Making community at Regional Summits and beyond
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Often when you think you're at the end of something,
you're at the beginning of something else.
- Fred (Mr.) Rogers

One short sentence packed with a full load of wisdom that is so very important right now. It is a time in community media’s history when many people running stations ask themselves what the future holds. Will our medium survive the digital age? Will our fundraising efforts ever meet the demands of increasing costs and responsibilities? Will the many small tasks we are consumed by on a daily basis ever leave us room to reach for the creative projects we got into this whole thing for?
We aren’t navigating the end of our presence in the communities we serve. We’ve already begun a new chapter. Community radio had its start in tumultuous times. This chapter begins in tumultuous times. What has never changed is our basic human need to share stories and through those stories to build connection. Through those connections we create a sense of belonging and with that sense of belonging we expand our life experience to something more meaningful. It’s not complicated. It’s reliably simple and it is the core of the work we do.
Recently I have moved back home for the third time in my life. Three times I have left my hometown for other adventures and three times I have come back. It just feels like home….. no matter what…. and that is a rare and wonderful gift. I turned my radio on and delighted in the familiar sound of my friend’s opening theme song that was followed by another song that was absolutely perfect for the moment I was in. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed the number that is permanently etched in my memory. “Can I speak with the DJ?” “She’s not here, she taped this show because she couldn’t be here today.”  Times have changed indeed and yet the connection arrived, right on schedule in the form of the perfect tune, at just the right moment.
Begin again and again, all you creative expression alchemists out there. And if you need a little boost to keep yourself inspired, here’s a closing quote from Mr. Rogers to ponder. Make no mistake, a show like his would never have been made in a commercial media space and just look at how long it endured and how many people it touched.
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

Sally Kane, CEO
National Federation of Community Broadcasters


New chapters

NFCB salutes the many community radio leaders who have moved on to new adventures in 2018. Given major change, it might also be a time for your station to think about its future. Consider this:
KZUM's General Manager Marty Durlin has retired. Many of us have loved and appreciated Marty's commitment over the years, with KGNU, KZUM and to the community media world as a whole.
KBCS General Manager Steve Ramsey also retired in June, after nearly 20 years at his post.
Deb Benedict led WTIP for almost two decades before her June 1 retirement.
WYCE Station Manager Quinn Matthews announced his move to lead a new Grand Rapids performance space.
Manager Rip Robbins retired in June from KSVR in Washington State, after nearly 25 years on the job.
Longtime KALW head Matt Martin has stepped down, opening the door to Tina Pamintuan, who became general manager in September.
Each of these individuals led their stations through a variety of challenges. Now, with issues like the emergence of digital and distrust in media growing, how these stations move forward with the current challenges is yet to be determined.

It is sometimes said that you do not know you are missing expertise until your expert is gone. While many community radio stations make their adjustments well to new managers, others struggle to find footing. How is your community radio station thinking of leadership transition?
Here are a few tips for boards and staff to consider regarding their next chapters as organizations.
Have conversations about changes in staffing. The Society for Human Resources Managers says part of the difficulties with change may stem from a lack of communication. Has your board talked about how the station keeps on a good trajectory when someone retires or suddenly leaves? What are the options for those who want to retire? Clearing the air now will avoid confusion.
Plan succession in all your areas. Keeping a station strong even when new leaders come up is oftentimes due to intentional development. It is crucial to make knowledge sharing a value your organization centers and to do cross-training regularly. Roles with extensive regulatory, technical or other requirements should have desk manuals created, and updated regularly, so future staff can know what to do and what to expect.
Establish trust in new people and the organization. Relationships are essential for a solid organizational network, so it's important for veteran managers to introduce staff and new managers to stakeholders they know -- former board members, major donors, local leaders and others who help your station -- and the people they trust -- mentors, coaches, sounding boards and legacy funders, among others. Fostering these new bonds early gives them the best chance of staying strong and successful.

How is your community radio station thinking about changes in its leadership and passing the torch to a new generation when the time comes? Share your insights with NFCB on Facebook and Twitter today.

John and Matt Schaeffer, Radio Rethink

Launched as a project by a small group of devoted community radio fans, Radio Rethink merges both the community radio world and the mobile system by offering stations nationwide a free platform to distribute programming and create new experiences for fans. Brothers Matt and John Schaeffer lead Radio Rethink as an initiative intended to help community radio to be responsive to the new smartphone-oriented reality of media consumption. The Schaeffers say they are working on these projects to help the content of community and public radio reach the widest audience possible and expand into the hands of a new generation.

