Organizing Your Station: Creating a Station Structure

Creating a Station Structure

Oh boy, this is a big one. You need to have a clear organizational structure from the beginning, so people understand how decisions are being made, and do not start to freak out about a perceived lack of democracy.

A Board

Our station started as the idea of a handful of friends, who pitched in money to buy the initial equipment. Four of us ended up sticking with it, and we now comprise the Board. We know each other well and have worked together for years on other community projects, and trust each other. We are all long-term residents of our broadcast area (two of us grew up here), which is important for building community support. We live near each other and see each other all the time in the course of our day jobs, our other projects and our social lives, so it is easy for us to be in pretty much constant communication about the station. As the board, we are responsible for ultimate decisions about the station, and for organizing the work that needs to get done.

A Steering Committee

In addition to the board, we also have a steering committee. The steering committee is made up of the people who, over the past year, have gotten really involved in working on stuff for the station and are very committed to it. Our steering committee is made up of about twelve people, including the four board members. These are all people who understand the station mission, who can talk about it well, who represent the idea well to the community and who want to work on it. Because of the diversity of our community, it is important for us that our steering committee be diverse, too.

Other Committees

Then we have a number of working committees. Right now, we have committees working on fundraising/events, outreach/community support, congressional action (that is, making sure Congress does not kill low power FM -- more on that below), and a youth committee. We started off this project with training, technical and programming committees as well; those groups have done a certain amount of work, but right now most of the work is happening with the four listed above. The fundraising and outreach committees are most important at this stage, when we are trying to get support and let people know we exist. The Congressional action committee is important, because if Congress kills low power radio, there is no point in us doing the other organizing. And the youth committee is a special interest of ours, because we want to really make an effort to bring kids into the station. Committees meet on their own, usually at someones house. At least one member of the steering committee is on each working committee, and serves as the coordinator/facilitator for that group.

An Advisory Committee

Having an advisory committee is a nice way to involve people whose support you want, but who do not necessarily have the time to work with you on a regular basis. Our advisory committee includes a lawyer, a couple radio engineers, a local Spanish video producer, a programmer on the local full-power community radio station, a minister, a labor organizer, and the head of a local Vietnamese youth group. These people literally act as advisors, on technical, legal and programmatic issues. Again, people who represent your community, and who you trust, and who are psyched about this project, are the people you want.

A Mission Statement

Sample Mission Statement

"The Mt. Pleasant Broadcasting Club seeks to create a low power non-commercial community radio station for the Washington, D.C. neighborhoods of Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. In keeping with the diversity of our broadcasting area, we will seek to air a broad mix of culture and views, with priority given to those who have typically been denied access to the mainstream media. The station will enable residents to share music and opinions, as well as build community through bringing people together to work on a common project."

It is important to get a concise mission statement put together as soon as possible, so every time someone new gets involved, they understand what your station is all about. As an example, our mission statement is this:

That is it. Simple -- though you would be surprised at how long it can take a group of people to hammer one out. But once you have one you like, you are set.

Things get more complex when you start to work on a programming policy, which may include such things as,"25% of our programming must be in Spanish," or, "no corporate music may be played on our station," or , "80% of our DJs must live in our broadcast area." You do not need to worry about that stuff right now, though it is good to start thinking about specific programming policy at some point well before you are actually set to go on the air.

How much democracy?

There are lots of different ways to run organizations -- by consensus, or democracy, or dictatorship. You will have to figure out which is the best way for you. You probably want people to be involved in decision making, but you also need to make decisions relatively quickly so you can get stuff done.

It is good if at least one of the people on your board can be a hard-ass and remind people that, ultimately, important decisions are made by the board. You will find that most people would rather someone else make the hard decisions anyway, so they will not mind if the board takes more responsibility in this area.

A word on meetings

You are gonna be having a hell of a lot of meetings. You need good people who are experienced in facilitating meetings, and the same person should not facilitate every time. Facilitators should be good at: eliciting ideas from people at the meeting; keeping the agenda on track; keeping overzealous people from dominating, but not in a way that puts them down in front of people (this is one of the trickier things); creating a friendly and even funny atmosphere; summarizing what other people have said in the meeting and figuring out what next steps need to be; and generally making people feel good and excited about being part of the project.

Please, please try to keep your meetings to an hour and a half, and make sure everyone knows where the bathroom is before you start. Always do introductions at the beginning, if only so everyone gets a chance to say a few words right away.

If people come in late, and they always do, welcome them but do not let it get you off track, and do not get into repeating everything you said earlier for their benefit. If they want to find out what they missed, they can stay afterwards and ask the facilitator about it.

Incorporating

You should incorporate as soon as possible, so you can prove you exist. It is actually pretty simple and easy. Then get a bank account so you can keep track of all your cash. (I am embarrassed to say that the total assets of the Mt. Pleasant Broadcasting Club are sitting serenely in a tupperware container under my desk in my bedroom. We will be sticking that in the bank as soon as we get incorporated and can get a company account). And you should find a non-profit fiscal sponsor you trust, so people can give you money and write it off on their taxes. You may want to become a non-profit organization, yourself; that takes some time, but you could start the process now. See the section on finding/becoming a non-profit.