Managing Your Station
- Key Principles
- Mixing Staff & Volunteers
- Staff Roles & Responsibilities
- What A Manager Needs
- Line Management
- Managing Volunteers
- Rules & Agreements
- Supporting The Sinner
- Other Stations
Congratulations. OFCOM have recognised the brilliance of your licence application. You’ve got your key partners in place and you are ready to replicate the thrill of your RSL broadcasts for up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You may be in for a surprise. Running an RSL tends to be a very intense experience. You run around like a headless chicken before your broadcast, run even faster while you are on air, and then you probably have a long period to recover and review your experiences. Permanent broadcasting is an entirely different matter – like switching from running a sprint to a marathon.
You can spot the few dozen folk who have been involved in running the pilot Access Radio stations. They generally have a happy grin, and still retain traces of a charismatic demeanour. But spend a bit more time in their company and you spot the red rims to their eyes, the occasional tic that betrays too little sleep and too much caffeine. But it’s the thousand yard stare that’s the real give away – these people have been places and seen things that no human being should ever have to see. And still they smile. 😉
You must maintain a steady pace, and to do that you must be aware of what your limitations are. There may be a strong temptation to attempt to do more than your resources will allow. In this chapter we will explain how to get the most from your volunteers and staff without anyone exhausting themselves or burning out. We will show how you can get the most value from your limited resources. We will look at how the relationships within your station, between volunteers, staff and directors can be made to work for you rather than becoming problematic. And we will discuss how you can market and publicise your station with your listeners and your community.
Many of these topics are covered in great length in specialist textbooks. If you are new to voluntary sector management, your reading should stretch well beyond this Toolkit. But for now, this chapter should offer you a useful overview of the range of expertise a station manager is likely to need.
Be part of your community
A community radio station should be managed by the community, from the community and for the community. In practice that usually means a broad-based community partnership will form the Board of Directors and/ or steering group. But you can’t run a community radio station purely by committee. So turning their values and vision into efficient and effective day-to-day management is the key role of the manager or management team. It is essential the manager knows as much as possible about the community culturally, demographically and with regard to local issues. This is an important point to consider when appointing (or applying for) community radio management positions.
There are also situations where community radio is brought to a community by an outside agency. All the ‘community’ criteria apply but they might evolve differently. If you are from an outside agency in that role, growing the community links might not be your most pressing operational priority but that does not lessen its importance. The task ahead of you in sowing the seeds for grassroots support, and ultimately management, is all the more important for the fact that you are not of that community.
You are not running a radio station
You are actually running a community centre, a training college, a refuge, a day-care unit, a debating hall and a social club – albeit one which just happens to make radio. You should be pleased to be serving all of those functions – they add up to the reason you exist. Your management team needs to have or gain all the expertise required to fulfil your role as a community radio station. Broadcasting is only one part of the equation, and the quality or popularity of that broadcasting may be much less important than the quality and extent of your service to the community. Having said that, with your station serving so many functions, always keep in mind your core functions – what it is you are there to do. If activities are not funded, or not in keeping with your basic objectives, you should ask yourself why you are doing them.
Get your training right
Of all the tasks undertaken by a community radio manager, establishing and maintaining successful training schemes, whether formal or informal, will probably be the most important. The formal training you offer is likely to form a significant source of income for your station, and a good partner college may offer wider benefits of advice, support and resources. The training you offer should fit the needs of your volunteers and offer them progression and personal development to whatever level their abilities and ambition allow. (see a mass of new resources in the Training section)
Be firm and fair with your volunteers
The biggest difference between voluntary sector management and other types is that volunteers are there because they want to be involved, not because you are paying them. They didn’t volunteer to be abused, exploited or shouted at. On the other hand they must be aware of their duties and responsibilities. Be utterly transparent about the relationship between the station and its volunteers. They must know what they can expect from you, and the station must be clear what standards of commitment and behaviour is expected from volunteers. Both parties must know what will happen if such agreements are breached (see Rules & Agreements )
Let community radio be your passion, not your obsession
If community radio is not your passion, you probably shouldn’t be involved at all. Typically community radio staff and key workers are driven by their love of the medium and inspired by the potential to change lives and whole communities. But in the desire to achieve so much, it is all too easy to do too much. Staff and key volunteers will soon find themselves invited to meeting and events every night of the week. It is impossible to do it all. Community radio stations around the country – including ours – have discovered to their enormous cost that exhaustion and burn-out are real risks, and can lose you the very people who have the most to offer. (see Motivation & Stress)
Community radio managers need:
- to be part of their community
- a wide range of management and community skills
- a firm hand
- a calm head
- good communication and diplomacy skills
- to be willing to do the dull stuff
Know when to talk, when to listen and when to act.
