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Revving the engine as we head to #NFCB19
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“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight,
it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”  unknown


The power of public media is built on our dedication to education, public safety, and civic leadership. Whether it is local journalism, storytelling, live events, music discovery, or the exploration of cultural nuance and meaning, community media organizations provide a nexus where community and civic life meet. Small stations operate on a scale that has a powerful influence in these areas at the local level. Their size is their strength and their local connections are their wealth.
 
If stations are to do more than survive in a media context characterized by rapid change, greater competition, and listening preference changes, they need optimized organizational capacity and they shouldn’t have to do that alone. It takes networks and infrastructure to deliver authentic and relevant service. It takes training, mentorship, and customized assistance to succeed. Just about any person who has accomplished something noteworthy will tell you that they received essential support along the way. It’s the same for the stations we serve.
 
Last week, NFCB announced grant support from CPB for our Community Counts Initiative (CCI). CCI embodies the elements of support I have just described. It represents a strategic investment in existing capacity within a group of 10 stations. You can read more about it HERE. Our goal is to widen the group and create tools that we can share broadly. We’re starting on a scale that we can do a good job of supporting.
 
Local media has power. It can transform lives and shape solution-focused narratives. Our team here at NFCB is so grateful for the opportunity CCI allows us. It’s a perfect prelude to the Thanksgiving season ahead.
 
Enjoy the newsletter and thank you for reading!

Sally Kane, CEO
National Federation of Community Broadcasters
skane@nfcb.org
 

 

2019 NFCB conference announced

NFCB is pleased to announce that the 2019 Community Media Conference takes place June 18-20, 2019, in San Diego, Calif.

The Community Media Conference happens at a critical time for community radio. Across the country stations are navigating rapid and transformative change. While other media is losing audience, radio’s has grown. A new generation of leaders and media makers is taking the lead and revitalizing the space. An increase in emergency situations and climate events have highlighted local stations’ resilience and service. New business models, digital tools, and social movements are changing the way stations operate and what they respond to.
 
Amidst all the change the Community Media Conference is your one-stop shop for re-energizing yourself and gaining the skills you need to do your best work.

Why should you plan to be in San Diego next summer?
 
The 2019 Community Media Conference is a perfect place to develop your leadership, strengthen your day-to-day skills, understand community media better, and be part of conversations that make you a better organizer.

Your learning will happen in a city at the center of a media revolution. From trailblazing journalism to stepping out with new membership models, San Diego is leading the way for those of us passionate about seeing noncommercial media expand to reach diverse communities. You are sure to see the future of media today in this Southern California city, host of the 2019 Community Media Conference.

Excited? Now is the time to make your arrangements. As your station budgets, some stations may start to raise funds to attend in the summer of 2019. Need help or ideas? Get some tips here.
 
NFCB’s core values are focused on inclusion and equity. Those who may be interested in scholarships to the conference can check here for information. Full details will be posted shortly.
 
With sessions on all aspects of fundraising, programming and leadership, NFCB convenes some of the best minds in noncommercial media to help your organization overcome issues and improve even your best endeavors. Have a conference session idea? Pitch it here.
 
After more than 40 years of supporting community radio and lifting up the movement for local media, NFCB’s Community Media Conference is one of the most crucial gatherings in North America. As the largest convergence of community media, this conference offers many opportunities for you to meet leaders nationwide. Work with or know an organization that wants to connect with community radio? Learn about exhibit and sponsorship at #NFCB19.

Keep an eye at nfcb.org/conference for more announcements about the 2019 Community Media Conference.
 
 

Heather Lose, WXNA

Heather Lose is a radio veteran with experience in commercial, college, and community radio. She got her start in the mid ’80s, co-hosting the local show at Rebel-100 Nashville under the tutelage of Program Director Bob Dearborn.

Many airchecks later, she held down airshifts at WVCP Gallatin, 88.5 FM; WRVU, 91.1 FM Nashville; WDBX 91.1 FM Carbondale; and Lightning 100 in Nashville. She was the founding music director and afternoon drivetime deejay at Thunder 94 in Nashville in the mid-’90s.

Most recently, Heather co-founded and was the founding President of the Board of WXNA Nashville, where she still hosts “Aging Hipster,” which airs on Tuesday nights from 5 to 7. Heather stepped down from the station’s Board of Directors in January 2018.

