Community Broadcaster: Answer the Call

Pledge drive is a time to show thanks
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Community Broadcaster, Ernesto Aguilar

We live in a period of massive tumult and stress. Headlines of tragedies, technological drama and political intrigue consume our waking hours from sun up to sun down. If you’re like me, you turn to radio — with a smart speaker, of course — to get a better understanding of what’s happening in the world.

However, if you turn on your favorite public and community media stations now, mixed with your news and analysis may be a reminder of how you're part of this important coverage, too. Not as a subject, but as a member.

Yes, it is time for pledge drive.

If you are a fan of public media, it is most certainly the time of year when noncommercial educational radio goes into fundraising mode. Your local station might be broadcasting right now, offering tickets, t-shirts and assorted tchotchkes as an encouragement to make a financial contribution. A community media outlet has possibly festooned upon its website a sizable pop-up, encouraging you to donate. The signs are everywhere.

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It is easy to breeze right by these on-air fundraising campaigns, or to make a mental note to support this marathon and then forget about it. Nonprofits always ask for donations, right? Yet if you are a lover of radio, there are many reasons to donate during your local community radio station’s pledge drive, or just to offer a tax-deductible gift, pre- or post-campaign.

The beauty of noncommercial radio, surveys indicate, is that listeners, particularly millennials, find them credible. These listeners value radio that is not about sensationalism and conflict, but that which is civil and educational. Younger listeners especially say they want smart, nonpartisan, locally focused programming. For many community radio stations, these beliefs speak to the core mission of why stations broadcast.

Community radio is filled with fascinating and important coverage nationwide. New York State community radio station WRFI’s new multimedia series on food insecurity, KUNM’s policy reporting effort Public Health New Mexico and KRCL’s Blindspot project, aimed at telling the stories of women and girls are just three evocative endeavors by community media. Reports such as these do not dwell on the clashes, but rather the deeper stories that are part of issues we are all aware of in our own communities and beyond. Many community stations have budgets that are quite lean. Creating content like this is made possible through grants, partnerships and audience donations.

Undoubtedly, community radio is important for its journalism. If you wanted to know more during the 2016 presidential race, chances are community media was on your menu or among the choices you had at your disposal. People sometimes give a little because they recognize the necessity of journalism now, and they simply do not want it to disappear.

As well, there are many community radio stations serving the culturally curious. From a jazz behemoth like KUVO to Seattle’s KEXP to a stunning array of hyperlocal shows on low-power FM community stations around the United States, the one thing America doesn’t lack is musically savvy DJs! You can tune in to community radio for music discovery literally every day and every night. Indeed, community radio with arts and service in this regard can inject a sense of pride into everyone, whether you live down the street or a station reminds you of where you grew up. What these stations mean to their towns and the people they serve is worthy of support.

If you’re a listener to community and public radio, you may hear an on-air pledge drive where you’re asked to give $100, $500, $1,000 or more during an hour. Sometimes the amounts you hear can be intimidating. However, virtually every station is honored to take your gift whatever the size. If you value your station’s journalism and cultural exchanges, as well as its place in your life and the lives of others, you are encouraged to give what you can. Sustainer membership, for example, permits you to give a set amount monthly, just like with Netflix and other subscription services. However, even a one-time contribution of $5, $10 or $20, many station fundraisers say, is appreciated because they recognize you give what you can. Those stations can pool monies to put that contribution to good use.

Many people say they’re not fans of pledge drive. Yet they’re the one of the few times of year when the listeners take the microphone and share just how valued community media is to urban and rural America. May fundraising season finally be your chance to not delay further, and instead to support community radio.

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