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Community Broadcaster: Acting on Equity

Community radio should keep labor fairness in mind

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

Community radio attracts so many talented individuals who devote time managing and shepherding stations through many adventures. Virtually all of these people do what they do for the love of their local stations. So, at a time of the year when many community media organizations are nearing the end of the fiscal year, this is a gentle encouragement to think about these selfless individuals and their futures.

To be sure, no one is getting rich off running a community radio station. But that isn’t an excuse for keeping them destitute either.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Community Radio Needs You]

My timeline the last few months has been dotted with stories of talented community radio general managers, journalists and other leaders leaving for greener pastures. The departures all have a similar ring: opportunities you can’t pass up and offers that are too good, among other reasons. Less in the public eye are issues stations can improve upon.

Not every station has the resources currently to afford staff. But if your community radio station does have staff, attracting gifted people and keeping them happy means more than promising them a fulfilling role. It means valuing their contributions by treating them like professionals who care about your organization.

Not enough of us give thought to drawing in and retaining the best people. Moreover, having limited resources is used not as a challenge to do better, but a rationalization to do nothing. Thus the backchannel stories are troubling: staff who had to take extra jobs to support their families on a station salary; stations that asked for 60-hour work weeks and little appreciation; stations that would not offer health insurance; unions that failed to advocate for even a cost of living increase in a decade or more. The most problematic boards and senior leadership in these scenarios suggest a community radio job as a privilege and other audacious proclamations directly opposed to labor fairness, diversity and equity.

And we wonder why stations struggle. Look not much further than turnover and a lack of investment in people who care.

I speak about these matters from a place of compassion for stations, but also direct experience with station myopia. I worked for a community radio station for years without a penny extra in wages. Like many station staffers, I accepted such because the organization was meaningful to me. However, I suspect a lot of station staffers make similar excuses. In the end, this acceptance does not make for forward-thinking dynamics. It may contribute to dissatisfaction instead. And the people who should act to make these situations better are only emboldened to advocate for quasi-austerity or, worse still, inaction.

As many nonprofits get ready to kick off the new fiscal year, don’t be that station. Don’t treat the people who love your organization and give so much of their time and ideas to its betterment like people whose lives you should not care about. And don’t fall back on the collective shoulder shrug to address the needs of community radio.

Different community radio stations are faced with different local conditions, so it is impossible to be prescriptive about how organizations should remedy these matters. However, a commitment to change is a start. From staff evaluations to studying area pay trends to investigating healthcare options, there is a lot boards and senior leaders can do. Equity and fairness starts at home.

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