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Community Broadcaster: A Time to Give

Pledge drive season means your chance to support radio is here

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

You can feel it in the air and it’s not just tree pollen. It is the energy that can only come during a pledge drive.

Noncommercial radio stations around the nation host/air fundraising efforts now, or around this time, every year. They pull out all the stops, too. Special guests, marquee programming, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them features that only come around during a pledge campaign. Heck, some stations even call this project anything but a pledge drive, just to make sure you don’t think of it as a pledge drive! But, as the saying goes, it is what it is, and it is a time-honored tradition.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Post-Mueller, It’s Radio for the Save]

The noncommercial radio rite of spring is no doubt familiar to even casual radio listeners. There have been plenty of parodies. Jokes aside, few moments for stations are as critical as on-air fundraising. These efforts to raise operating capital shape a station’s next few months and up to a year. If you listen to your area community or public radio station, I encourage you to not tune away if you hear someone talking about donating. Instead, lean in and listen. You may discover compelling reasons to take out your credit card and call the pledge line, or go to a website, to contribute.

Your local noncommercial radio station contributes to your city’s culture in ways you may not always think about. Sometimes, it is doing so by providing incisive journalism and conversation. You do not have to look far to find local stations engaging residents around ideas and issues. Alaska’s Raven Radio is one of scores of stations that give neighbors a lifeline to the news. Utah’s KRCL makes room for community voices around a host of matters of concern. Noncommercial radio helps keep audiences informed. As more states are experiencing news deserts, these stations’ importance is only amplified.

Other times, stations give your town something to be proud of through music, live performances and boosting a regional scene. These organizations provide tangible benefits, by serving as a pillar for local arts. Oregon’s KPOV is one of many to host local concerts and touring acts coming through. This station is hardly alone. Where commercial radio largely neglects local acts, noncommercial radio is often the sole broadcast venue an independent artist can approach.

Directly and indirectly, noncommercial radio’s connection to local arts create jobs, tourism and much more. As Creative Many puts it, “Art is not only a driver for our economy, it is a key expression of our identity — creating connections across cultures, strengthening communities, and driving innovation … According to Americans for the Arts, the arts employ 4.8 million workers and are a robust $730 billion industry which contributes 4.2% to the nation’s GDP — a larger share of the economy than the transportation, tourism and agriculture industries. The arts and culture industries are one of the only economic sectors to yield a trade surplus (of nearly $30 billion), creating job opportunities in local communities that cannot be outsourced.”

You might think stations this rich in hearts and minds would be able to do all they do without on-air fundraising. Alas, that is certainly not the case. Those people asking for you to call and to give online genuinely need your assistance.

Politico points out that there remain persistent misconceptions about noncommercial media and federal funding. Many Americans believe public and community television and radio are wholly supported by the U.S. government. In reality, the numbers are quite small. In addition, the number of stations that receive money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the form of Community Service Grants is dwarfed by the legion of outlets that do not receive or are otherwise not eligible for such monies. There is a good chance your local station gets little to no such dollars. Those organizations truly do depend on listener contributions.

So, this season, if you are perusing radio stations wherever you are, make sure to stop off on the dial to give a listen to noncommercial radio. Maybe you will happen upon a pledge drive somewhere. Tune in for a few moments and hear what hosts have to say about their outlet’s local. Investment. And, if you can, consider making a donation. You will undoubtedly delight a station with your donation, and you will contribute to media that needs you.

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