Community radio is by its nature democratic. In practice this doesn’t mean people electing the steering group at the AGM then forgetting about it for a year, it generally means people standing up simultaneously and shouting at each other (or you) about the wheres, whats and whys of station strategy and policy. Those voices need to be heard and considered and, then if necessary acted upon. That does not mean that every opinion is equally informed or that every idea is equally realistic, and many will be incompatible with each other. The management need to know when to mediate, when to think, and when to stop listening and start acting. Your management structures need to allow someone the authority to take the final decisions and to be clear about what happens to community ideas when they are presented to the station . It’s not enough to say ‘thanks for your input’ and file the letter.
It is dull, but filling in forms to apply for funding and monitor your activities, taking minutes at meetings and distributing them, logging volunteer activities and community contacts, filling in tax returns and performing all the other bureaucratic and administrative tasks involved in running a community radio station is absolutely vital. The temptation to not bother is always strong, and always devastatingly destructive. (see Basic Financial Management and subsequent sections)
Mixing staff and volunteers
While there are large variations within the sector, most community radio stations are run by a mix of paid staff and volunteers. Typically, a group may begin as a purely voluntary project, but by the time it is receiving significant funding for training or community projects, it will feel the need to employ an administrator or project manager.
There is no official reason why a community radio station couldn’t be run entirely by unpaid volunteers, but our experience suggests it is impractical. Applicants for full-time community radio licenses typically propose a staff of around three or four full time positions. That’s three or four people who between them may need to be project manager, administrator, trainer, accountant, secretary, community worker, youth worker, technician, publicist, producer, diplomat, fundraiser, social worker, counsellor, painter, decorator, carpenter, tea-maker, cleaner and, oh yeah, broadcaster.
Management and administrative roles are not always especially appealing to volunteers. They are often selfless, thankless tasks. The staff are there to enable the volunteers to train, to broadcast and to serve their community, and get little of the glory themselves. With perhaps somewhere between 50 and 100 volunteers, that is a lot of human resources if used properly, and an awful lot of headaches if not. The managers of a community radio station may sometimes feel like the chauffeurs of a finely tuned limousine, but more often they will feel like they are herding hyperactive cats – an endlessly demanding and sometimes wildly frustrating experience. It is a lot to ask of an unpaid volunteer – especially if they have other career or family commitments. For a sustainable, long-term future, professional management should be considered essential – which is not to say that volunteers shouldn’t be encouraged to be part of the management team.
The chemistry which develops between paid staff and unpaid volunteers is a key component in the success or failure of a community radio station. The relationship requires mutual respect, mutual awareness of responsibilities, needs and duties, and perhaps most importantly, mutual trust. All of these factors require your internal communications to be working well.
If the respect, understanding and trust between volunteers and staff breaks down, the station is in deep trouble. It is vital that neither staff members or volunteers feel that one is ‘outranked’ by the other. The role of each is different, and equally important. Volunteers are the lifeblood of your station, without them your existence is meaningless. Volunteers become involved to help and support your station, not to be bossed around. (see Volunteers).
It’s a common mistake to undervalue the range of skills, abilities, contacts and general usefulness of your volunteers. If you have a hundred volunteers, then you can be sure they will include people with professional experience in everything from plumbing to PR. There might be an accountancy graduate and an untrained, unemployed artistic genius who would love to design your flyers and posters. Often you won’t know unless you ask, whether individually at point of first contact or through your internal communications such as a newsletter or notice board.
