Radio Station Models to Crib From

Creating a community-based low-power radio station takes more than engineering expertise, it takes grassroots and political organizing, the ability to work with different types of people, fundraising savy, and a sensible organizational structure. The staff and alumni at Prometheus have put together a variety of tips and resources for you as you work to create your own station. Some of the information overlaps but it is all useful.

In this episode, Antioch Intern Caroline Nappo has compiled this look at several radio stations' organizational models.Your station could employ any one of these models. Mix and match, or even come up with something completely different. In addition to how you are going to structure your station internally, here are a couple of other things to consider:

WISU
History

Founded in the early sixties, this station broadcasts at over 13,000 watts out of Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. WISU serves as a classroom exercise in radio broadcasting for students of the University.

Organization

A handful of the University students oversee the day to day operation of the station, with the exception of two professional staff members; the station manager, and the engineer. Some students in more integral positions receive a salary. Most of the students' participation corresponds to school class crediting. Students are responsible for maintaining strict adherence to station guidelines and regulations.

This is not the place for improvisation and forging new aural territory. WISU's apparent mission is to run something akin to a commercial station, with the intention of breeding radio professionals. Like commercial stations, WISU requires certain songs be broadcast at specific intervals, such as songs that are in the current Billboard top ten. DJs are responsible for knowing which songs are in heavy or medium rotation and must play those songs according to their popularity. DJs in effect are there strictly to learn how to operate the boards, not to develop their own interests as a programmer.

WISU is a "laboratory experiment" for aspiring radio broadcasters.

While WISU features specialty programming like alternative music and blues, this station is not about fostering creativity. Their website showcases a "Hall of Fame" that lists WISU alumni who have gone on to exciting professional jobs. You can find them at www.indstate.edu or wisu.indstate.edu/. Although this is a community station, this functions more like a commercial station. If their extensive station manual is any indication, the management is serious about sticking to procedure. (The students must take a quiz each term to determine competence).

This model requires a large amount of people to fill all the positions. In this model, there is minimal full time staff. In this case WISU employs two, the station manager and the engineer. All other positions are volunteer or involve small part time salary. All of the other director positions are staffed by students, with the remaining positions filled by volunteers.

The station manager has final say over all decisions and issues pertaining to the other staff/volunteers. The amount of power within the station descends from the station manager on down. S/he ensures that the staff/volunteers are following the guidelines. This model is hierarchical, so those with greater responsibility have more of a voice in procedural matters. Participants are expected to comply with procedure. WISU, like most community stations, receives financial support from underwriters. However, their costs are partly absorbed by the university as well. The University also provides the space for the station and its facilities.

Wrap up

As stated in the manual, the station is a "laboratory experiment" for aspiring radio broadcasters. Their handbook warns that students are not there to "play radio". There are two full time staff, an engineer and station manager. The station manager has complete control along with the University. Volunteers/other PT staff are ISU students. Follows commercial broadcasting format and students are expected to adhere to format. Although students and other staff are the overwhelming majority, they really have little or no say in programming and format. The station is very high tech. It requires someone with specific knowledge of engineering for upkeep (hence one of two paid FT positions). Ideal for someone who doesn't want any surprises in his/her station, and only wishes for employees/volunteers to stick to a format.

 

{mospagebreak}WTRA
History

As a result of a long series of regulatory snafus and lack of interest in solving problems on part of commissioners, it was virtually impossible to obtain a non-commercial license from the 1980s until 2000. In 1986, the FCC only granted commercial licenses. For that, one needs thousands of dollars. Micropower radio as it is known today was not an option. That all changed with the formation of the John Hay Homes Tenants Rights Association (TRA) in Springfield, Illinois. They are a group that voiced the concerns of low income tenants. Although they successfully campaigned for several issues in Springfield, they found that the TRA was often inaccurately represented in the media. In order to better disseminate the news to its own constituency, the group hit upon the idea of starting a community radio station.

Despite numerous threats from local and federal authorities, M'banna continues to defy FCC mandates and flagrantly broadcasts Human Rights Radio 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Broadcasting with a one watt transmitter, the station's signal could ideally reach everyone in the John Hay housing project (and only in the John Hay housing project). Because of the highly segregated housing situation in Springfield, 80% of African Americans in the city could hear the signal on their radios. This is community radio in the truest sense. Even though the signal was not that strong, it reached just the people for whom it was intended. One place they can be heard on the internet is, radio.about.com/library/mp3feature/blmp3mbanna3.htm? terms.