What got you interested in community radio?

John: I've always loved radio and adventurous music. So, I naturally gravitated to the fringes of my radio dial. Living on the east coast and midwest, I found typical public radio stations which featured NPR and either Classical or Jazz to be a welcome island in the sea of radio mediocrity. But, I was frustrated that they didn't cover a wider scope. Blues on the weekend wasn't quite bold enough for me. I moved to Colorado in 1993 and while driving was scanning the dial and it landed on Frank Zappa coming from KGNU in Boulder. I recall thinking, "This happens?!?" - I was volunteering there within a couple of weeks.
Matt:  My interest began while listening to KGNU when living in Boulder, Colorado.  For me it was a great way to discover new music while also getting in tune with the local community.  As internet radio started to become more prevalent, I began to realize that the Freeform format of KGNU was also available from a treasure trove of other Community stations around the country and world.  Not being a DJ myself, I put my coding skills to work as a volunteer for KGNU.
How did Radio Rethink start?
John: I was leaving my position of Music Director at KGNU after 9 years to go work in the mobile technology space. Toward the end of my time on staff at KGNU, Matt and I had developed AfterFM ( as the 24/7 music home for the station. We learned a ton during that project and had developed a mobile-friendly player. We're both stat nerds and saw that the implementation of that site and the players for both AfterFM and KGNU's main site had caused the listenership and engagement to jump. After I had left the staff, we were cruising around to other station sites doing research for a much bigger idea to dramatically expanding community radio's reach when we saw that we needed to take a step back. So, with that larger concept on the back burner, we decided to first work on solving the serious need for developing a mobile-friendly player for community radio. Initially we offered it for "free", but the number of stations that use it has grown so much that we can't afford to pay for it out of pocket and we now request a small donation.
What about community radio inspires you to devote the time and energy you do to the project?
John: We believe community and public radio present some of the greatest music and stories in the world. We want to make sure that content reaches the largest audience possible.

What's the weirdest Radio Rethink feature ever requested?
John: Can't really say, because we ended up implementing it for the station that asked. But, it wasn't that weird. Nobody has said, "It's cool, but can it also fill in as a board op?"

What are some of the big technology challenges you see for stations?
John: Well, I think you need to take a step back to pave the way for that question. First, as we all know, these stations are all drastically underfunded and seriously understaffed. It's hard enough to manage all of the tasks of a station and cultivate a strong volunteer-powered community while attempting to generate important and critical content every single day. So, to add in a layer where these stations now also have to keep up with wave after wave of technological innovation, it's a lot to ask and very challenging.
Matt:  These days with so many technology platforms (Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, Smartphones, Tablets, Alexa etc.) it is very hard for stations to have the expertise to reach all their listeners effectively.  A service such as the Airpocket Tuner helps to bridge the expertise and budget gaps for stations with a limited technology scope and budget.
Are there tips and best practices you recommend for stations to be more mobile friendly or accessible online?
Matt: First and foremost, design with “Mobile First” in mind.  This means making the assumption that any content (live audio, archives, news, blogs) on your station’s website will be consumed by roughly 50% mobile (smartphones and tablets) and 50% desktop.  The simple test is to navigate your own station’s content on a smartphone and “see how long you can stand it”.  This will give you a good estimate as to how mobile friendly your station’s online presence is currently.  Your station probably doesn’t need an app in the iPhone App Store or on Android’s Google Play, but if you aren’t thinking “Mobile First” then you can just assume you aren’t reaching about half of your listeners and members.  As you might have guessed, this trend is only predicted to increase, with mobile consumption slowly overtaking desktop usage on the internet.
John: I would just add that there's some handy information about this from our Maker's session from the 2016 NFCB conference available here.
What are the common mistakes you see stations could avoid?
Matt: Underestimating the potential of streaming audio, video and web-delivered content.
John: Not having a large enough capacity for your streaming audience. Our admin tools for the player can help a station identify this, but some stations are maxing out their streams without realizing it and essentially turning listeners away at the door.
With streaming and mobile ascending with audiences, what advice would you give community radio to keep their fans and attract new ones?
John: Good question. Do you have a couple hours? That should be enough to cover it. In a nutshell, engage that audience directly. To really be effective in that effort you may need to do some technical development work - which goes back to the challenges of stations being under-resourced. But, for stations that are using our player, even taking advantage of some internal messaging through the underwriting tools section to run a survey or offer a giveaway would be a good first step. We have ideas for engagement modules but they are a ways off from being released yet.
Matt: See our tips for “best practices” in a previous question.  But in summary have a plan and the initiative to better serve your members and listeners on non-desktop devices.

