Monthly Archives: June 2010

Legacies.

In the public radio world, music programs that are hosted by volunteers that have been around forever, many since stations began, are called “legacy” programs. And they are, as you might imagine, a mixed blessing for most stations.

It is a wonderful thread of continuity to have programs that have been aired through time with an audience, a station, a community.  They are familiar voices, treasured genres of music, predictable patterns, and reminders, often, of how a public station began.  And at the few stations that still have volunteer hosts, those programs don’t change much as the years roll by.

One of the challenges is that, over time, those legacy time slots often have a sense of ownership about them.  One of my colleagues shared that when one of their legacy music announcers passed away, he willed his program time to a friend.  Now, that is ownership. As stations try to stay relevant and forward moving, that ownership sometimes conflicts with new directions, but the pride and commitment is always appreciated.

We have wonderful volunteer announcers on both our stations.  You may listen to particular jazz or classical programming just because you like the way one of our volunteers picks music.  These musicologists give the stations their unique blend and flavor and there is great value in that.

Changing technology poses a real challenge for some legacy hosts and we are experiencing that here.  Changing regulations about reporting the music we play (and particularly, the music we stream) have changed just about everything that needs to happen in the studio during a music program.

Doug Gruber, Jazz Coordinator

For some, what’s now required takes the joy out of what was once a few inspired hours of spinning records for an appreciative audience on a Monday night or a Saturday afternoon. In fact, records, and even CDs are kind of problematic as we move to digitized music libraries.  Now every song has to be logged in, start and stop time, label, artist, title . . . and logged into an interactive electronic database — that’s not too difficult, if you’ve been working with electronic databases all your life.  Doug Gruber, our jazz coordinator (a legacy all by himself!) and Kevin Kreigh, program director, continue to work on the systems for our volunteers, but the fun is gone for some who’ve been doing this for years. I hate that, but totally understand it.

So if you hear some changes in the volunteer host line-up, you’ll have some sense of what’s going on.  And you’ll appreciate that those who continue are working a lot harder than they used to, doing some things they really aren’t crazy about, just to help us stay compliant with the people who give us the right to be on the air.

Nobody’s just spinning records.

Joan

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Silver bullet.

The StoryCorps MobileBooth arrived yesterday, late in the afternoon, and is parked at its Fort Wayne home in the ACPL lot at the corner of Washington and Webster.  It’s not as visible as I’d like it to be, but the power hook up is an issue. (Yes, I had the driver drop it in one place and then he had to back it up – he wasn’t the happiest boy in the world.)

There will be easy parking and easy entrance and it’s just pretty gratifying to think about the stories that are going to be told inside that shiny bullet.  It’s smaller than I thought it would be and sort of cute.  It is, thank you, founder Dave Isay, a brilliant idea.

If you go to the StoryCorps online scheduling tool, you’ll see that, as of this morning, there are two spots open in which to schedule an interview, so there’s still room.  I also know that a few other spots will open up as we get closer and people have to cancel for one reason or another and there is a waiting list, so please, if you and a partner want to participate in this, put yourself on the waiting list and keep checking in.

The booth arrived early, to spend the holiday week-end here, and the staff members will arrive next week.  Our responsibility is to find housing for three staff members for the month that they are here and we give a big shout out to Katie Pruitt and Andy Welfle for putting us in contact with their generous landlord, Jeff Burdek, an NIPR member, who is allowing us to use the other side of the Welfle’s duplex for the month. The NIPR staff will “furnish” the duplex for our guests (I’m thinking the style will be eclectic, to say the least) and we are so pleased to be able to provide a comfortable, spacious “home” for them.

When the coordinator was here earlier this spring, Lea asked Jenna what was the worst living arrangement the team had ever found.  Worst ever? – when the team was housed in an apartment on the backside of a heavy metal music venue and the had free concerts all night.  We’re striving to provide a calmer atmosphere for our facilitators!

We’re grateful that the local press has already taken an interest and we expect to see some good articles about this effort. We are becoming part of something bigger than ourselves with each story that is going to be told.

As we’ve said from the beginning, one of the main thrusts of StoryCorps is to capture the stories of those who might not normally take part in such a project. We have had marvelous cooperation from so many in the community to make certain we reach that objective. To present a complete picture of our community, many organizations and individuals, including the following groups, will be represented, not in stories of their organizations, but in the individual, personal stories of their constituencies. We’re grateful to have had such committed participation.

