To engage communities of color and disenfranchised communities in the creation of a non-commercial, community-owned, low-powered radio station serving the Fargo-Moorhead area
What has been most instrumental to your progress?:
One of the most important activities in our work was a focus on establishing relationships with immigrant community members who were interested in having a voice in local media. We spent time getting to know people. their culture, language, customs and personal aspirations. We learned quickly that simply inviting community members to a meeting or a training was not a type of outreach that was effective. We started inviting people to our home to talk, share food and eventually get down to business regarding our radio station goals. As people got to know who we were and the direction of establishing a low power radio station, numerous community members began to bring their friends, cultural leaders and new ideas to the table. We had many meals and gatherings to get people informed and involved in moving our goals forward. Many ideas were focused on developing talk and music programs in a variety of languages. We immediately embraced having many languages spoken at our station and saw the incredible value of having people communicate in their first language in order to be heard by their community. This personal and genuine style of outreach was significant and has led to growth.
Although the majority of our leadership is People of Color, we understood quickly how important it was to have People of Color in leadership. The most effective outreach came by community members talking to their own communities. Our board leader, Cindy Gomez-Schempp was instrumental in forging relationships with other members of the Latino community to join the board and govern the radio station. Another example was teaming up with a Somali Immigrant organization, named the Afro-American Student Organization. Executive Director Hukun Dubar spent time at our meetings and began to bring other Somali community members to the table to participate in leadership and sound production to be banked for the time when our station would go on the air. We were finding common ground between organizations and began branching out to other Immigrant communities. Over time we had a multi-cultural team promoting the beginning of the radio station and dozens of people wanted to be on the leadership and governance team.
Assumptions about technology and a lack of access to computers and the Internet were realized early in the grant project as an area to focus on. Most of the people we were working with simply accessed the Internet through their phones and had limited data plans. We anticipated that this would be a barrier and we purchased a laptop and two portable microphones that we lent out to people to get recordings of interviews and news from the community. We then spent time training people how to process audio files and put them to work in a bare-bones studio we created in our home. This portable access became instrumental in bringing new people into our leadership group and began equipping people with the technical knowledge to do radio broadcasting. We were also not on the air as a radio station and decided to produce Internet Radio until we could raise the funds for the radio equipment we needed to get on the air. This became a good promotional effort since we could have people begin producing their own media. We also produced podcasts and uploaded them to our website. This assisted us in the visibility we needed to show the community we were making progress.
Key lessons learned:
During the past year, most local media became overtly hostile towards communities of color. This made it difficult to engage some people in joining the leadership of the radio station and a desire to produce their own media. We should have spent more time on a racial analysis in the beginning of this project. This would have given us and the people we were engaging in this project a better base of understanding as we mentored people in creating and producing their own media. We also found that we needed to educate our group on a Media Justice analysis in order to have people understand that the mission of the station was focused on People of Color and the disfranchised voices in the community. As we learned that there was a wide mistrust of Media, we made changes in what we would talk about at our leadership and community meetings. We helped people understand that they would be in control of their own voice and stories. People began to take on a new focus as we moved forward in our work and became more savvy in the way they talked about developing our station and how important it would be for our community.
Traditional leadership models and governing structures are foreign to the people we are working with. Some of the people we worked with wanted to start their own organizations, their own radio stations and their own projects. We spent a lot of time helping people explore these opportunities, however the bureaucracy associated with doing any of this was very foreign and intimidating to the people we worked with. We found a happy medium where we encouraged people to join us and we could collaborate on their projects, use our organization as a host and give them opportunities under the umbrella of the radio station. This was very successful. One group was very interested in having a youth soccer club become a nonprofit and work with us covering youth sports and youth issues under the radio station umbrella. We have kept them engaged in the station governance, helped them file their own 501-c-3 and they eventually were granted nonprofit status and continue to work with the radio station weekly.