The staff and volunteer mix:
- Is a healthy balance.
- Needs to be based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
- Is a valuable mix of experiences and abilities
- Is lubricated by good communication
Managing a station is a 24/7 activity. You can’t pay people to cover all that time, so you will be dependent on volunteers to some extent keep the station running. That is also good for the culture at the station. If the volunteers feel like it is theirs, a microphone is much less likely to walk out the door. If it does, everybody takes it personally, and there is outrage across the board. When you are struggling with few resources it is vital to have that goodwill. If you can build that family sense of everyone working together, when you can’t do everything or something goes wrong, your volunteers are likely to be forgiving. If everything is very policy led and hierarchical, as soon as anything goes wrong, they are very likely to blame you and your structures.
It’s also not enough that you get these things right, you have to assure the volunteers that it’s right. So again, effective communication with your volunteers is crucial – don’t presume because you’ve said something once that it’s been understood (see Volunteer Induction).
Staff roles and responsibilities
Generally the less appealing tasks involved in community radio are the ones you have to pay people to do. Top of the list is usually admin work – completing project monitoring and evaluation forms for funders, generating and processing invoices, keeping track of bills and so on. Many community groups (not just radio stations) will employ a part-time administrator long before they employ a full-time project manager. Once up and running, full-time community radio stations will typically employ staff with responsibilities broadly as follows:
- Station/ Project manager
- Radio trainer
- Community development/ outreach worker
- Volunteer support worker
- IT manager and trainer
- Business development worker
Usually those roles will be combined into a smaller number of positions, so one person might be employed as technician and volunteer support worker. Alternatively two or three part-time employees with different roles could replace one full time specialist. You can also consider using freelances for some roles that are ‘seasonal’ such as training.
Mixing the staff and the board
You need to be completely clear about the appropriate levels of involvement of the board. The board’s functions should be
- Representation of the community
- Supporting staff/volunteers
- Ensuring due diligence.
The role of a director is not to crawl all over the day-to-day activities at the station, which is likely to cause problems with authority and morale. And yet the responsibility of a director to ensure due diligence does entitle him or her to full access to the station’s activities. It is a fine balance, but eventually returns to mutual respect and trust. The board are all-powerful, but should always remember that the secret of wielding power is knowing when not to use it.
What a manager needs:
A secure basis of employment
Managers (even unpaid ones) needs absolute clarity about how they are expected to perform their function. This should be broadly and clearly set out in the terms and conditions agreed when an employment contract is signed, although the finer details may be agreed as a matter of ongoing management policies. It must be totally transparent to each member of the management chain exactly what they have authority and responsibility for, and to whom they are accountable. A good manager needs all three, and needs to be able to distinguish between them.
As a manager you need authority to take decisions – in other words you need to have been given the power or right to undertake the activities necessary to do your job. You can’t run a station properly if you need to approach the Board for permission to buy a packet of paper clips or give a colleague a day off. This also works in reverse, decisions should not be taken by those who do not have the authority. Remember that the person who speaks with most authority is not always the person who acts with most authority. Be wary of the strident volunteers or ambitious junior staff members who take it upon themselves act beyond their authority. If authority is undermined or exercised badly, so too are responsibility and accountability. Of course there will also be times when station staff do need to refer decisions up to Board level. It is up to Board and management to clearly establish the appropriate limits to authority, which will often depend on the relative experience and capabilities at each level. It is up to each station to decide where those limits lie.
If you are responsible for something, you are obliged or expected to do it. This is different to authority because it does not necessarily involve freedom to decide what is or is not done. A member of staff may be responsible for training volunteers, but not have the authority to decide the curriculum of the course. So the authority over training might reside with the station manager and the partner college, while the responsibility for it lies with the member of staff.
You are accountable if you are obliged to answer, explain or justify yourself to those who delegate authority and responsibility to you. In any voluntary organisation everyone, from the newest volunteer to the most senior member of the board, should be accountable to someone and know who that someone is. In the case of the Board, legally speaking, that someone is Company House and/or the Charities Commission, and OFCOM for sticking to the promises made in your license. In a broader sense the Board and the station as a whole is responsible to the community it serves and your ‘promise of performance’ to OFCOM makes it clear that this is not just some ‘good thing’ to be given a token nod in passing but must be a structurally clear part of how your radio station runs.
