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How community radio can adapt to digital disruption

recommunityradioThis is part one of a series identifying ways community radio stations can adapt and ultimately embrace digital disruption as a tool to empower communities through media.

A lot of the pushback I get from community radio stations – and yes, well-resourced NPR affiliates – is that there aren’t enough people to work on digital. Yes, stations would love to be able to produce a bunch of different podcasts. Yes, community radio would love to spend more money on websites and a person – just one person! – to manage the digital content. But budgets are already stretched thin.

So as digital disruption drives audience ratings off a cliff without making up for it in online streaming and pledge drives become even more difficult, what’s a community radio station to do?

Turn the station website into a blog. With a personality.

Too often I see community radio stations treating their websites as their second tower. Radio first, then digital content…and even then it’s the intro of the news story with the play button icon below it. We must move beyond this. Let me propose something revolutionary.

I’ve pitched this idea at a few community radio stations: cut the over the air news and public affairs shows that involve managing volunteer programmers and put that staff muscle into coordinating content for a community content generated website. This was my big dream when I was the News Director at KFAI in Minneapolis. I ultimately had to settle for starting a participatory journalism website,

Music reviews, a free speech zone, a video from a practicing Muslim about the polite way to wish a Happy Ramadan, and original local news content are part of the Twin Cities Daily Planet’s regular offerings. If it had a radio tower, it could be a community radio station. It has the same number of staff of a lot of stations and the pay is just as bad. Instead it’s a community media site and generating hundreds of thousands of hits.

Too extreme for you? I thought so. Nobody’s ever taken me up on it. What a program director or music director could do instead is start writing the regular blog: shows coming to town, his or her top song pick from each genre of music played at the station. You could have a lot of fun with it. And who knows? Maybe some of the volunteer programmers will notice and ask you how they can start contributing too!

Curate your over the air content. Be choosy.

KBUT, a plucky community radio station in Crested Butte, Colorado, decided to spend a little time on a music blog. It’s simple, it integrates new mobile apps like SoundCloud and it complements their music offerings over the air. Does it have every single song that played over the air? Of course not. That would be impossible, and not the least ridiculous.

Who might you ask should manage this work? Read my post on why some community radio stations are uniquely positioned to restructure their staff.

Collaborate with your fellow community radio stations.

KBUT’s music blog would be a great project for a group of community radio stations to collaborate on with each station putting a little bit of money into a pot to pay for a music blogger to maintain one site to cultivate an audience. If it sounds hard, it’s because it is. What is the pay out? Is it going to improve your pledge drives? The jury is out on those questions, but if community radio is to survive in a digital landscape, stations must work together to pool resources.



2 Responses to How community radio can adapt to digital disruption

  1. Dennis Green October 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Ann, thanks for these regular and insightful posts. This dovetails nicely with a brand new effort we are starting to put curated content online. New music, Top 10 Favorite track listings, and more. I especially like the idea of asking the listener community to provide content like album and concert reviews and the like. That’s going on the list!

    • Ann October 21, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

      Thanks, Dennis! KCCK provides a unique service and I can see a lot of potential. Also, I love the KCCK app!

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