  • Northeast Indiana Diversity Library
  • Fort Wayne Women’s Bureau
  • Combat veterans from WWII through present day
  • YWCA: Burmese refugees, Latinos, victims of domestic violence
  • NeighborLink: single parents, elderly, disabled
  • Fort Wayne Philharmonic: educational programs
  • Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities
  • Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana
  • Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Art and Culture: African-Americans, youth, musicians
  • African/African American Historical Museum: African Americans & diaspora communities
  • Fort Wayne Urban League: African-Americans, youth, programs that serve people from a wide economic and educational backgrounds

We can hardly wait to begin airing segments of these interviews – and of yours. These are the stories of our community.

Joan

If you aren’t familiar with how StoryCorps sounds on the air, you can hear what’s come from other communities by listening to Morning Edition on Fridays on WBOI 89.1, usually between 6:20 – 6:30 and again between 8:20 -8:30.

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The power of ten, as in $10.

I had the great privilege of spending time yesterday with a colleague who also runs a small public radio station. We have different situations – his station is licensed to a public school system; ours is licensed to the “community.” Both have advantages and dis’s (although yesterday, it was clear that at least for that moment, I do not want to trade) but more similarities than differences.

Conversations always turn to fund-raising and we hit on the huge problem – challenge, really, – for public media that stems from the fact that our product appears to be without cost to the public.  That is also a fulcrum for the mission, so it shouldn’t change.  You turn on the radio, you get to walk away with the product. But funding the production and distribution of a product that is essentially free to consumers is a unique and interesting place to live.

We talked a lot about connecting in a more meaningful way to those in our community who have the capacity to give significant gifts, about getting our current members to perhaps give incrementally more, about positioning our organizations as not just radio stations, but essential community resources.  We talked about how we make certain those who are giving now know how much it means and how much they are appreciated. These are all directions that have great impact to our sustainability and must be talked about and examined on a continuing basis – and examined with intelligence, insight, and a real sense for who truly cares about us.

But the segment of the population that really always captures my interest is that big, BIG group of people who listen, many every day, but never make a contribution.  They don’t have to, it’s so true. But I always wonder why they don’t. And more importantly, I wonder (and by wonder, I mean agonize over, dissect, drive staff crazy, and just can’t give up on) what we might do to encourage that giving.

If you have spent any time with me, like fifteen minutes, in the last two years, you have most likely heard me say that if everyone who listens to WBOI for any time at all during the week made a gift of $10, we could pay off our old operating debt and begin to run this station on top of the ground rather than from our current, rather discouraging “in a hole” position. $10.  It would change, in a way I cannot even begin to describe, the way we serve this community. Mostly, and I think you will understand the importance of this, it would change the level of bravery with which we are able to innovate, create, and move forward.

So how would we do that, get those listener, non-member folks, whom we love and who love us, I think, to pass over the debit card for a $10 gift?  Seriously, I think about this way too much. Because it seems like such a logical answer to a weighty problem.  If everybody did a small part, we’d solve this. (Selling 94.1 is an enormous problem, but there are some doable, if not altogether glorious, solutions. The operating debt, a leftover, doesn’t seem to have so many possibilities.)

We can’t send everybody a text or a letter or an email, because until a listener self-identifies, we don’t know who they are.  People get to use our product, for free, in stealth mode.

What about a $10 drive?  A couple of days, pretty low-key, but the ask is that everybody, EVERYBODY listening shares $10 with a station that must have some value to them, because they are listening.  Write a check, give us your card number, stop by the station with a ten.  I wonder how we’d do . . .

Do not be surprised to hear something like this someday.  As I said, this plagues me.  If you have solutions, I would love to add your brilliance to my “wonderings” on this subject.

$10. Every listener.  And maybe a few people would throw in a $20 to cover listeners that simply can’t do it right now. I think we could get it done.

What do you think?

Joan


“- “I’ve been thinking Hobbes –”
– “On a weekend?”
– “Well, it wasn’t on purpose…”” Calvin & Hobbes

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I had a bad day.

I had a couple bad days this week (and, yes, it’s only Wednesday). And while this blog is meant to be an inside look at the station and its workings, giving you, dear reader, a greater understanding of the hows and whys, tonight it’s going to be a little more personal.