In her real life, Heather is Editor-in-Chief of The Tennessee Conservationist magazine. She and her husband John live in the Inglewood neighborhood of East Nashville, where they enjoy Heather’s home bartending skills, listening to owls, keeping deer out of their hostas, and keeping the damn gutters clean.

WXNA has become one of community radio's most exciting stories, with awards, strong community support and more to its credit. Why has the station been such a success?
 
Careful vision and planning; motivated volunteers; a market glutted with same-old, same-old; and good branding.
 
We’re fortunate to be in one of the most music-savvy cities on the planet, and we broadcast to people with adventurous ears. People are finally grokking that the music made in Music City isn’t just country—it never was! And beyond the artists and songwriters that we’re known for, Nashville is home to all the other talented people who make music careers possible—the lawyers, stagehands, label geeks, etc. Their children are raised around it and form their own bands and all-age venues and house shows and fanzines. So there’s a rich vein of pretty sophisticated music lovers here. That doesn’t hurt.

With our block programming, hosted by enthusiastic, knowledgeable volunteers, we appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners, and we are filling gaps in what was already on the Nashville airwaves. When WRVU left the terrestrial dial, that created a vacuum—as did WMOT’s format change. People who want adventurous programming, or jazz, or any other genre can find at least one show on WXNA they’ll enjoy—and because our deejays are so dedicated to doing good radio, it’s likely they’ll keep listening and discovering a broader swath of shows they like.
 
Branding is super important, too. We spent HOURS picking the right call letters and getting the right logo nailed down. You’ve got to have a logo that looks great on a T-shirt. And then you’ve got to get all your social media right—find the station’s “voice,” and be ever-present with the right mix of content. Make every single person who helps your station feel appreciated, whether it’s a random caller or someone who gives you a $1000 pledge. All of this is part of your brand. Its importance cannot be overstated in building loyalty and creating an entity that other organizations want to partner with—especially here in the South, where thank you cards grease so many wheels.
 
What are some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome, and how did you do it?
 
Whew. Building a radio from scratch has many obstacles! I think the constant grind is acquiring funding. We launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to get the seed money for the station, allowing us to go live on June 4, 2016. Since then, our pledge drives have been moderately successful, raising around $25,000 twice a year. Underwriting is currently $10 per message with a $300 contract minimum. We have a cushion, but any major catastrophe or FCC violation could be a problem—and that’s something I do lose sleep over.
 
We’ve had some technical issues, mostly attributable to Comcast, but I hesitate to go there because my blood pressure will skyrocket. All you can do when your station is down (except calling, calling, calling Comcast) is get the right messaging up onto Twitter and Facebook and Instagram as soon as possible, and cross your fingers that your listeners will check in later to see if you’re back. It’s a very helpless, crazy-making feeling.
 
Founder's syndrome – the idea that people who start an organization maintain power and influence and stunt growth – has been something WXNA has seemingly avoided. How do you think founders should be engaging with the stations they found, especially a few years into its life cycle?
 
One of the things that helped us avoid Founder’s syndrome is the cruel fact that as we grew, running the station professionally became impossible for the initial seven-member board. As an all-volunteer station with no paid employees, the amount of work that had to be performed in addition to our “regular” life stuff became too much. We had to start delegating after about a year of operations, offloading tasks to volunteers. This empowered them and led to more cooks in the kitchen.
 
Out of the seven who built the station, two of us have left the board. When I left, I thought long and hard about what the station needed, because Laura Powers (the other co-founder who stepped down) and I were responsible for underwriting, fundraising, events, social media—most of the outward-facing tasks. I handpicked two volunteers to step onto the board, who have real-world radio experience and who I felt had the business chops to keep those crucial operations flowing smoothly. Luckily, the remaining board members voted “aye.” And now Laurel Creech and Leslie Hermsdorfer are in there swinging for the fences and doing a great job.
 
So thoughtful succession is key.

I can only speak for myself here, because some of my co-founders may disagree, but I also believe a community station is best served if long-timers step down after a few years. Turnover ensures that nothing grows stagnant, and that power isn’t hoarded. Founders who won’t step down can cluster, becoming overly protective of one another and their roles. We are seeing the results of this at one of my alma maters, WDBX Carbondale. From the outside looking in, it seems that there is some solidification that has been divisive for the station. Some good people have been hurt. I am pulling for WDBX to keep on keepin' on. It's a beautiful, necessary radio station.
 
