Late last year, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters announced it would host a trio of regional summits for its membership. Now that events have been unveiled, why these regional summits matter for community radio bears exploration.
I have had the privilege of working with a variety of community radio stations nationwide as well as in Puerto Rico. I am often struck by the resilience of those individuals involved in operating community media organizations. Their passion and determination is exceptional. How leaders manage to do so much with so few resources is perhaps the original media startup story. Today, there’s universal fascination with nonprofit local media projects, but community radio was the voice of cities everywhere long before it was cool.
Stations like KFAI, which was attacked on air recently by a commercial radio neighbor, do a public service that is valued. They set an example more media should be motivated by.
Despite that enthusiasm from people involved in volunteer inspired media, the road for leading a great community radio station is not easy. There’s very little training on the myriad aspects of community media, and the demands on a very small core of managers can be tremendous. At once, you are asked to be a fundraising expert, a human resources professional, a technology whiz and a visionary who can rally people to one’s organization. Boards of directors have high expectations. All of it can equate to a lot of pressure. Sometimes that stress and long hours mean that relationships turn sour. Even when things are positive, there is a great deal of turnover at stations, as help often does not come and the support station staff persons need is not so available.
During my days as a community radio program director, I found the environment to be one of constant flux. When I came into my job, there was literally a stack of papers, some old compact discs and a used cereal bowl in the office. No policies, no procedures and no infrastructure to speak of were in place. Programming needed help, pledge drives were an exercise in inventiveness and volunteer energy needed the right channeling. I had to scramble to create processes for 200 volunteers. Somehow I also had to prime myself to be effective at a job I had never really done before.
After many arduous programming committee meetings and endless email chains litigating and micromanaging details that were, at the end of the day, irrelevant, trust me when I say I know community radio’s biggest pains.
Eleven years later, I had charted the way for marvelous, award-winning programming, community engagement and a large social media presence, but it was virtually all forged as a trial by fire. I would like to think I did reasonably well, but have to wonder how much better I would have done with a little bit of training, which I didn’t have available to me at the time, save for annual NFCB conferences. I made many more mistakes than I should have. Such is sadly the case for a lot of gifted community radio people.
NFCB is hosting regional summits in the Midwest and on the East and West Coasts to take a deeper dive into the interactive shared learning much of community radio seldom has access to regularly, because it’s expensive and often far away from home. Most of us learn best when it’s person-to-person. Getting access to experts and proven trailblazers is not simple. Whenever I got such a chance, I jumped to it. Regional Summits are just that sort of moment.
Bringing together a mix of talented minds from the nonprofit, journalism and public media world, the regional summits are an extension of NFCB’s Community Media Conference. In keeping with NFCB’s decades-long tradition of community radio education, these summits present one of the only opportunities for community media learning available.
If you are starting with or leading a community radio station, you have probably struggled at times to get the guidance that would assist you. The need for mentorship and guidance is real. Many of us as community radio directors, managers and aspirants, myself included, would have benefitted over the years to have some help, or a sounding board, for our efforts. Even if you cannot make a regional summit, training is an essential part of helping your growth. Seeking out leadership development now will save you headaches later.