Organization

M'banna Kantako has provided the space for WTRA, now Human Rights Radio, since its inception in 1986. The station has since separated ties with the Tenants Rights Association. Many see him as the founder of the modern Low Power FM movement. Despite numerous threats from local and federal authorities, M'banna continues to defy FCC mandates and flagrantly broadcasts Human Rights Radio 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He still broadcasts from his home to this day. Despite numerous demands from the FCC for him to cease, he proudly claims that he will never seek legal recognition from the government. M'banna maintains the station with the help of his community and his family, but the station is essentially autonomous. M'banna and his family essentially control every aspect of the station, although locals occasionally make appearances at the station. M'banna is considered the father of microradio, but he gets ample help from his wife, Dia and their two children.

Employing no real structure or hierarchy, this station is not comprised of boards, outreach and fundraising. Human Rights Radio makes its decisions without advisory councils and officially structured feedback. The community produces all of the media. Since no fundraising or publicity arm exists, M'banna and the other participants can devote all their energy to the station's production. With low-tech facilities, the station does not require a full time engineer. WTRA mainly relies on donated labor from other pirates/lpfm for the station's technical upkeep. Any number of people could keep this station running. The upkeep is minimal and mainly related to on air production.

Wrap Up

There is no staff. One person drives the station. They depend on the community for input and programming. There are no consistent funding sources. The station depends on donation from outside. There is no underwriting. It is a low tech station, so it's not too difficult to upkeep. This model is ideal for someone who wants to run a one-person operation or cannot stomach working with others.

 

{mospagebreak}WORT
History
WORT is a functioning, professional community station with radical roots. They attempt to nurture those ties while growing with the surrounding community.

Founded under the auspices of community radio licensing in 1975. WORT, out of Madison, Wisconsin, has broadcast for over 25 years. WORT originally envisioned a loosely structured station where anyone could have a show, and there would be no staff or specific positions. Since then, WORT has evolved into a structured station yet one that still strives for diverse programming reflective of the local community of southwest Wisconsin. Like WISU, there is a lot of detail in how the station should be run, but they are not trying to emulate a commercial radio format. After 25 years the station is still listener sponsored and supported by listeners in the Madison area, as well as underwriters. However, WORT specifies that the station will not accept contributions from any organization or business that engages in unfair discriminatory practices. They can be heard on the internet at www.netphoria.com/wort/. Their email address is wort@terracom.net.

Organization

WORT could not operate without a lot of participation. Over 200 volunteers and staff oversee the operations of WORT. This includes five full time staff, four part time staff, people who sit on the Board of Directors, and other positions staffed by volunteers. The Board of Directors are elected at the annual meeting for three year positions by members. The Board is involved in budget matters, hiring and firing of paid staff, and station policy implementation. The Board also oversees other WORT committees. The Board is overseen by a Community Advisory Board, comprised of people who listen to WORT but are not involved in day to day operations of the station. This way, the CAB can advise the station from an outsider's perspective. Thus, WORT operates under a system of specific checks and balance. It is not exactly a hierarchy since the Board of Directors are overseen by the listeners themselves. Listeners themselves cannot vote in any elections, which is the privilege of staff, volunteers and Board members.

Unlike Human Rights Radio, WORT is licensed by the FCC and complies with federal radio guidelines. WORT boasts a variety of eclectic programs, but also expects its volunteers to adhere to the FCC mandates on obscenity and indecency. They are not renegade broadcasters like M'banna and company in Illinois. Although, they are committed to offering broad and diverse programs, like radical talk shows and underground, independent music shows. In short, WORT is a functioning, professional community station with radical roots. They attempt to nurture those ties while growing with the surrounding community. Committees are set up to take care of fundraising and WORT does regular outreach to the community requesting pledges. Volunteers are encouraged to make donations although they are not required to do so.

At WORT, volunteers host shows that reflect the diversity of the community. Programming is scheduled in blocks so that shows with more similarities are grouped together. This is a principal adapted from commercial programming, based on the idea that listeners like predictability. In this way, WORT structures their programming and slots. They do not limit what sorts of shows can go on the air, only when.

Address:

WORT 88.9 FM
118 S. Bedford St.
Madison, WI 53703
PHONE: 608-256-2001

Wrap Up

A station wishing to model itself after WORT would need a large operating budget, large stable number of volunteers, and community support. WORT today employs a level of stability and efficiency for which a new station might strive. This sort of structure takes time to evolve. WORT started as an organization that wanted to be consensus driven, with no staff or titles. Today they employ a hefty amount of structure, but manage to maintain their wild ambitions for down home community radio.

