My View: Radio station back to collaborative decision-making

You may have read a report in this paper recently about KBOO Community Radio (KBOO station manager quits as board regroups, Sept. 19). We did have a disagreement within our family, but it’s pretty much over now.

Meanwhile, we never stopped carrying out our mission, and now we are better positioned than ever to fulfill that mission, to put on the radio programs that other stations don’t: genres of music that don’t (yet) have enough listeners to justify airtime at a for-profit station; issues that you won’t hear elsewhere until it’s too late for citizens to guide those in power; and otherwise-ignored voices on many issues.

At KBOO, all of this has been done on a shoestring by a few professionals and hundreds of dedicated volunteers for 45 years.

A year ago, we hired a new manager and gave her unprecedented powers. It turned out that top-down management doesn’t work well for us. In fact, we do our best work when we put our heads together, making good use of the wide backgrounds and expertise that our “radioactivists” bring to the effort. So we’ve returned to collaborative decision-making, with volunteers, paid staff, members and listeners all involved.

Meanwhile, the staff unionized. Contract negotiations are proceeding calmly. After all, they are only asking for the same low pay and modest benefits that they already had.

In a recent election for our board of directors, all seats were won by candidates who have positive attitudes, new ideas and the energy to realize goals. I’m proud of my fellow members for recognizing that, as Bette Howland said, “You don’t make a revolution by complaining; you make a revolution by offering a solution.” Our board of directors is now working as if all are on the same team.

We do have challenges. We know we have to adapt to new means of communication beyond our FM radio signal, and we are doing so, with an Internet stream, podcasts, and a wide variety of sometimes-unconventional news sources. Our business plan envisions a multifaceted media center.

We know we need more members, and we know where to find them. If you have read this far, you are probably one of them, though you may not have realized it.

Portlanders may not have known that they wanted to hear classical music back in 1968, but KBOO took a chance on it and made it possible for KBPS-FM (now KQAC) to be born. KBOO proved that folks would listen to jazz and KMHD was created.

Whether it’s bluegrass, western swing, blues, reggae, Native American or poetry, KBOO has been the one to take the risk. And while Portland may sometimes seem to be the “whitest” city around, immigrants are happy to hear politics and music from back home — Mexican punk, Persian women’s issues, Dutch comedy, Italian pop, and much more. Find out for yourself: Go to right now, or tune in to 90.7 FM. If what you hear is too strange, come back in an hour or two — we’ll probably be presenting something completely different.

We are proud of the many musicians and speakers we have brought to Portland. And of the hundreds of volunteers we have trained in the skills of journalism and broadcasting, some of whom have gone on to careers as reporters and DJs.

We do all of this on a ridiculously low budget, but it does cost some money. The business model for public and community radio is admittedly weird — we give our product away for free, then we ask people to pay for it.

About 5,000 people do so. That’s only about 10 percent of those who already are listening. Warning: we’ll be contacting the other 90 percent of you soon. We’re also going to reach out to members of like-minded organizations and others who may be new in town and simply haven’t yet found us on the dial. And we’re going to do a better job of gaining support from businesses and foundations.

We don’t claim to be fair and balanced; we claim to be concerned about peace, justice, democracy, environmentalism, human rights, multiculturalism, freedom of expression and social change. We also claim to offer more than others do of the information you need to know, so you can figure out what’s really going on in the world.

If you like to be empowered or just like odd music, KBOO is here for you.

Bruce Silverman is a 22-year volunteer at KBOO and is not an official voice for the organization.

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