Report on the NW Community Radio Summit

On the weekend of September 17-19, about 150 community radio volunteers, staff and engaged listeners met in Seattle for the Northwest Community Radio Summit, an event organized and hosted by Reclaim the Media and KBCS. This is the organizers' report on what took place that weekend, with a view to the challenges ahead.

The summit’s primary purpose was to help organize a regional network linking noncommercial, community radio stations in the NW region, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and Alaska. The conference also provided an opportunity for skill-building, discussions of community radio’s role in a changing media environment, and friendly greetings among a natural group of friends and colleagues who rarely get a chance to meet face to face.

Conference attendees arrived at the beginning of the weekend already full of enthusiasm for the very idea of regional community media networking—an indication that the idea of doing so is far from new. As Reclaim the Media began discussing the concept with KBCS and other community stations a couple of years ago, it became apparent that different versions of the idea had come up often in the recent and not-so-recent past. While community stations are often producing unique and valuable local programming, they generally are doing so on shoestring budgets and volunteer staffing, lacking the resources of commercial or NPR stations for shared promotion, production, or any other form of collaboration.

The NW Community Radio Network, as envisioned during our recent summit and its planning process, will supplement rather than replace existing networks and places of connection. Such resources include the Pacifica Network (of which many regional stations are already affiliates), the annual Grassroots Radio Conference and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. These organizations already provide stations access to some shared programming, social and professional networking and training opportunities. But with few exceptions, community and college stations in our region (especially the smallest stations) are out there on their own, largely disconnected from their closest neighbors and lacking opportunities to benefit from even simple regional collaborations. NW Community Radio Summit attendees came to discuss the possibility that a new network—on a regional scale, and thus more directly connected to local community priorities—could provide needed help to stations and their listeners, helping community radio meet its potential as a full-fledged alternative to the consolidated, profit-driven media empires who continue to dominate our airwaves.

This report outlines some of what took place at the summit, who was there, what we accomplished, along with some of the next steps to be taken as Northwest community stations continue working together to form a network.

Summit Participation

Over 150 people attended the NW Community Radio Summit, representing 34 community radio stations from five regional states and British Columbia. In preparing for the conference, Reclaim the Media and our fellow planners took a pragmatic approach to the problems of defining "Northwest" and "community radio;" realizing that any attempt to define these terms would be controversial to some of those excluded (or included), we created provisional definitions simply for the purpose of initial outreach and starting a conversation. Stations invited to the summit included non-commercial, nonreligious college and community stations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. We invited unlicensed stations, and a number of web-only stations. In literature about the proposed network, we specifically excluded NPR stations, because the operating realities of many NPR stations make them quite different from most community stations, and because they already have a pretty good network. At the same time, we realized that there were exceptions to that rule—we made sure to extend an invitation, for example, to the Spanish-speaking farmworker station KDNA in Granger, WA - technically an NPR affiliate, but with a strong educational mission and a history of grassroots community involvement. The summit was open to anyone, and a number of independent producers and folks from California also attended.

Conference events: Workshops

Conference activities fell into three areas: workshops, plenary events, and network-planning conversations. Workshop presenters drew upon the expertise of regional community radio leaders as well as a few experts who traveled from farther distances to help make the conference a rich experience. Here's a list of workshop sessions and panelists:

The Art of the Interview
with Callie Shanafelt, KBCS; Joaquin Uy, KBCS

Building a Music Library
with Gavin Dahl, KAOS; Jamie Hoover, KUGS; Ava Hegedus, KPSU; Barbie-Danielle DeCarlo, KBCS

The Good the Bad and the Indecent: Legal Issues Q & A
with Larry Hildes, attorney; Pete Tridish, Prometheus Radio Project

Media Democracy and Media Justice
with Jonathan Lawson, Reclaim the Media; Pete Tridish, Prometheus Radio Project; Sharon Maeda, Spectra Communications

Musican Panel: What can Community Radio do to support local music
with Jim Page, Silver Shadow, Datri Bean

