One of community radio’s champions is calling it a day

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

Last week, the legendary Jo Anne Wallace announced she is retiring from San Francisco giant KQED(FM) later this year. Wallace, who got her start at community radio stalwart WYSO(FM), is that rare individual who never forgot where she came from. Since her arrival in 1990, Wallace has molded KQED into what is indisputably a first-class public media organization. Throughout that time, she has consistently served as a mentor and a leader to community media. Her insights and wisdom have shaped many lives inside the building and out. KQED is one of noncommercial media’s best-known names, thanks to Wallace and her team of gifted storytellers.

Jo Anne Wallace’s announcement comes as one of the community media’s true pioneers wraps up his tenure this week.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Clock Is Ticking]

Veteran broadcast attorney John Crigler has announced his last day at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer will be Oct. 1. Crigler was around for the early days of community radio, and could easily gab about many media iconoclasts if he wrote a tell-all book. While there are plenty of wonderful lawyers lifting up community media, none are quite like him. Like Jo Anne Wallace, he’ll be missed terribly.

Crigler’s official biography is quite impressive. “Over the decades, John Crigler has represented noncommercial radio and TV stations, program producers, nonprofit internet distribution platforms, community groups, tribal nations and many others,” it reads. “He has provided representation before the Federal Communications Commission, the Copyright Office and Copyright Royalty Board, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and state and federal courts.”

Crigler’s public service has also included writing and speaking on public broadcasting and serving as a frequent panelist at conferences on noncommercial broadcasting and the Internet. He previously served on the National Federation of Community Broadcasters’ board, and has spoken at many conferences. He received the organization’s Michael Bader Award in 2009 for lifetime achievement.

While those credentials are remarkable, John Crigler will be most fondly remembered as a guy who was in community radio’s corner when he was needed most.

Many may forget, but there was a time when the producer-driven kind of content creation we see today was not so easy. Community radio had to work hard for licensure and for acceptance. Lawyers like Crigler were part of that effort. From advising stations on delicate content questions to negotiating station-saving arrangements, Crigler surely kept a fair number of outlets from plummeting down the proverbial Niagara Falls.

If no one else cops to it, though, I am happy to.

I consider John Crigler a friend to me and community radio, and an inspiration. As a former program director, sometimes exasperated by a regulatory fine point, I appreciate Crigler talking me off the ledge on many occasions. I am certain he saved dozens of community media managers over time — either in dollars or from further graying. Crigler’s countless cases are dwarfed by the copious emails, phone calls and hallway chats with scores of beleaguered community radio stations, needing help on simple questions to complicated matters. His discounted and pro bono time for stations could easily stretch into months and years added up, all told.

And though a dogged attorney, John Crigler has always been warm, funny and generous. His quirky, charming sense of humor could lighten any mood, as could his kindness. In a world where ostentatiousness can rule the day, John Crigler’s friendliness is his secret weapon.

He announced his departure as only John Crigler could.

“There’s something bracingly American about quitting — it takes a little grit — and something

genteelly British about retirement, maybe in carpet slippers and a shawl sweater,” he writes in his retirement letter. “I hope to spend much of my time in muddy boots and sweat shirts.

“Retirement suggests a weary retreat. Having successfully completed a number of longstanding projects, I feel more like Huck Finn, eager after a long journey down the Mississippi, to escape the clutches of Aunt Sally and strike out for the territory.”

One of the core values of community radio is passion. Create media because you believe in it. Give of yourself because our time on this planet goes by in the blink of an eye, and our affairs should best be spent in support of the greater good. John Crigler made a love of his into a career, and community radio is all the better because of it.

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