Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with 10 community radio stations from around the country to share content innovations from peer community stations that have responded to local emergencies over the past year. Community stations are the true heartbeat of America that provide a vital public link to under-served audiences in small, rural, indigenous, and even major urban centers. In the face of the pandemic and local natural disasters, these stations have recently altered their music, information, and public service, and even the way and what they broadcast, to meet local challenges. No consultants, corporate directives, or outside influences. Just incredibly nimble, re-active and humble public servants doing their thankless jobs.
Here are just some of the new tactics community radio stations have employed—
KWLP “The Peach” in Peach Springs, AZ
- “The local radio station of the Hualapai Nation!” provided 400 FM radios to the community to ensure people without Internet access could receive information about the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Broadcast Tribal Council meetings live on air as in person meetings were restricted
WXPR-FM “Local. Public. Radio.” in Rhinelander, WI
Partnered with Nicolet College and ArtStart to present the three-part “Working From Home” project that highlights local artists during the pandemic
- The Home Grown Concert Series – on air and on video stream
- Pandemic Portraits – community members create their own postcard art that will be hung in the Nicolet Gallery, featured on social media, and preserved in Nicolet College’s time capsule marking the pandemic
- Virtual Quarantine Exhibition – Virtual Gallery Tour of local artists’ works at the Quarantine Exhibition at ArtStart
WJFF “Radio Catskill” in Jeffersonville, NY
- During the pandemic, WJFF initially aired local community interviews during “All Things Considered” once per hour from 4-7 p.m.
- Listener feedback indicated that listeners wanted to hear ATC uninterrupted, so the station created a daily half-hour program airing at 6:30 p.m. called “The Local Edition” for local interviews that is longer, promotable and consistent
KIND-LPFM “Radio Indigena” in Oxnard, CA
- The hosts of Radio Indigena were able to provide information to Indigenous Mexican farmworkers due to their ability to switch between Spanish, Mixteco, Zapoteco, Purepecha, Triqui and other indigenous languages.
KMRE “Community Powered” College Station, TX
Created a series titled “KMRE Coronavirus Stories” that invited the community to explore the impact of the pandemic on Whatcom County residents.
- Community contributors interviewed other residents and produced 5-to-25-minute episodes
- 32 episodes aired on KMRE and shared as a podcast on their website
KCAW-FM “Raven Radio” in Sitka, AK
- Created a remote studio for Mt. Edgecumbe High School Radio Club and broadcast their programming on the station
- Initiated Virtual Volunteer Training
- Created second air studio with COVID prevention (Air filtration, sanitizing, safety check in station) to bring live hosts back on air
WTIP “North Shore Community Radio” in Grand Marais, MN
- Weekly interviews with County Health Department, local hospital, and clinic directors
- Volunteer music hosts set up home recording studios to keep music shows on air
- WTIP became a haven to turn to and a break from the intense news the last year
- “Shows exactly why the WTIP founders created this community station”
KSQD “Community Radio” in Santa Cruz, CA
- KSQD Public Affairs Volunteers reported around the clock from shelters and firefighter briefings
- Opened station phone lines to help organize help – shelter, goods, food for fire victims
- Connected listeners with vital information about shelter, where to take pets, how to receive food
KOPN “Independent Community Radio” in Columbia, MO
- Local family physician broadcast live for a half-hour each weekday morning to talk about:
- Latest case numbers
- Testing sites
- Health ordinances
- Interviews with local elected officials about local policies
- Breaking news about new and changing testing sites
- Grassroots communication to increase vaccine access in the region
KPDO-FM “Pescadero Radio” in Pescadero, CA
Created content related to the CZU August Lightning Complex Fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties.
- Stories about the experiences of Local Firefighters and Fire Brigades
- Stories about landowners, State and Local Parks and Open Space Districts turning to Native American practices to use controlled burns to prevent future wildfires
- This content includes interviews and stories about the preparation, practice, and future use of prescribed/controlled burns.
WBFY “Belfast Community Radio” Belfast, ME
- Switched hosts to remote production
- Supported local arts groups by creating radio shows in lieu of their in-person events
- Hosted radio theatre produced by a local actors’ troupe
- Hosted monthly program of contra dance music in place of a public dancing event
- Also hosted an 8-hour marathon version of a New Year’s Eve festival using recordings made live at events in prior years
WERU “Community Radio” in Blue Hill, ME & WMPG “Listener-Sponsored, Volunteer-Powered Free Speech Radio” in Gorham, ME
These two stations are sharing public affairs programs to increase statewide coverage of features important to their communities.
- The Democracy Forum (in partnership with the League of Women Voters of Maine) recently began airing on WMPG in addition to WERU
- OUT Cast (a program featuring LGBTQ topics) now airs on WERU in addition to WMPG
The 10 stations to which I presented, most of which are not from the list above, are part of the National Federation of Community Broadcaster (NFCB) “Community Counts Initiative,” which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I’ve often said that community radio stations are the Peace Corp of radio, and their latest efforts only reinforce their critical existence and the benefits the provide their audiences.
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