The great community radio manager will also have:
Most management is based upon structures, ensuring that the group or station is organised in a way that helps ensure efficient and effective activities. Leadership ability is above and such beyond formal structures. A good leader can inspire others, bring out the best in their colleagues and volunteers, and create a positive, creative, happy working environment.
A manager needs:
A manager with poor leadership skills might perform their tasks efficiently enough, but will soon find it difficult to maintain the interest of volunteers and staff, who may drift away or under-perform at work. A great leader with poor management skills may gather a dynamic team around him, but the station is liable to be pulled in many different directions or find itself focussed to an unhealthy extent on that one charismatic individual. This is obviously unsustainable.
You are in control of your station if you are aware of everything that happens in your station, and have agreed to (or sometimes dictated) the activities of all your colleagues. It is possible to manage a project – sometimes for a surprising length of time – without really being in control of it. You can find yourself, by luck or judgement, overseeing a team who all have shared objectives and do their own jobs well, leaving you looking great. But if as manager you are not aware of how your colleagues work, how they are making their decisions and the processes they use, you could find yourself in deep trouble when something goes wrong or one or two colleagues are suddenly taken ill or leave their job. You generally only find out how well controlled a station is when something goes wrong. A good station manager is in control of their station without becoming a ‘controlling influence’ or ‘control freak.’ This is, obviously, a fine balancing act.
People involved in community radio often tend to be quite egalitarian types. For the most part they don’t like to pull rank and order other people around. That is probably a very healthy attitude. The atmosphere around most stations is of everyone mucking in together, and staff will often do bits and pieces of each other’s jobs on any given day. In those circumstances it is easy to lose sight of who has responsibility for what. Every buck has to stop somewhere. The classic management chain (see Figure **) has the senior manager employed by the governing body, or Board. The Board are legally obliged to ensure good management and the manager’s job is at risk if he/she doesn’t provide it. There should then be a clear chain of responsibility, if not command, all the way down to volunteers. Everyone should be clear about what – and who – they have responsibility for.
Human resources management
It’s very easy for the management to become so wrapped up in the progress and problems of volunteers, or hitting the next targets for funders that they forget about their staff. But to be a good community radio station, a project also needs to be a good employer, a factor with even greater importance if your lack of resources requires a greater call on the goodwill of your station team. Larger community radio stations might think about employing a specialist human resources manager, or investing in the services of an HR consultancy firm, of which there are many specialising in the not-for-profit sector (your local voluntary sector umbrella group should have a list.) At the very least, station managers need to make themselves aware of all the issues involved in this important part of management. Human resources management skills include:
Human resources management
- Is just as important in community radio as anywhere else
- Should be considered in much more depth than we can spare/do? here.
- Recruiting the best staff
- Fulfilling your obligations under employment laws
- Drawing up binding, fair and effective employment contracts
- Ensuring the health and safety of employees
- Ensuring good systems of staff support, supervision and appraisal
- Drafting and enforcing equal opportunities policies
- Establishing and enforcing staff disciplinary and grievance procedures
- Overseeing entitlements, benefits, pensions etc.
The practice of human resources management in the community radio sector should be no different to any other, so we shall swiftly move on.
Free HR policies are available from the NCVO website at: https://knowhownonprofit.org/tools-resources/hr-policies
Another source of HR support for your team is a local business who might allow their HR people to help you as part of a ‘corporate social responsibility’ partnership.
In Volunteers we will go into detail about how to support, supervise and help volunteers. Much of that work will be conducted by support workers, trainers, producers etc. But volunteers are so central to community radio that their role, their needs and their position needs to be firmly built into your management structures.