Not having the radio station on the air was an impediment to our growth and ground building for the project. As we worked on the goals of this project focusing on leadership, governance and ownership, we began to lose steam by not having a tangible product to show for the work. Even though we were broadcasting on Internet Radio and were producing podcasts, we knew that it was essential to get the station on air to bring people together fo the long haul. We went to work and did fundraising and six months into the project we had secured enough grants and private donations to get the equipment we needed to put the radio station on the air. In January we began to broadcast our radio signal with our bare-bones studio in our house. This led to an huge increase in volunteers and leaders who wanted to be a part of our new radio station. We registered our station as KPPP-LP Fargo-Moorhead and received a channel 88.1 FM and created a tag-line: "Bringing Local Color to Your Air Waves." This became the most important catalyst for us to move forward with the project. It created a natural place for the progression of planning to implementing a solution for the work everybody was doing.
Reflections on the community innovation process:
As we worked with the CI process, we found ourselves working from the beginning to the end, then back to the beginning and the end again. Our focus was spent identifying a need for disenfranchised communities to have a voice in the local media. We then developed ideas and began to implement them. Once the radio station was actually on the air, our focus has been on testing and implementing ideas through our radio programs and presence. The true community innovation has been that we are actually accomplishing what we set out to do, have a independent media platform for People of Color and marginalized people to have as a platform for their voice and community. We find ourselves continuing to generate ideas and then testing them and implementing them. We find the entire process quite fluid. However, the most important element was the testing and implementing possible solutions. This is the area that gave all of us a sense of completion and inspiration to do more as we expand our work to other communities in our area.
Progress toward an innovation:
The innovation we sought was to have a commercial free, community owned, nonprofit radio station in the Fargo-Moorhead community that is run and governed by disenfranchised people in the community. The need we were addressing is that Communities of Color rarely see themselves in media in a positive light and very few People of Color own or control media in this community or in this country. We have come a long way to potentially reach this innovation. No other local media organization is doing what our project is doing. One innovation is to broadcast in the languages that the people speak and this involves their community members to feel welcomed and included in this community. Having multiple languages broadcast at our station has been the first in this community. What we need to do is continue the project and utilize the relationships we have developed and make open space for new people to get engaged in the work we are doing. We also need to raise funds to develop a public studio that is staffed and run by volunteers. Having a public studio open 12 hours a day will be a huge innovation for this community.
What it will take to reach an innovation?:
We believe that getting the station on the air is a significant innovation, especially that this need is not being addressed by other local media organizations. One of the areas we need to progress on is getting more people involved in production and we need a larger public space and funding to implement that. Our next steps are focused on continued outreach, training, fund raising, grant writing, media production, leadership training and the expansion of our project.
Through this work our goal is to create a community owned and operated media legacy for the F-M area which is fully operational, well funded and sustainable. We are researching funders, writing grants, planning fundraisers and continuing to train and activate leadership in this project. We will continue to mentor the people involved and forge new relationships in their communities. We will continue to meet with leadership in the community and expand our leadership at the station.
If you could do it all over again...:
When we first started having local meetings about establishing a community owned radio station in Fargo-Moorhead, we began to get some push-back from the few community radio stations that already existed in Fargo. They encouraged us to drop our plans and join them instead of developing a new station. At the time, we did not see the same goals or focus reflected in these stations and we simply ignored their requests. We should have spent more time to meet with them to helping them understand what we were doing and how we differed from what they were doing and we should have brought them in to our planning. We see that it would have been better to collaborate more in the beginning to prevent the relationships from being adversarial. We also realize that we did not have the working knowledge of running a radio station and a collaborative relationship would have prepared us better to learn the trade of broadcasting from their experience and knowledge.
One last thought:
This grant project was planned to focus on developing leadership in communities that are not included in the media landscape. We planned our first year to focus on immigrants, new Americans and communities of color. We have been doing well on those goals and we are attracting other marginalized people to join us and participate in programming and leadership of the radio station. We have made ourselves open and available to the community and this continues to build our work. We are in a new year and we are hitting the ground running. We are implementing hands-on internship opportunities that offer training in radio broadcasting, radio programming, computer skills, marketing, fundraising, and internet based instruction. We are promoting a platform that allows people of all Identities to connect, and share parts of their culture that are important to them. And we are designing and producing programming that explores local, national, and world events through the perspective of People of Color.