[Noisebridge-discuss] ‘Transforming the Art of Community Radio’ by Jennifer Waits on 08.30.2013. - Radioworld
john_re at fastmail.us
Mon Sep 30 07:34:44 UTC 2013
When you travel to enough radio conferences, it’s a treat when one
happens to take place in your own city, so I was happy to hop on BART
this past May to attend the 38th annual National Federation of
Community Broadcasters conference in San Francisco.
A range of community, public and college radio staff and practitioners
travelled from all over the United States for the event. On the first
day alone, I met people from as far away as Maine, Alaska and Guam, and
ran into friends from all over California. Some were from tiny community
-oriented stations, others were from major public radio affiliates, and
some hailed from online-only stations with big FM dreams.
During her opening remarks, NFCB Vice President Ginny Berson surprised
many of us when she announced her pending retirement from the
organization. “Community radio faces some huge challenges,” she said,
following with praise for the passionate people who are keeping
community radio alive. “In spite of the difficulties, so many of you
find a way out of ‘no way.’”
This theme of perseverance against all odds was present throughout the
conference. Despite the paucity of economic resources and the
ever-changing politics inherent in non -profit organizations that rely
mostly on volunteer labor, non -commercial radio can also be a locus for
creative and, some might even say, revolutionary programming.
This year’s conference used “transformation” as its overarching theme,
and numerous presentations touched on that topic. During the lunchtime
panel titled “What is the Future of Community Media and How Do We Get
There?,” Sue Schardt from the Association of Independents in Radio said,
“Transformation is not linear … Change comes from the outside.”
A few blocks from the conference site, at the San Francisco Museum of
Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Kitchen Sisters, who produce the “Hidden
Kitchens” radio series for NPR, spearheaded a live art event in
conjunction with their new series “The Making Of…” Produced with
KQED(FM) and AIR, the series is a community story project that features
local artisans talking about their work (including such pieces as a
submerged turntable, a karaoke ice cream truck and mushroom furniture).
During NFCB’s opening reception hosted by San Francisco community/public
radio station KALW(FM), the intersections between radio, community
storytelling and public art were on display. As attendees approached the
room that housed the reception, they were invited to walk through KALW’s
“Hear Here” exhibit, which showcased recorded stories from people in
different neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland. The large,
tunnel-like pieces (HEAR and HERE) had been crafted with cardboard.
Covered with local maps and punctuated with descriptions of stories
captured in different neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland, the
interactive display invited visitors to listen in using smartphones.
Audio snippets were accessible through QR codes interspersed throughout
Using the technology and resources from KALW, conference -goers were
asked to use their mobile phones to record bits and pieces of the
conference in 30-second chunks. After uploading these clips to
SoundCloud, a resulting “collaborative soundscape” was produced and
played at the end of the conference. The final piece, edited by KALW
producers Julie Caine and Chris Hoff, captured the flavor of the
conference, including presentation snippets, interviews and call-sign
shout -outs. These included some interesting sound bites, including a
recording of a toilet flushing, applause, laughter and a guy doing a
The multifaceted role of sound was also the focus for the “Recipe for
Good Listening” workshop. Featuring a number of radio producers, the
in-depth, four -hour session was an interactive discussion about what
qualifies as “good radio.” Panelist (and Kitchen Sister) Nikki Silva
said that for her “Hidden Kitchens” series, music and sound are vital
elements that help to advance the narrative. “We always feel like we’re
making movies,” she said, explaining that the layers of sound are
equivalent to pictures.
We also discussed the use of natural, ambient sounds vs. sound effects
(KALW producer Martina Castro said that she will use one or the other,
but never both within the same piece) and whether it was appropriate to
use manufactured sound effects for a news story or a documentary feature
(many journalists frown on this practice).
Anyone can create a mix of music, but WFMU(FM)’s Ken Freedman believes
in the “artful segue” which, he said, is “the backbone of a great music
show.” Freedman explained that it’s important to have a reason for why
one song follows another, whether it’s vocal similarity, theme or a
sonic connection (for example, follow a song that ends with the sound of
strings with a song that begins with a similar sounding instrument).
Above all, one of my favorite panels was “Leveraging Social Media for
News Engagement.” Applicable not only to radio stations, the tips
provided by Kelly Chen and Meghann Farnsworth from the Center for
Investigative Reporting were useful for anyone who uses Twitter,
Facebook and other social media — for any reason. According to Chen and
Farnsworth, Twitter can be used not only for breaking news (even
collecting overheard public conversations on a particular topic of
interest), but also to share snippets of stories that one is working on.
Finished pieces can be promoted in bite-sized chunks, highlighting weird
facts or nuggets that might get overlooked. But be careful of auto
-generated content, since tweets are are less likely to be read if it
looks like they weren't written by a person. Additionally, the panel
suggested generating creative hashtags in order to build community. But
however they do it, the radio participants at this conference made me
fully aware that the best part of community radio is still the
Jennifer Waits wrote in June about the “What Is Radio” conference.
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