I had a bad day on Monday. After the most incredible event this organization has ever – ever – pulled off. After a big party full of people who love us and wish us well and wouldn’t think of saying derogatory things about our work. After more incredible food and wine than I’ve seen (and tasted) in one place before.  After having some real money flow in. After watching a truly remarkable staff/team – and I use the term “team” with pride and pleasure – pull together under some ridiculous pressures. After having the genuine buzz of having my grown-up kids take part in my work and make me beam with pride. After having a board that called an extra meeting just to deal with difficult and important issues because they care so much about this work and this community.

After all that, I had a very bad day.

I got tired. Everybody’s been working hard, not just me, and it’s been a heavy load for everyone. Maybe other people have more resiliency than me sometimes. And because I am a real person, sometimes I also have personal junk that just moves in on everything and saps the energy and breaks the heart and . . . I just got tired.

You know how toddlers get when they are just past going? Even if they want to be good, they can’t. You can see it coming but there’s nothing you can do about it. Everything is out of whack and no matter what, there is going to be a melt down. Big, sloppy meltdown. That kind of happened to me, in front of people, and it felt awful and messy and out of control. But you know, it was just going to be like that. I can make amends for that and maybe it helped bring some important things out in the open. I’m glad that it was such an unusual thing that people were really concerned. Thank you for thinking that me being a jerk is not normal.

Then I got a letter on Tuesday that was full of spitefulness and vitriol and it was personal.  It happens.  In fact, it happens a lot and while I will never, ever get used to it, I don’t curl up under my desk and cry any more.  Or call in the bomb squad to check my car. Or examine subsequent envelopes for white powder. But words like “You, Joan Brown, are single-handedly killing classical music radio” do have an effect. (Besides making me feel incredibly powerful – people have been trying to kill classical music for eons and I’ve managed to do it? Single handedly? Be impressed, people, be very impressed.) Those kind of words suck the air out of my lungs and it takes some time to breathe normally again.  They don’t make an inhaler for that.

And that happened the day after the bad day. So a couple of bad days, in a row.

But you know, you still heard all the programs you value. Matt Dance wished you a “Good morning”. Midday Matters covered the news, told you how to vacation, and looked at health issues. StoryCorps is moving ahead (10 am tomorrow!) with so much energy and excitement. Bills got paid (well, some of them) and jazz got played and everybody else just kept on doing what they need to do.

In this tough little organization, small as we are, the GM can have a couple bad, very bad, days and everything still runs like clockwork.  This station is in remarkable hands driven by pretty incredible minds, certainly at the board, governing level, and really truly at the “this is how we do radio everyday” level.  I love that about this place.

Here’s to the good days.  Bad days are, honestly, the exception.

Joan

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Tomorrow. 10 am. Excitement.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 24) at 10 am, you will be able to call in or log in and reserve a place for you and a partner to record your story. We couldn’t be more excited to see what happens when those lines open up.  In Dayton, the available spots filled up in four minutes.

About half of the possible interview slots for the three weeks or so that StoryCorps will be here (July 9 – July 31) have been filled through the diligence of community individuals and groups whose work touches very specific populations. Those places were reserved from the start for folks who might not normally hear about StoryCorps or wouldn’t think about telling their stories. By talking with very particular advocates in the community, we’ve been able to personally invite people to join this incredible oral history project.  StoryCorps – and all of us – are pleased with how that effort has worked out here.

But now comes the part where any of us, whatever our story may be, can reserve a time to sit across from a friend, family member, partner, associate, colleague, or hero and spend forty minutes or so exploring the connections. And then know, for as long as there’s a Library of Congress, that story will be catalogued and preserved, if you so desire.

When you sign up for a recording slot, you aren’t asked what your “story” is about.  There’s no “jury” on this, no committee that decides whose story is worthy of recording and keeping.  It’s an open invitation to dialogue. You’re calling all the shots here.  There will be a facilitator nearby so if you and your partner have trouble getting started, you’ll have some help.  Our StoryCorps friends tell us that often two people coming into the booth aren’t really certain of what they will talk about – they just find each other’s lives interesting and important and connected in a personal way.