 

{mospagebreak}Radio Volta
History

Radio Volta, the West Philly station run by a small collective, was born from coverage of the 2000 Republican National Convention, which was held in Philadelphia. After getting some interested people together, Radio Volta started broadcasting exclusively on the web. With no available spots on the FM dial (thanks to FCC third adjacent rulings), Radio Volta could not get a permit on their own to broadcast as a low power FM station.

Meanwhile, WPEB (West Philadelphia Educational Broadcasting), one of the last community stations to obtain a permit under Class D licensing, had fallen on hard times. In danger of losing their studio and transmitter, WPEB seemed destined to go under after a twenty year run. Fortunately for Radio Volta and WPEB, both groups agreed on a deal that would aid both of them. Volta helped the folks at WPEB out, and in return were allocated 40 hours a week on the FM dial. Today, Radio Volta can be heard on the web at www.radiovolta.org and on 88.1 in West Philly.

Organization

The station is completely volunteer run. There are no staff or paid positions. Volta is not a non-profit, so there is no board of directors governing the members of the collective. Volta also has no advisory board, but the station and its members are accessible enough that communication between the community and the station are not difficult.

Volta meets once a month to discuss issues and assess needs of the station. Each participant is a member of the collective and thus has a vital opinion to contribute.

Although loosely organized, the station does have some amount of structure. The station is divided up into five committees: programming, news, technical, fundraising, and outreach. All members of Volta are required to devote at least four hours a month to whichever committee s/he joins.

The Programming Committee is in charge of organizing the station, schedule, and volunteer coordination. The News Committee produces (you guessed it) Radio Volta news. The Technical Committee keeps the station equipment functioning and running. All of Volta's money is taken care of by the Fundraising Committee, comprised of members from Philadelphia's Independent Media Center, who oversee all of Volta's money. Finally, the Outreach Committee does Volta's public relations, getting the word out, turning on potential listeners, and getting people interested in community radio.

All DJs must audition for a slot, which could be for the web or FM. After a one month probationary period, DJs will be kept on permanently or told to skedaddle. DJs also are required to contribute ten dollars a month to the Volta fund. Volta meets once a month to discuss issues and assess needs of the station. Each participant is a member of the collective and thus has a vital opinion to contribute.

Address

Radio Volta
4821 Baltimore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Phone: 215-476-8068

Wrap Up

Radio Volta works collectively, not hierarchically. Everyone puts work into maintaining the station and contributing feedback. There are no boards. The station is small enough to be managed by a handful of people working together on a consensus basis. Funding and upkeep comes from outside volunteers, groups and benefits. The station has no particular format for structuring shows. As a relatively nascent group, Radio Volta's structure is evolving. They take on more structure as they grow, but they are not rigid.

 

{mospagebreak}WRPI
History

WRPI is both a community and college radio station, broadcasting out of the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The station grew from a campus news show broadcasted in the late 40s on another local station, WHAZ. The students responsible for the show started broadcasting on an AM carrier current, eventually moving to the FM dial. Today WRPI broadcasts at 10,000 watts in Troy, serving as a community vehicle for the RPI campus, while also serving the community at large in the Troy area.

Organization

WRPI runs with the help of about 150 volunteers. Of course, being a college, not all of these volunteers can work year round. This is where the greater community comes in. When students cannot fill the slots at the station, non student volunteers make sure that the station keeps running.The station is completely volunteer run, with the lone exception of the person who cares for the transmitter.

The volunteers all serve under one of the various director positions that make up the Executive Committee ("E-comm"). These are; the president, station manager, chief engineer, program director, public relations, business manager, and member at large.

The President is the main rep for WRPI, overseeing meetings and commiserating with outside groups. The Station Manager essentially runs the station, making sure it is in order. The Chief Engineer does what engineers do, and the Program Director takes care of the station's programming. The Public Relations person is responsible for station publicity and promotion, and the Business Manager handles the finances. Finally, the Member at Large manages other miscellany, like intern training, volunteer disputes, and meeting times.

Each of these major positions have sub positions, which are rather amorphous and created as needed. The only sub positions which are always filled are the News Director, Music Director, and Webmaster positions. Sub officer positions can be created as need be, upon approval by the Executive Committee. Volunteers will find themselves doing various jobs. Just because one's title specifies one aspect of broadcasting doesn't mean one can't help in other areas.

The Executive Committee is comprised entirely of RPI students. With the reality of enrollment fluctuation, positions change frequently as does the station schedule. The station structure is specific, but not so rigid that it cannot accept modifications every few weeks.