Producing for Free Speech Radio News
with Leigh Robartes, KRFP; Martha Baskin, independent radio-producer; Julie Sabatier, KBOO

Production Primer
with Sarah Gustavus, KBCS; Pete Graff, KBCS

PSA's: Meaningful Messages to Build Your Community
with Rip Robbins, KSVR; Joseph McGuire, KSVR

Radio as a Tool for Change
with Pete Tridish, Prometheus Radio Project; Kate Sheppard, Grist Magazine; Ryan Tompkins, Free Radio Olympia; Jodi Darby, KBOO

Running a Volunteer News Department
with Bruce Wirth, KSER; Leigh Robartes, KRFP; Margo Robb, WORT

Streaming and Podcasting
with Amoshaun Toft, University of Washington; Jeremy Lansman, KWMD; Jeff Hoyt, Voice of Vashon

Student leadership in Community/College Radio
with Gavin Dahl, KAOS; Oliver Anderson, KUGS; Jenn Hartman, KUGS

Upcoming Full Power Licensing Window: What's in it for your Station?
with Todd Urick, Common Frequency; Sakura Saunders, Common Frequency; Michael Brown, Brown Broadcast Services

Youth in Community Radio
with Robin Carneen, KSVR; Jerome Edge, KSVR; Erin Yanke, KBOO, Shawn Biggers, KBOO

Plenary events

Summit events included three plenary sessions (including a public keynote event featuring Democracy Now! Host Amy Goodman), skill-sharing and informational workshops, network planning caucuses, and facilitated sessions for brainstorming and decision-making.

The conference opened with a somewhat informal Friday afternoon icebreaker/meet-and-discuss session in which participants were asked to meet small groups and discuss what they wanted to get out of the weekend. Friday evening also featured a special screening of the award-winning documentary film Pirate Radio USA hosted by the film’s codirector Mary Jones.

Two community radio pioneers were featured at the summit’s opening plenary on Saturday morning: Jeremy Lansman (co-founder of KRAB, KBOO and other stations; now an independent commercial TV and community radio operator in Anchorage) and Sharon Maeda (former executive director of KRAB, and of the Pacifica Network) along with a welcome from Reclaim the Media executive director Jonathan Lawson.

A lunchtime plenary featured Seattle hip-hop artists concerned with social justice issues and grassroots media support for grassroots music and culture. The Stranger's Charles Mudede moderated the panel discussion; featured speakers included artists and presenters Danny Kogita and Gabriel Teodros (Zulu Radio), Noni Shanay (Coolout Network), Silver Shadow D, Amos Miller, Jace and Silas Blak (Silent Lambs Project), and Dr. Daudi Abe, Seattle Central Community College, among others.

The Saturday evening keynote program, hosted by Sharon Maeda, was a sellout event at Seattle’s Town Hall. Amy Goodman was joined onstage by her brother and co-author journalist David Goodman. Other speakers included community radio activists Pete Tridish (Prometheus Radio Project), Karen Toering (Reclaim the Media), Larry Kleinman (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste/KPCN Woodburn), and Lupito Flores (KYRS Spokane). Pepperspray Productions premiered a short video documenting PCUN’s recent LPFM barnraising, and Iraq war resister Lt. Ehren Watada made brief remarks about the importance of alternative media voices in today’s national media/political landscape.

Planning sessions and outcomes

As noted above, the NW Community Radio Summit was organized and convened with the primary goal of organizing a community radio network. In order to start from something other than a blank slate, Reclaim the Media designed a number of network proposals or planning topics, based in part on discussions with regional stations and an Internet/phone survey. Network planning discussions at the Summit focused on four of these proposals: Network vision and values, Network membership and governance, Content-sharing using Pacifica's Audioport system, and Collaborative production.

A few other proposals were developed in advance, but not discussed in detail at the conference: Media democracy organizing; PSA sharing; LPFM mentoring. Finally, Portland Indymedia organizers offered the idea of a "Critical Mass Radio Network" capable of rapidly organizing coordinated broadcasts in response to critical events.