Change minds, not just policies

It is the oldest and most common question in community radio: how do you deal with situations involving difficult people? The culture of community media is one in which stations welcome in the larger community. Inevitably, organizations run into conflicts over communication, perception, expectations and values when everyone coming in may not share the same background. Sometimes volunteers may behave in problematic ways. Or staff may be disengaged from the needs of a station. Left to fester, challenging situations and strained relationships can undercut enthusiasm and joy.
Culture is also changing as America changes. Lawanda Horton-Sauter points out:
Research suggests [that] cultural identity is shaping the way people participate in and engage with their community and the organizations that shape them. To be truly responsive to the needs of a changing population, nonprofit organizations need to focus on addressing cultural incapacity, cultural blindness and gaps in multicultural representation in organizational leadership and program design.
The consequences of bad cultures can be a deathblow to stations. When leaders are seen as ineffective, or the organization is believed to be one in which few people are passionate, it can damage how donors and others see your station. Positive, forward-thinking cultures are central to your future.
Policy at stations is one of the most important ways of setting a baseline of organizational needs. However, hearts and minds are the secret sauce to a good culture. How we work with and talk to one another is the day-to-day experience that sets a good tone. It will have more lasting impact that pages of rules, because people aware of the organization's values and who interact with others about it perform better and do more in support of the volunteer work they do.

A few reads this month may help you reflect on how your community radio station creates the best organizational culture:
  • How do you figure out where your station's culture is having problems? Is it one person, or a general feeling going around? Tim Kuppler recommends doing an evaluation of your culture. However, Kuppler says you should not look for a magic bullet or one-size-fits-all solution for any issues your station may be experiencing. "Manage your own culture journey, build clarity and alignment, and stop wasting energy on implementing tips, keys, and levers unless they fit with your unique culture foundation."
  • Not sure where to begin? Nonprofit Pro has more than a dozen ideas to help you seed positive energy at your station. Storytelling, donor interactions and deeper relationship building are just a few recommendations.
  • Culture is also created by our attitudes about the organization. More people are seeking a good work-life balance, and making everything in an organization about productivity and not people can adversely affect the kind of station you want. That's one of three traps to avoid.
  • Changing Culture Without Resistance or Blame goes straight for two of the biggest obstacles to helping organizations, the tendency to blame others for perceived problems and to contrarian attitudes. The authors suggest a four phase approach focused on awareness, learning, practice, and accountability are critical to avoid such pitfalls. "Showing vulnerability, though, was key to getting people to take the change seriously... We needed people to really embrace the change, starting at the top."
  • One Wall Street Journal take notes, if you want to stimulate creativity, look at how your work and organization is structured. "Managers typically tap only a small portion of workers’ creative capabilities. Identify employees’ strengths and consider creating new groups with a tailored mix of talents. If you have a project, create a task force. Mix employees with different experience levels: Younger team members may provide energy and optimism; veterans may provide insight from past experience."
  • Writing for HR magazine, Martin Cook recommends picking the issues upon which results are most achievable. "Approach process and behavior change at the same time but pick the processes that will have the biggest impact on the culture, while being the simplest to change. Don’t try and change everything at once, and be guided by employees as to which will have the biggest impact."
  • How are popular nonprofits maintain a good culture? Fast Company looked at a dozen of the strongest charities for insights. Focusing on service, encouraging business partners to inest in them, networking with other nonprofits and relying on their most devoted volunteers are just a few ways successful nonprofits continued to grow.
  • Nonprofit Hub adds that shared values, mission and how you treat people all contribute, for better or worse, to your organization's culture, too.
  • The Dear HBR Podcast is hosted by major business names associated with the Harvard Business Review. On it, the hosts tackle listener dilemmas on a myriad of workplace issues. From annoying people to negative environments to pay inequity, people with years of organizational change experience talk with you about ways you can work through everyday issues.
For years, it has been said good culture is built on autonomy, purpose and recognition. Is your community radio station practicing good fundamentals, and listening to its volunteers and staff members? If it is not, perhaps these article may inspire you to take another look at how your station can improve and excel.
The second of our three Regional Summits is taking place in Charlottesville, VA later this month. This summit's program is chock full of hands-on learning opportunities and tools you can take back to your stations and put to great use! We look forward to seeing you in Charlottesville later this month!
Copyright © 2018 NFCB, All rights reserved.

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