In one fundamental respect volunteer management in community radio is different to other areas of the voluntary sector. Community groups generally have management (including the board and paid staff), volunteers and the clients who use the services they provide. In most cases – think of a community creche or older persons’ centre – attracting volunteers to serve tea or babysit toddlers is a difficult task. Volunteer management textbooks often work on the assumption that volunteers are rare and valuable creatures who must be cosseted and treasured, while there will probably be an excess of potential clients / users desperate to access the services the group provides.
The nature of community radio is that the benefits to the volunteers – the experience, training, thrill and fun of making radio – actually vastly outweigh the benefits to the ‘clients’, who in our case are the listeners (important though they are.) The result is, hopefully, a long waiting list of would-be volunteers. Which is not to say that you can ‘use and abuse’ your volunteers because there’ll be another one along in a minute. Volunteers ARE the heart of your operation; no volunteers = no radio (unless you are over-enamoured with the output of your automation software). Treat your volunteers well, nurture them and allow them to fulfil their aspiration – but cotton wool need not be part of your toolkit in doing so.
The driving ethos of community radio is that access to the airwaves is a human right. But when there is a queue, every volunteer who exercises his or her right to the airwaves is preventing someone else from exercising theirs. It’s also worth bearing in mind that running a community radio station may cost somewhere between £50 and £100 per hour. If someone is availing themselves of such a valuable resource they should be expected to act responsibly and behave decently. If a volunteer is causing trouble on or off air, obstructing the progress of the station and other volunteers, or otherwise behaving inappropriately you must have systems to deal with that.
The best starting point for the relationship between management and volunteers is a clear, extensive, mutually-agreed set of rules and responsibilities, ideally gathered into a signed volunteer agreement. See the sample set of rules in Resources to the side and below.
Creativity, self-expression and the airing of alternative and unheard voices are all crucial to successful community radio. Your volunteers need to be able to express themselves in their own way on air and off, but you do need to set boundaries. A volunteer might make brilliant radio, represent alternative sections of your community, draw in large numbers of listeners, attend every volunteer meeting and always wash her coffee cup, but if she routinely swears on air or fails to lock the front door when leaving the station she is a liability.
One way to think of this is that the station provides the volunteer with a blank canvas upon which they can paint – but that canvas, even if it’s really huge, is already bound by a frame. They can paint whatever they like, providing they do not exceed the limits. The frame itself has a lot of detail. Some of it is behavioural – the standards of behaviour which everyone at the station are expected to adhere to. Other details are procedural – what the volunteer should do if they can’t make their show or there is a technical failure in the studio, for example. Much of it will be about what happens on air, with basic explanations of broadcast regulations and legislation around libel, obscenity etc and station policy on those standards, which may well be more strict (see Your Own Station Rules). The volunteer should commit themselves to a certain amount of time and activity, for example two hours broadcasting activities and two hours of non-broadcast support activities each week. You may also wish to include an agreement about the content of whatever radio the volunteer is making. You need some recourse if you offer someone a show to present issues relating to the elderly, and that volunteer decides to play 60 minutes of heavy metal instead.
The volunteer agreement
- Should be extensive, clear and formal
- Should specify the limits to volunteers’ autonomy and creative freedom
- Should explain what the rule is
- Should explain why the rule is there
- Should explain what will happen if it is breached..
You do not want your station to feel like a prison or a school. You don’t want to treat your volunteers as criminals or children – even if they are! So it is not enough to say ‘here are the rules. Obey them or you’re in trouble.’ Your volunteer agreement needs to spell out the rules, but just as importantly it needs to spell out why the rule is in place and what will happen if it is breached. Clarity is the key and consideration for others the touch-stone. Some breaches of the volunteer agreement – such as physical assault or vandalism – should probably carry an instant ban from the station. Other breaches – such as failing to turn up for a scheduled show – might be best dealt with some version of a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy. Minor offences, such as use of offensive or inappropriate language, might best be dealt with over a firm but friendly chat.