Our summit schedule included time on Saturday and Sunday to discuss the four main proposal areas, with a final decisionmaking session as the summit closed on Sunday afternoon. At this final session, summit participants achieved consensus on a number of key points. Participants agreed to empanel a representative organizing committee to spend nine months developing plans for a regional network. The committee will hire a part-time organizer to help keep the ball rolling—this position will be paid for through voluntary contributions from participating stations. Participants also agreed to make use of a customized area within Pacifica's Audioport system for online content-sharing, and to find other ways of sharing content, until the new system is operational. Other decisions, including the crucial topic of shared vision and values, were postponed, and will need to be taken up by the organizing committee.

Here are the key decisions from the Summit.

Network Membership and Governance

The NW Community Radio Network will be a resource for community radio stations in the NW and their listeners, by sharing resources among participating stations.

NWCRN membership will be open to noncommercial community, tribal and college radio stations in the northwest region, provisionally defined as including Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Idaho and Oregon (although if stations from adjacent states or provinces express a desire to participate and culturally identify as part of the region, membership may be open to them as well).

NWCRN membership makes no distinction between licensed and unlicensed radio stations, and is also open to web- or cable-only stations, as long as the stations are structurally accountable to the communities they serve.

Network membership explicitly excludes stations whose mission is to propagate the religious values of a particular faith.

The decisionmaking body for network planning discussions will be a Network Organizing Committee. Participating stations which meet the above criteria will nominate one representative to be part of the organizing committee.

Independent producers (program producers unaffiliated with a particular station) may take part participate in organizing committee discussions, but cannot vote as individuals. For the purposes of committee votes, independent producers will vote as a caucus having a maximum of two votes among them.

While the organizing committee will representative our region's radio stations, we also recognize the importance of achieving representation from diverse communities on the committee. Accordingly, the organizing committee will set a goal of including at least
50% women, and at least 25% people of color within 6 months of forming the committee.

The organizing committee will meet more-or-less monthly via conference calls or other means. The committee's purview will be to continue work to organize the NW Community Radio Network, for an initial period of nine months starting with its first meeting. Committee tasks include, but are not limited to:
* station outreach and organizing
* producing network literature and promotional materials
* pursiung the development of an online content-sharing system
* creating a long-term governance structure for the network
* continue working on other network proposals
* develop a financial plan for network sustainability
* oversee work of network coordinator (see below)

The committee will distribute an interim report after four months. Once nine months have passed, the committee will either formally launch the NW Community Radio Network "operational phase" along with a new organizational structure, or will vote to give itself more time to develop plans.

In recognition that our stations' staff and volunteers are already quite busy people, summit participants decided that a paid network coordinator will be needed to keep the network organizing process on track, at least during the nine month-long organizing period. As one of its first acts, the organizing committee will fundraise for and hire a half-time network coordinator to assist the committee with its tasks listed above. The coordinator position will be fiscally housed within Reclaim the Media, and basic funding for the position will be provided voluntarily by participating stations.

Remaining issues re. membership and governance:

No decision was made as to whether to specifically exclude NPR affiliates, although the question was discussed. Many, though not all, NPR stations operate at a very different financial level that most community radio stations, and all NPR stations have access to that network's considerable programming and promotional resources. However, the line between NPR affiliate and community radio station may not be that easily drawn; there are numerous gray-area stations in Alaska and Washington. This is a topic for further discusion.

Questions also remain regarding. the defining characteristic of community accountability; what that specifically means, especially for web radio stations or other kinds of non-broadcast "production entities."

Content-Sharing and Collaborative Production

In order to facilitate network-wide sharing of audio programs and to support regional programming collaborations, network participants embraced a proposal to use a customized version of the Pacifica Network's Audioport content-sharing system.
Audioport is the web-based, password-protected file sharing system which Pacifica affiliates use to post and download audio content. Normally, the Audioport is only accessible by producers at Pacifica member stations. While many NW stations are already Pacifica affilliates, many more are not.