There will be a few slots saved and opened up on July 10. So if you aren’t able to jump in at the head of the line tomorrow, there’ll be another small chance.

I suggest that you visit the registration page before reservations are open, just so you know what’s going on.  You can fill in pre-registration information to give you a jump-start tomorrow morning, which may help you get the time slot you’d really prefer. You can go to the NIPR home page or directly to StoryCorp registration information for the scoop.

Our special ♥ ♥ ♥ to the Allen County Public Library for making a gracious home for StoryCorps in the Washington Street lot just south of the library. You are wonderful partners for this adventure. (The StoryCorps Airstream Mobile Recording Unit will actually arrive next week, prior to the July 4th holiday in case you want to do a drive by.)

So get your dialing (or typing) digits ready.  10 am, 6/24.  Can’t wait to see your name on the list of storytellers.

It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is all about. ~  Tom Brokaw

Our stories matter. Every one of them.

Joan

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Post party.

It was a party. What a great night and thank you, everyone, everyone, who joined Arts United and NIPR to celebrate good food and great wine and our work. There are about a thousand things I could blog about today (the awesome wine tasting before dinner, Dan and Krista and their wonderful humor and insight, incredible food, “yummy” wine . . . on and on) and I probably will write about those things at some point, but one thing stood out to me as the most exceptional of the evening.

It was an evening full of good spirit. Everywhere.

We had wine distributors who came on short notice for a smaller tasting than they have had with us in the past and when they left, they stopped to tell me that they felt privileged, privileged, to have shared our evening.

An exceptional group of student musicians from the University of Saint Francis played for us and when I talked with them, there was such a generosity of heart and commitment to serving us well.  “It is a privilege to play for your guests.”

The pacing of the first couple courses, food and wine, was clearly not the best. And we knew the remarkable folks from Club Soda were struggling to serve everyone appropriately, but the patience among diners was so nice to watch.  People just visited and sipped and visited some more, enjoyed the lovely Arts United Center venue, visited, bid on the silent auction. And then made a huge fuss over the food when it arrived.  Good spirited patience.

There was laughter everywhere – OK, yes, there was a lot of laughter from downstairs and we all shared in the energy that was so apparent. I was watching the tables carefully and it was so clear that almost every table was “working.”  You expect tables where the people all come together to “work”, but worry about those tables that are put together from people who might not know each other –  couples, singles, people who don’t want to fill a table but still want to come.  Maybe there was some awkwardness in the first little bit at some tables – there was, in reality, a little awkwardness at my table at first. But great food and good wine and a whole table of talkative people works miracles. There was something very special about the energy last night.  It wasn’t all perfect, but it worked as well as any event I’ve seen.

People bid generously on the silent auction. Granted, it was a great silent auction. Who couldn’t find something they really wanted (nothing here anybody needed, only things you lust after)? Light-hearted competitiveness added to the fun and the profit and I enjoyed watching that unfold.

We had a fire in the kitchen (flames, people, yes, there were flames . . . and smoke) that set off the alarms, which continued to blare for several minutes.  Dan Stockman, God bless you, man, just kept talking about the wine and everybody just put up with the noise.  It all settled down pretty quickly – until five or six fully suited firemen came up the stairs to make sure all was well and stirred things up again. Thank you, gentlemen, for doing your job.  You added to the “memorable” factor.  Good spirits, as we all laughed, waited for the rest of the lamb to be served and went on with our evening.

It was a four-hour dinner.  Good spirited indulgence, enjoyment, fellowship, and humor. Yes, I do know that the good-spiritedness can rise as you move through the fourth and fifth wine with dinner, but you know, too, that it can just as easily go the other way.  This crowd was clearly there to enjoy the evening and to be supportive.

My favorite spot at the end of any event is at the door as people leave.  I feel privileged to accept the thanks and compliments on behalf of the staff and volunteers who make things like this happen.  Last night was one of the best doorman nights ever. People came in good spirits and they left in good spirits and no matter how much or little money we made, this great feeling counts for something to an organization like ours.  Especially after the last couple months.  We were reminded that we have good-spirited, fully committed friends.

Thank you, friends.  Cheers.

Joan

There will be pictures. Stay tuned.

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You’ve heard this all before, but . . .