Former leaders can be valuable keepers of the flame—there to advise, encourage, and answer questions. We become living historical documents! Laura and I both still serve on the Fundraising Committee, and we are still as proud of, and committed to, WXNA as we have ever been. It’s kind of like being a grandparent instead of a parent, but not exactly. You’re still responsible and you still feel immense pride and love, but your whole life isn’t suffused 24/7.
WXNA's Heather Lose. Photo by Andrea Behrends
What is the one community radio question you are still seeking answers to?
 
Grants. Where are they and how do we get them? And where are our angel donors and big corporate supporters? Nissan? Jack White? Where you at?

What tips could you offer other stations about the best ways to build a good volunteer culture?
 
I preach that the most important person at the station is ALWAYS your listener. Then the station as a whole is next in importance, your SHOW is after that, and you as the deejay is the least important of all. It’s hard for a lot of newbies to hear this, because their idea of success is Howard Stern or some other example of cult of personality, but I truly believe this hierarchy keeps everyone’s eyes on the top priorities, and keeps everyone working as a team instead of working for their own personal glory.
 
In any form of media, there are always going to be people who are in it to prop themselves up, and they are pretty easy to spot. If they bring something great to the airwaves, you can keep a close watch and trust that the 98% good eggs outweigh the 2% who are just in it for personal glory.
 
We build a lot of camaraderie at WXNA during pledge drives. We’ve instituted the tried-and-true pitch partner system, and everyone really digs coming in and being on the air with their colleagues. There’s a phone person there, too, so at times the studio feels more like a party than a radio station. We bring in food throughout the week and try to make it as fun as possible for everyone. You can tell the deejays are having fun when you listen, too—which helps us bring in those pledges!
 
We throw deejay mixers of various sorts (one of my favorite gatherings is for the women at WXNA—we call ourselves WXXNA) and each year we compete as a team in a local Field Day with other local businesses like Third Man and the Nashville Scene. It’s silly, fun team-building, and each year we’ve bought each deejay a commemorative T-shirt. We are all proud to sport our snazzy, limited-edition shirts around town.
 
Our deejays know that their responsibilities to WXNA don’t end the moment they close the mic after their weekly shift. Everyone has extra work to do for the cause, and you see deejays stepping up to help each other. One of the things I love most about community radio is how it forms these cool internal relationships that probably never would have happened in the real world. We enjoy, help, and support one another.
 
As a DJ, you've interviewed a lot of artists. What's the funniest or weirdest question you've ever asked? 
 
You know what? I don’t know, because I’m so “in the moment” during interviews and I’m an old-school radio geek. Once something’s done, it’s done—I don’t go back and listen to my own shows.
 
But one highlight for sure was arguing with Fred Schneider from the B-52s over how “bundt” is pronounced. I said it like it’s pronounced in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”: “bun-dt.” Fred insists that it’s “boon-dt.” We went back and forth with this during the whole interview and cracked each other up. I was pinching myself, it was so surreal.
 
And what's the funniest or weirdest answer you've ever gotten?
 
Wow, another question that’s hard to answer! Can I just say here that everyone alive needs to listen to Fantastic Negrito’s music, and if you’re in radio, host him on your show? He probably brought the best interview I’ve ever done. Made my job easy.
 
What aspects of your personality have served you best in community radio?
 
I want things to be right. I am a professional and I believe the big picture is comprised of the small details. I don’t crave approval—that’s a pitfall for people in management. You can’t apologize for policy that serves the overall good, even if it’s unpopular, and you’ll never please everybody when you have volunteers numbering at around 100. You gotta hang tough and realize that it’s about the listener and the station. As WXNA’s president, I always felt that my job included doing the stuff no one else wanted to do, so a mode of leadership rooted in responsibility and caring for my co-founders’ comfort helped me help WXNA.
 
What is your favorite community radio memory?
 
The day we launched WXNA will always be one of my most joyous memories.
 
If you could go back and give advice to yourself, at what point would you go back, and what would you say?
 