In addition to the Executive Committee, the station is supported by an outside group called The Friends of WRPI. The group helps bridge the gap between the college and outside community, and also raises money for the station. Besides the help from The Friends of WRPI, the station is primarily funded by the Student Union. WRPI follows FCC guidelines. Unlike WISU, the students have much more control over how the station is run and its day to day operations. From its beginnings as a radio club in the former part of the last century, WRPI has evolved into a station that is simultaneously, neatly structured and fluid.

Address

WRPI 91.5 FM
1 WRPI Plaza
Troy, New York 12180
PHONE
:requests: 518-276-6248
business: 518-276-2648
FAX: 518-276-2360

Wrap Up

WRPI is run by all volunteers, except one staff person who handles the transmitter. All executive positions are student run. They rely on University and community support. Ideal for a college/university looking to run a station democratically while nurturing ties with outside community. Also ideal for any group that predicts high volunteer turnover. Would require a large amount of people to fill positions to mirror this model, though perhaps could be replicated on a smaller scale. Works hierarchically but with a loose hierarchy. Due to the nature of the institution, turnover is too high for any one person to assume too much power.


{mospagebreak}WFMU
History

WFMU is a non-commercial, educational radio station run by Auricle Communications, a non-profit group. It is a licensed station by the FCC. The station strives for a diverse audience, diverse programming and educational programming. They do this by providing programs of educational interest along with stressing diversity in its program scheduling and within specific programs. They aim to promote radio as a creative medium and address community issues. They educate the community about private, non-profit and governmental services available to them. Their goal with these techniques is for the listeners to overcome biases and broaden their horizons. Visit them on the web at www.wfmu.org. Hear them on the web at www.wfmu.org/ssaudionet.shtml.

Organization

WFMU is mainly funded through listener contributions. The Auricle board makes all of the final decisions about the station. There is a General Manager (GM) appointed by the board to supervise the station's day-to-day operations. The GM is an employee of the Auricle board. There are four other full time employees from the Auricle board; the Office Manager, the Catalog Director, the Music Director and the Volunteer Director. There are two part-time employees from the Auricle board; the producer of Jewish Music in the morning, and a Music Director Assistant. The Auricle is also in charge of hiring contractors for broadcast engineering, legal matters and computer services.

There is a staff advisory committee of seven people elected annually, by the staff. The objective of this committee is to incorporate the concerns of the staff into the station's decision making. They also handle programming and volunteer grievances when they occur. They meet four times a year, with five members representing a quorum. The meetings are facilitated by a chair person who is a member of the SAC. They can not serve longer than six months. The chair person is responsible for: rescheduling meetings if needed, preparing and posting an agenda, facilitating the meeting, and getting typewritten minutes of each meeting posted on the staff bulletin board within one week.

Each member of the SAC is responsible for; attending a minimum of six meetings a year, being prepared to serve on the budget sub-committee, having a significant influence on station policy, listening to the station more often and more critically then they might have previously, and responding to and seeking out the input of other staff members. Staff members may nominate themselves for the SAC. Any person with a station duty on or off air for one fiscal year is eligible to run for the SAC. Nominations start at the second to last meeting of the fiscal year and run until the last staff meeting of the year with one additional week. Any person with a regular station duty for a minimum of six months is defined as a "staff" member and can vote in elections.

Everyone with a regular air slot must involve themselves with some aspect of the station outside of their air slot. To acquire an air slot, one must also do the following; put in a minimum of three hours either pre or post marathon volunteer work in addition to any time working on premiums for their own programs, put in extra time volunteering during the marathon, read everything listed in the station business section of the staff bulletin board, be aware of any station policy changes, attend staff meetings, and do at least 80% of their programs each scheduled period. DJs are not allowed to promote or feature anything they have a personal interest in. They can not single out a particular artist, label, item or event from other elements in a program for special mention.

The budget committee is made up of the GM and the OM. All full-time, paid staff members will be encouraged to attend all budget committee meetings. The budget committee makes suggestions to the Auricle Board regarding the station's budgetary needs for the following year by May 15th. If expenses are not agreed upon by June 1st, they are considered recommendations to the Auricle board. The GM and the budget committee make their best attempts to resolve any disputed budget lines by June 15th with the hope to agree upon a plan for the following year, beginning July 1st. The Auricle must approve the plan at their next meeting. The GM is hired by Auricle Communications.

The General Manager directs and manages all the paid personnel of the station. The GM may delegate other hierarchical relationships between full and part time employees. The GM manages the technical, financial and programming aspects of the station. On a day-to-day basis, the GM's responsibilities include: development, membership and fulfillment services, broadcasting operations, employee management, publications and incentives production, training and scheduling of producers and programmers, maintenance of station facilities, contracts and other business dealings in the average course of business and management of the station's programming, finances and fundraising efforts.