When people take the time and energy to call me directly to talk about the direction of the station or the choices we’re making or what they hear or don’t hear on the air, I appreciate that.  I really do. I’m not much of a “call up and complain” person at all so I always imagine that if you do that, you must really care about things. So, hat tip to you for caring that much about how this organization is run. And I say that with no facetiousness. None.

But I must say over the last two or three weeks, I’ve been surprised by the tone of the calls, the quick judgments, and the vehement, really visceral comments about changes we are beginning to make as we wind down our analog delivery of classical programming, a process that was started more than a year and a half ago, with every attempt made to keep the public informed. Some decisions that are part of that just happen in a way that prevents a public unveiling.

Our two small frequencies sold last week – a move absolutely necessitated by the pressure to make good on our commitments to the lender that provided capital for 94.1 more than three years ago. We were so pleased to receive a fair price from a local broadcaster, allowing us to act in good faith with a lender that has been very patient and accommodating to us.  And, coincidentally, although not planned that way, we eliminated a position that had moved from full-time to part-time and then as cash flow continued to present an ongoing challenge, and we all felt the uncertainty surrounding the sale of the stations, moved to a position elimination.

Those are not moves made without feeling or without regret.  We’ve been letting people go here for the entire two years that I’ve been on board – our staff is about half the size it was three years ago.  That takes its toll on everybody. I’d love to have somebody to pace the floor with me late at night if anyone wants to share the worry associated with letting people go, whatever the reason.  Some of you are in the same boat.

A lot of factors go into personnel issues and generally, I think of those things as confidential, protecting the privacy and choices of the employees who are affected and allowing them to share the information with the people they choose, in the way they choose.

WBNI has been an important cultural resource in this community, but the truth is, fewer and fewer people are tapping into it.  The programming has stayed much the same over many years and while it is beloved by stalwart friends, it has not drawn a new audience.  It comes down to choices – where will the limited resources that we have be directed?  Toward a station with a small, vocal, passionate, diminishing audience or toward the programming that is growing its audience each year? Maybe if we had started five years or so ago really ramping up classical programing to attract that new audience, we wouldn’t find our selves in this position. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.

I think it would be great if NIPR could fund a classical station, a news/information station, an adult alternative album station, and maybe a Latino station.  We would serve more of the community that way. We would make lots of people happy. We would stop some of the demoralizing complaints.  And we would go out of business. Quickly.

The pressures that we are feeling now are a result of a changing economy and a decision that was made with great enthusiasm and promising vision several years ago.  It was a time when there was a push all across the country for public radio stations to increase their footprint, buy new frequencies, and make a mark.  And here, it was pushed even more by unhappy listeners who wanted a classical signal that served them personally better than what was being offered.  I wasn’t here, so I try to not second guess, but in dealing day in and day out with unhappy people, I can certainly see how it would seem like the right thing to do.  Buy a stronger signal and give people what they want.  The plan was to pay the entire loan off in a very short period of time, but the capital campaign, while supported by some very generous gifts, fell far short of its goal, and the expenses associated with the signal exceeded expectations.

So here we are.

Guided by a board who feels as passionate about public radio as the most passionate listeners in the community, we’re hoping to continue to strengthen the operating side of the financials by building revenue and containing expenses. We have two expenses here, primarily, people and programs and cuts to either are a concern. At the same time we have to deal realistically with the capital difficulty 94.1 presents.

There is within this organization a constant discussion about direction and decision-making, about serving the public and being good fiscal stewards. No quick and easy answers, at least not from my chair.  If it looks different from your chair, I’d be happy to talk to you. I’d really rather have you do that than flame me – or my staff or colleagues – on Facebook or another blog. Or gather a group of protestors about a personnel decision. Or stop contributing, which only makes sense if you are going to totally stop listening, and even then, some people who don’t listen much at all contribute anyway, just because they like the idea of another voice. You know, nobody has to give, but when support is withheld, it just makes everything keep getting worse instead of better and the hard decisions just keep coming.

If we don’t serve the public, we’re not doing our job.  But the public is a big, diverse thing, with lots of needs, interests, and passions. I’d like to try to provide service to as much of that as possible. I’d like to keep as many people happy as possible.  I’d like to provide incomes, steady and dependable, for a good staff of hardworking people.  I’d like to answer my phone and have a civil conversation with anybody who cares about the totality of this organization.

You can call me.

Joan

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