My father died unexpectedly last year. I took a month off but in hindsight, it wasn’t enough time. I was drowning in heartbreak, trying to shoulder life’s responsibilities plus my share of the work at WXNA. I was spread way too thin, and my temper flared up a couple of times. I regret this, and wish I had allowed my WXNA family to take care of things for a little while longer while I got my wheels back under me.
 
 

Covering rural communities

In October, NFCB and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced a bold initiative aimed at growing rural public media. The endeavor comes at a key time for the nation. Midterm elections have captured headlines. Cultural conflicts are growing. And community radio stations are being asked to help their listeners understand the divide in the country through nuance, storytelling and compassion.

Earlier in the year, Pew Research investigated the differences in experiences of Americans in urban and rural areas. A stark finding was that nearly two-thirds of those in rural and urban areas (70 percent and 65 percent, respectively) say people who don’t live there don’t understand the types of problems they face. It's the kind of result that feels very 2018: we have differences and the other side just doesn't get it. Here, radio stations (for which listenership remains strong) can play a pivotal role in building bridges.

How might your station wade into this sensitive time to examine the real world in rural America?

A few topics and case studies worth exploring on this subject include:
  • Sarah Smarsh recently reflected on how media can improve coverage of rural areas. Her suggestions include avoiding oversimplification of experiences, coming with preconceived notions, and reporting in ways that play to personal biases. Possible topics to explore locally? Food and civic apathy rank high on the list.
  • Also of interest when your station is covering rural communities, according to Education Week, is school desegregation. “[O]ne of the priorities for Obama education officials was highlighting the benefits of integration and the potential harm of racially isolated schools. That was particularly true under U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., whose tenure lasted a little less than a year… In 2016, for example, the Government Accountability Office reported that racial as well as economic isolation in schools was increasing—in effect, the analysis found that a major resegregation of American schools was underway.”
  • Internet access remains a fertile place for your station to report from. Columbia Journalism Review notes this issue is far greater than whether people can watch Netflix or get on Facebook, but is instead one of equal opportunity. “The cost of being disconnected is the highest it’s ever been,” says Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation, mentions. “Connectivity means access to healthcare, education, job creation, and everything. Broadband has to be there to ensure the virility and sustainability of the community. Previously, the vitality of America was based on infrastructure—roads and highways. Now it’s broadband infrastructure. If people can’t access reliable internet in an affordable way, they will be relegated to industries that are stagnating. Or they will move.”
  • Australia is tracking a matter, according to the New York Times, that many American communities may also be experiencing: the move of immigrants out into rural areas. Like U.S. towns, rural Australia is experiencing towns aging and eventually dying out. Immigrants are moving there for affordable housing, as well as to create businesses and job opportunities. Is your state experiencing a growth of immigrant residents in particular counties? This story may be worth looking at where you are.
  • Engaged journalism is a model you may wish to look into. As Gather notes, connecting with people for more involved discussions on social media and in person can offer strong storytelling and offer solutions. “At a time when our personalized news feeds reinforce narratives of a divided nation — red vs. blue, urban vs. rural — an exercise in parsing traits of large urban papers and small local papers feels unproductive. Engaged journalism’s legacy may ultimately be a needed course-correction from the manufacturing of cheap stories with broad, shallow appeal toward something that more honestly resembles local journalism and beat reporting.”
  • If you are wondering how community media can serve rural areas, take inspiration from community radio in South Africa, which is working with various tech to serve disenfranchised regions. “You can’t bridge mainstream to community media when the community doesn’t have the ability to present their reporting.”
  • Capital Public Radio is using “radical hospitality” to bring neighborhoods together to talk about soaring costs in their city of Sacramento. How expensive? The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was creeping up on $2,000 per month. That is nearly 10 percent higher than the year before. The station uses Story Circles to get people talking. “Story Circles are facilitated discussions that bring people from different backgrounds together to have conversations about specific issues affecting the community. Capital Public Radio held Story Circles in neighborhoods around the city. They aimed for lower income communities. The partner community group invited half of the attendees and the station invited the other half. They also saved a handful for groups that required special outreach, such as youth leaders, developers, or city officials.” 
NFCB looks forward to hosting conversations on rural journalism and more at the 2019 Community Media Conference. You can follow us at nfcb.org/conference for updates.
 
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