Community radio is an animal all its own. Most people might think of radio as an anachronism, but the data would tell otherwise. Nielsen estimates 9 out of 10 Americans still listen to AM/FM radio. Public radio garners about 20 to 30 million weekly listeners. So how does such a widespread audience support fledgling broadcasters? The answer’s tricky.
“For most of us who are at the smaller stations, the toughest challenge is raising funds to provide services to the public. We’re in a disruptive landscape now; where public radio is not seen as so critical to the media world as it used to be.”
Take WXPR in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, for example. The station serves a rural area of Northern Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. Its programming is mostly driven by local listeners and volunteers. The rural setting and low population density means that the number of once locally owned commercial radio stations in the area no longer exist. In short: there’s no room for dead air.
“Our biggest challenge is being able to tell people to turn to the lower side of the dial,” said Jessie Dick, the Marketing Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at WXPR.
That sentiment isn’t exclusive to rural locales, either. Annette Bistrup, Development Director for KALW in San Francisco, echoed similar feelings.
“For most of us who are at the smaller stations, the toughest challenge is raising funds to provide services to the public,” Bistrup said. “We’re in a disruptive landscape now; where public radio is not seen as so critical to the media world as it used to be.”
For one, community broadcasting is a broad term that houses the majority of college and local publicly supported radio stations. While these stations serve their communities with unabashed dedication, the listening audience is often a fraction of commercial, genre-based FM radio networks.
It’s because of these challenges that the National Federation for Community Broadcasters was looking for something more to supplement the pledge drives of their affiliated station members.
“We’re the place they come to — to find out what’s going on in the industry, for training, collaboration and programming,” said Beverly Hacker, Chief Operating Officer of NFCB. “We’re the industry group that convenes them together and works with them.”
Not much about pledge drives has changed in the 46-plus years of NFCB’s work. Many stations announce their pledge drive on-air (or even their website), ask listeners to donate, then cross their fingers while the donations generated by live updates roll in.
“A lot of stations, frankly, don’t have the technical expertise to set up a fundraiser,” Hacker said. “We’ve gotten along for nearly 50 years primarily on pledge drives. We thought we could just go on air and ask for money and everything would be fine.”
NFCB — Hacker, in particular — declared 2016 would be the year this changed. More specifically, NFCB looked to peer-to-peer fundraising and 24-hour giving to bolster its pledges for the coming year.