Under the NWCRN agreement with Pacifica, Audioport programmers will set up a NWCRN "section" within the larger Audioport site, and NWCRN members will have upload/download access to other NWCRN stations' programming. NWCRN stations will have the option to become full-fledged Pacifica affiliates (giving them additional benefits and access to national programming), but it's not required. All content uploaded to the Audioport will also be accessible to the entire Pacifica network, offering additional potential outlets for regionally-produced programming. The NWCRN will collectively pay Pacifica an annual access fee to be determined.

The organizing committee (or a subcommittee) can work with Pacifica to discuss priorities for functionality, e.g. RSS/automation, potential mirror sites. Additional related ideas include the creation of a separate, end-user-friendly site which could distribute regional programs or podcasts to the public.

The Audioport proposal grew out of brainstorming discussions with Pacifica Network Affiliate Coordinator Ursula Ruedenberg; Ursula attended the Summit in order to discuss the proposal with regional stations.

On the topic of collaborative production, few firm commitments were made—though producers at the summit were full of enthusiastic ideas on how coordinated production projects might work, as well as how to deal with some potential obstacles.

Specific ideas for collaborations included:
* Network IDs or tags for regional/network programs
* the need to develop production standards for shared progamming.
* a collaboratively-produced weekly program gathering segments from network stations (the FSRN model offers a good example of this)
* sharing production templates for work parts/copy/actualities/etc
* using the network's wiki for notification, discussion, consensus-building
* using training excercises to produce network content
* create a network station/producer/volunteer directory; survey needs, resources
* the network operational phase can be partially defined as participation in producing regional programming on a weekly or monthly basis
* "critical mass" broadcasts, using real-time collaboration to produce dynamic distributed content of critical events as they happen, Indymedia-style; perhaps using webcasting or phone lines as tools; balancing professionalism and high-quality content with "amateur-positive" production values.

During the nine-month network organizing phase, or before the NWCRN Audioport arrangement is up and running, participating stations are encouraged to use the nwradio email list and the network WIKI as tools for content-sharing.

Next Steps towards launching a network

This report was prepared in the month after the NW Community Radio Summit; participating stations must now work together on their own to continue organizing for a working network. Here are some of the immediate next steps, as determined at the summit:

Participating stations will select representatives for the network organizing committee, and the organizing committee will schedule an initial conference call.

The organizing committee's early priorities will include creating a meeting schedule, fundraising for and hiring a network coordinator, and getting the ball rolling on networking collaborations, including the development of our content-sharing site.


Broadcasters represented:

CITR Vancouver
CIUF Gabriola
CJAM South River
CJSF Burnaby
Fairbanks Open Radio
Free Radio Olympia
Free Radio Santa Cruz
KAOS Olympia
KBCS Bellevue
KBOO Portland
KDNA Granger
KDRT Davis
KDVS Davis
KEUL Girdwood
KEXP Seattle
KLOI Lopez Island
KOWA Olympia
KPFA Berkeley
KPSU Portland
KSER Everett
KSVR Mt. Vernon
KRAW Sterling
KRFP Moscow
KUGS Bellingham
KWMD Kasilof
KWVA Eugene
KWVK Kasilof
KYRS Spokane
Radio Indymedia
Rainy Dawg
Radio Free Palmer
Radio Port Townsend
Voice of Vashon

Other organizations:

Brown Broadcasting Services
Common Frequency
Constructive Hip-Hop Project
The Daily
11th Hour Productions
Free Speech Radio News
InForm Productions
National Campus Radio Association
National Lawyers Guild CDC
Pepperspray Productions
Portland Indymedia
Prometheus Radio Project
Puget Sound Access
Reclaim the Media
SCAN Community Television
Social Justice Television
Urban Arts Media
Youth Media Institute
YES! Radio

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey