile next month? Email us.

Community podcasting now

In January, NFCB issued its Community Radio Podcasting Guide, a toolkit that emerged from the organization’s Community Counts Initiative. The resource is aimed at helping community media organizations to get beyond the basic questions about podcasting and instead figure out matters like winning over boards of directors, managing volunteer producers and more.
After creating so much buzz a few years ago, podcasting has shown no signs of cooling down. Megacompanies like Spotify and Apple are investing millions into podcasts. Major media firms are launching podcasts as well. But where is community radio in the podcasting mix?
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has supported podcasting through many dynamic initiatives. In addition, podcasting is gaining a new level of credibility across the media world. Whether it is podcasting conferences, books, or cataloging services, what was once considered a niche medium has sprung rapidly into the mainstream.
Scores of community radio stations nationwide are producing local podcasts. Still others are hosting podcast trainings, community podcasting launchpads, and other local engagement endeavors related to podcasting. If your radio station has yet to start a podcast, this is as good a time as any.

Need a little motivation to get your community radio station into podcasting today? Here are a few reads to get you going.

  • Eric Nuzum pitched down the gauntlet for stations to raise the bar higher in his December essay for Current. “Podcasting has two content problems. First, there are a lot of slight variations on form. Eventually the world will run out of unsolved murders to revisit or comedians to chat with each other on podcast roundtables. Producers will have to look for more enterprising formats.” Nuzum recommends a few areas stations could look at to up their podcasting efforts.
  • Here is a possible collaboration for stations and local schools: the NPR Podcast Challenge. Students between fifth and 12th grades are welcome to create and submit a podcast that could be aired on national radio. The deadline to do it is March 24th. Get details here.
  • Speaking of young people, have you considered tapping into your area student leaders for podcast hosting and leadership? Here’s how St. Louis Public Radio turned to one local political prodigy in order to reach fellow young people through the digital medium. The host and “a subject-matter expert will deconstruct the mechanics undergirding American politics, providing a foundation for listeners to better understand complicated issues like gerrymandering, right in time for the Iowa caucuses.”
  • If you’re interested in stretching your mind far and figuring out where podcasting hasn’t gone, and where you could be, check out the Geekwire podcast. “How will speech recognition, smart speakers and other innovations change the landscape for podcasts? Should you start your own show? Could you make any money if you did?” With technology getting simpler, cheaper and more accessible, don’t dismiss those adventurous podcast locales just yet.
  • Can your station really make a national podcast, and make money for your station with it? One station in New Hampshire did it. Take a look at the case study in Nieman Lab to glean some tips for making a success at your station.

The Community Radio Podcasting Guide is available now in NFCB’s Solution Center.

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