If you’re busy and recruiting a lot of new volunteers at once, you might be tempted to print out half a dozen pages of rules and regulations, thrust them into the hand of a new volunteer and send them on their way. But the volunteer may be reluctant to admit to literacy, language or comprehension problems, or more commonly just never gets around to reading them. So an induction session is vital – this would normally encompass not only a line-by-line reading of the volunteer handbook, but if necessary also a tour of the station, introductions to members of staff and so on. The induction should be formally organised, and offer an opportunity for the new volunteer to ask any questions about the station and its policies. By the end of it the volunteers should feel like they have joined a team, if not a family.
Besides the rules concerning behaviour and broadcasting requirements, the induction should also explain:
- What the volunteer can expect from you in terms of support and training.
- An overview of community radio
- An overview of your station and your stated aims
- Equal opportunities policies
- Health and safety policies
- Details of any expenses or benefits available
The induction is also a very good time to conduct your ‘skills and needs’ assessment – where you find out what the volunteer has to offer the station and what they need from it.
No sane person likes having to discipline volunteers. They are not being paid, they are generally nice people, maybe you even socialise with them after work. The prospect of calling them into the office and giving them a dressing down or informing them that they have been barred from the station is not a pleasant one. The temptation to let lapses and breaches of the rules slip past is often very strong. It is also very dangerous.
Community radio stations are like ants’ nests at times, with volunteers bustling around each other and working in close proximity. They talk, they gossip, and they know more about what is going on than many managers would care to imagine. One consequence of that is that they know when someone gets away with mischief and when they don’t. If volunteers think they might get away with swearing on air without reproach or consequence, of course they are more likely to do it. And if one volunteer breaks a rule or policy, others will soon do likewise and station discipline begins to dissolve along with your authority.
Your disciplinary policies should be
It becomes much harder for you as a manager to then clamp down, once a particular rot has taken hold. It should be clear that disciplinary proceedings are hard and fast, not made up on the spot by the station manager. If they even sense that the latter is the case, they may become angry and confused about any disciplinary action.
As a general rule, a community radio station needs to balance the rights of the individual volunteer with those of the group and the station as a whole. A well laid-out set of policies and grievance procedures should go most of the way to ensuring this balance. Just be careful not to allow yourself to become involved in a protracted quasi-legal dispute with one disgruntled individual.
Supporting the sinner
Having established a culture of good behaviour, it’s important to remember that your duty to support, care for and improve the lives of your volunteers extends even to those who are in breach of the rules. In extreme circumstances (violent behaviour, theft, criminal damage to station property) you may need to ban a volunteer for life, but this will be very unusual. For most disciplinary lapses the appropriate sanction should also include scope for rehabilitation. To take a hypothetical example, a volunteer may fail to turn up for her show on three occasions in close succession, without letting anyone know that she was going to do so. She has been given a first and second warning on the previous occasions, and the station policy is that she should lose her show until the next round of schedule allocation in three months’ time. While those three months are passing, it would be very healthy if the volunteer can be given not less but more supervision and training. Then when she re-applies for her show she has a better grasp of routine, a better understanding of the problems caused by non-attendance, and because her skills have improved, she will enjoy making radio more and so be more motivated to attend.
Many breaches of station rules, on air and off, will be the result of ignorance, which is a product of insufficient training. This may be particularly true with regards to your equal opportunities policy and offensive language. The classic argument about whether a comment is a harmless joke or a gross insult is revisited on a regular basis in every community radio station (and probably every other work and social space). If someone exceeds what you consider to be acceptable limits, explain to them clearly where the boundaries lie – they may genuinely not understand why offence has been caused.
Supporting wayward volunteers:
- Is as important a part of your job as supporting model volunteers
- May often come down to education and training
- Can only be done so much, and for so long.
There may be more serious cases too. It is sadly true that the volunteers who are most likely to break the rules of their agreement are also those most likely to have a chaotic or abusive home life, physical or mental health issues, substance abuse problems or other social or personal issues. If such problems are interfering with their ability to make radio, then you have an obligation to help them to access the help they need from specialist agencies or services.
In this area, like so many others, you have to find a balance you can live with. You want to offer a patient, understanding and supportive attitude to one individual, but you also need to run a safe, secure, successful community radio station for everyone else. You can offer opportunities for a wayward volunteer to improve their behaviour and they simply refuse to change their ways. You have to know when to admit defeat, recognising the point where, however much you want to help, you simply cannot.