The Program Director supervises the station's day-to-day programming and reports to the GM. The PD is also responsible for auditioning prospective programmers, implementation of the programming schedule, and keeping the programs flowing on the air.

The Chief Operator is required to maintain the station's public file, ownership reports, all filings required by the FCC. They are also responsible for abiding by all of the FCC's rules, especially regarding airtime for political candidates. The CO also works with engineers and contractors for care of the station's facilities. They are responsible for the compliance of all of the producers, announcers and programmers with rules and regulations.

The Office Manager calculates the station's budget exclusively using all fundraising plans and expenditures.

Address

WFMU
PO Box 5101
Hoboken, NJ 07030
PHONE:
On air: 201-200-9368
Office: 201-521-1416

Wrap Up

WFMU is a radio station striving to provide an alternative service to the approach commercial radio along with other non-commercial stations provide. They oppose special interest programs and stress diversity. They have two main goals behind their station. They are educational and do not support the narrow classifications of style and genre that mainly exist in the marketing of music found in most American college and community stations.

 

{mospagebreak}WMMT
History
WMMT prides itself on being the voice of the Appalachian community - more than a community radio station, it is a vehicle for the traditionally disenfranchised people of that region.

WMMT prides itself on being the voice of the Appalachian community. They are the only station produced by Appalachians for Appalachians. The station's signal originates atop Pine Mountain in Kentucky, but can be heard in five states. It is heard as far away as Boone, North Carolina and southern West Virginia. WMMT was founded in 1985 as a component of Appalshop, the community media and cultural group of Appalachia.

Whom your station employs is something up for consideration. Although many of the stations profiled in this handbook seek to work with anyone interested in radio, some communities go deeper. WMMT in Whitesburg, Kentucky is more than a community radio station. It is a vehicle for traditionally disenfranchised people: the people of Appalachia. WMMT was founded in 1985 as an extension of Appalshop, the media and cultural center of Appalachia. WMMT is run completely by workers, with the mission of spreading the word on Appalachians issues, ideas, and culture.

For more information on WMMT and Appalshop, or to hear them on the web, visit: www.appalshop.org, ns.appalshop.org/wmmt/broadcast.htm, or wmmtfm@appalshop.org

Address

WMMT
91 Madison St.
Whitesburg, Kentucky 41858
PHONE: 606-633-0108 WFHB

 

{mospagebreak}WFHB
History

WFHB (Firehouse Broadcasting) started as the dream of radio enthusiasts from Bloomington in the early 1970s. The station didn't go on until 1993.

They can be found on the web at www.wfhb.org/. You can email them at wfhb@wfhb.org.

Organization
Let the aspirations of Firehouse Broadcasting of Bloomington, Indiana serve as a cautionary tale!

Let the aspirations of Firehouse Broadcasting of Bloomington, Indiana serve as a cautionary tale! WFHB started out with an interesting, if not noble, intention: to make a community station that does not serve any one segment of the community more than another.

The founders understood that disenfranchised groups deserved a place on the airwaves, but in WFHB's utopian ideal, the programming would be distributed equally. All groups would have a voice together. WFHB's apparent mission in undertaking such a sizable task was to build a community radio station that reflected all of the community in a balanced manner, thus leaving no one out. WFHB would not just be a tool for the leftist agenda. WFHB went on the air in 1993, determined to carry on their mission of not "catering" to any one group, especially the left.

As WFHB went on to eschew more controversial programming, some started to wonder about the station's neutrality. In 1996, an editorial in a local newspaper charged that WFHB by not airing controversial programs, in effect was catering to the interests of the right. Ironically, the station seemingly began to do just what it purported not to do. In light of the fact that listeners are the backbone of community radio, WFHB wanted to make sure that its station was not exclusive to any listener. Some listeners pointed out that in maintaining a position of neutrality, WFHB was becoming something not unlike commercial radio. This position skirts controversial issues by also claiming neutrality. Critics of the neutrality mission say that community radio will agitate some people no matter how neutral. Any station trying to showcase all voices in a community could stand to embrace those tensions that come from a diverse group. In trying to distance itself from controversy and bias, some Bloomington listeners have felt that WFHB does not always accurately reflect the voices of the community.

Address

PO Box 1973
Bloomington, Indiana 47402
PHONE: 812-323-1200 FAX: 812-323-0320

For more information, see Kevin Howley's article "WFHB and the Legacy of Listener-Sponsored Radio" in the October Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television