Marketing is yet another task that you think can be put off until mythical day when there is money and time to spare. Of course that day never comes, and in the meantime your station is going unnoticed by many of your potential volunteers, partners and listeners.
You need to market your station to maximise the benefits your station can offer your community. It can soak up as much energy and money as you have available, but marketing can be effective even with very limited resources. It takes many forms:
- Word of mouth. This is the most powerful tool a community radio station has at its disposal. Encourage your volunteers and listeners to tell their friends. Network at local events. If you attend a meeting, make sure everyone knows who you are, where you are from and what it is you do – wear the T-shirt!
- Publicity materials. There is a reason why every radio station from the smallest commercial operator to Radio 1 gives away window stickers, T-shirts, balloons etc – it works. Every car with a sticker is a little moving billboard for your station, every T-shirt is a walking advertisement. And the cherry on top is that the people to whom you give such freebies are even grateful for the privilege. If costs are tight, look for a reciprocal deal with a local print shop, who may give you a discount or gratis rate in return for on-air advertising or having their logo displayed on the materials. Alternatively one of your partners or funders may be willing to sponsor promotional materials in return for a ‘Supported by…’ mention.
- Piggybacking. Talk to your partner organisations, local businesses, agencies etc about ways in which you could get yourself mentioned on their publicity materials. If an agency does a regular show, make sure they mention it on their own publicity. If you have specialist DJs on your station who also play clubs and bars, persuade them to get your station name and logo on the flyers. For example, any school class on air brings with it the families, friends and other carers of each pupil in it – possibly another few hundred listeners.
- Advertising. While it may feel painful to pay for newspaper ads, billboards or other commercial advertising, sometimes it is a worthwhile investment. In particular if a station is new and needs a sudden influx of listeners or volunteers, a well-placed, well-designed advertisement can be highly effective.
- Outside events. If there is a local community festival happening, you should be there – ideally with a full roadshow, but if that is not viable, host a small tent with your DJs or at the very least set up a stall with publicity and information about your station. Hosting special events in bars or clubs – whether that’s a nightclub or a Darby and Joan club – can help you reach different audiences, and may even earn you some money.
- Branding. We will discuss on air branding in the Programming section but it is equally important in the material world. Your station should have a recognisable logo and ‘house style’ on every piece of stationery, letterhead, web page, promotional item, newsletter, banner, poster or whatever. That will help people to recognise and remember your name. This includes having some control over the hand printed flyers of self publicising shows – one of our ‘regulars’ thought he was doing us a favour printing off a few thousand flyers for his club night, with many mentions for his radio show. But the unavoidable picture of a scantily clad young woman did little for our equal opportunities policy.
- Media relations. Be on good terms with local media. You might be unlikely to get much support from other radio stations (however sympathetic they might be – see below) but local newspapers and magazines are different. Build up friendly relationships with local journalists. Often they are over-worked and under-resourced, and if you can present them with an interesting story for minimal effort they will be only too happy to print it. If you can provide them with a good quality, hi-resolution photograph to accompany it they may well bite your hand off. With smaller local papers especially, you should always offer them a human face to every story. They won’t be interested in your social gain statistics (however impressive you might think they are) but they will be interested in the local volunteer who has overcome a disability to complete an accredited training course, or the missing cat which was found after its heartbroken owner rang your phone-in show. Such human interest stories – which community radio stations generate on a daily basis – are a fantastic source of free publicity. If your local newspaper seems particularly supportive and enthusiastic, try to persuade them to carry your weekly schedule on their radio and TV page, in exchange for you plugging them maybe. Many papers will buy these in directly from an agency, but others have some flexibility.
- Is crucial to help you find listeners, volunteers and partners
- Is not necessarily expensive
- Takes many different forms
- Is not something to do once everything else is sorted out
- Website. Your website may be the closest thing you have to a public face, so try to make sure it is pretty, informative and easy to use.
- Social Media – watch this space for Radio Regen’s forthcoming Social Media Toolkit
- Your message. It’s worth thinking of a snappy phrase or two which you can use at every opportunity on air and off, to sum up who you are and what you do. Ideally you want something that captures the essence of community radio and your station in particular – ‘making a better town by making a better sound’ or something similarly cheesy.
Be sure of your output before you have a launch event, after all, why market a sound that doesn’t show your true potential. Give yourself time to iron out the wrinkles before you invite the town to tune in. No one’s going to mind if you ‘launch’ a month after actually going live. That said, don’t wait until everything’s perfect – it never will be.
Relationships with other radio stations
Few organisations can be as useful to you as other radio stations, whatever their size or nature. You should have excellent relationships with other community radio stations – at least those far enough away that you will never be competing for the same licence or advertisers. The Community Media Association is the hub of the network, and if you actively involve yourself in that you will be able to meet and share experiences with a large number of colleagues in the community sector.
“Radio Scotland have been one of our partners from the start, they’ve given us training and support, we have worked with them in a number of outside broadcasts and so on. But now they have commissioned us to produce a weekly 30 minute programme that focuses on blind issues. For the first time blind people in Scotland will have their own programme they can tune in to, which is a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the issues for the rest of the population, and encourage equality, and of course it’s an incredible opportunity for our volunteers to make radio on a national platform. It’s a very equal partnership, they haven’t been patronising at all. They have been a wonderful resource for us and we have provided them with talent and good programming. This brings community radio to a national audience, and hopefully other BBC stations will take this up as well.”
Kerryn Krige, VIP On Air
Relationships with BBC and (especially) commercial stations may be more delicate. On the one hand you are competing with them for listeners, and to a small extent possibly even for advertising revenue (despite OFCOM’s best efforts.) On the other – you have much to offer them. Let’s consider each in turn.
The BBC is a public service broadcaster, and its remit goes beyond broadcasting to the public. The current charter places a demand upon the corporation to involve themselves in local community development work. There are few ways more convenient for BBC station directors to do this than involving themselves in community radio groups. They could offer training, supervision, resources and endless wisdom. Radio Regen is currently negotiating a formal mentoring system with the BBC for our senior managers, which offers enormous value to our staff. As we go to print the BBC nationally is talking to the CMA about exploring the many ways BBC local stations and community radio stations can enjoy many a happy collaboration. (see Box **) This good will might even out last the renewal of the BBC’s Charter.
Update: there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the BBC and the CMA that basically asks the BBC to ‘do the right thing’ and give a lift to community stations (I summarise). Its uptake varies a lot depending where you are but it’s worth knowing about.
Community radio stations are a great potential source of new talent in all areas of radio production. Commercial and BBC stations often struggle to find recruits who aren’t identikit trust-funded, white, middle class, media studies graduates. Community stations also offer a route to grassroots community news – stories which can otherwise pass under the radar of large media outlets who are accustomed to working from press releases from government, big business, the PR industry and large Non-governmental organisations (NGOs). So not only is there a strong ethical argument for them top work with you, but one that delivers tangible benefits too – it’s right and it works!
Other radio stations:
- May be nervous of you, especially smaller commercial stations
- Can be extremely useful to you
- May decide you are extremely useful to them
At present it seems that BBC stations are already involving themselves in community groups across the country, but that many commercial stations are proving much more difficult to persuade – particularly if the community station is carrying advertising. Good networking, gentle diplomacy and a growing awareness of the nature of community radio should hopefully mean this will change in the not-so-distant future. Make yourself known to larger local commercials, stress your social gain achievements and that you are not trying to put them out of business, and you may well find the reaction is: ‘That sounds great. Is there anything we can do?’ Even the smaller stations, once they get used to you, and realise that your different sound isn’t going to empty their share-holders’ coffers, might come on board.
Finally, even in the belly of the most corporate beast of a huge mainstream radio station , you are linked to them by the little word ‘radio’. Small radio is where their staff came from and all but the most jaded cynic amongst them will feel an empathy with a broadcaster trying to get by on two bits of string and a used phone card. Even if the station policy might not endorse helping you out, dont be surprised if the staff will under their own steam.