Ideas for SM applicants

November 30th, 2004 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

I’ve been asked to suggest some useful points for those applying for the job of Flirt FM station manager. I’m posting them here, so that they can be available to any interested party. I would be available for further discussion, by email, IM, etc., if anyone wanted to contact me.

I’ve tried to pose issues in terms of questions, before giving some of my initial thoughts. There are many areas I haven’t addressed, and I’m not sure of what the priorities of the current board, or of those who will be serving on the interview panel, will be.

In general I presume they’ll be looking for someone who shows an understanding of the overall reach of Flirt FM’s content (e.g. news, arts and music) and its role (facilitating any interested student to do radio, serving the student body – though definitions of these will vary from person to person), and who exhibits confidence and an ability to manage volunteers (keeping people in line, without being overly authoritative) and deal with administrative requirements (interacting with BCI and the Board of Directors themselves).

Content

  • How would you increase/develop/maintain/improve output?

    Flirt FM has obligations under the license (40% talk, 20% News/C.A., some Irish language commitment). These are the base, but content should be driven by the volunteer and student bodies. All those wishing to get on air should have an opportunity to do so (this has not always been the case in recent years). We should embrace opportunities to encourage documentaries and other creative programmes.

    While primarily for students, we should also involved the wider community where possible, and where this does not impinge on our primary aims. We should investigate ways to involve under-served groups in the wider community – we used to have a slot by-and-for Travellers (run with GTSG). Are immigrant groups being drawn into the station? How about secondary school students – this used to be a lively and productive source of content and later volunteers (since many of them later went to NUI, Galway or GMIT).

    I personally believe the station should investigate sources of (talk-oriented) content that could be aired during hours that are not currently used for broadcasting. Because of the percentage-quota system, this would increase the number of music-oriented hours that could be produced. I’ve suggested NPR as a possible source in the past – some object that the content would not be of great/particular interest to students, and would dilute from the student nature of the station. This is a valid area of debate. [One response would be that the time is currently filled with dead air, as the station cannot fill it internally, but the objection is an important one.] It’s something for each person to look at individually. (There are many possible sources of content – some free, some subscriber-only, some ongoing, some once-off). I would touch on the area, rather than committing to anything, during the interview process.

Structure

  • How would you involve volunteers in decision making and off-air activities? Why?

    You may want to look at my MA thesis, which looked at the internal structures of Flirt FM, circa 2001 (“Organisational structure of participatory media: Flirt FM: a case study“).

    There is now an ‘executive committee’ that has a decision-making role. This should be bolstered. It is important that there be clear guidelines for its operation, that they be adhered to, and that the committee have a clear purpose, and set powers. In the past attempts to operate the ‘Board of Management’ as it was tended to fall apart as managers sometimes didn’t call regular meetings, there wasn’t a clear nomination/election process, and the station ‘got by’ without this very important layer. The station is meant to be radio by students for students (to steal a phrase) – students should have a voice in decision making. The schedule is drawn up by the Station Manager, but students should have formal – and informal – input into deciding its shape, and overseeing its implementation.

    Involvement in off-air activities is a different matter. Some managers have concentrated on paying students to undertake non-programming tasks. This is problematic as it creates room for patronage and favouritism, and because it discourages volunteers as seeing the overall station as theirs, and something which must be supported if it is to be fully developed. Students should be encouraged to take part in off-air activities – such as PR, studio maintenance, etc. In one local community station here in Illinois all programmers must have some ‘volunteer commitment’ – such as taking part in a committee or filling some needed administrative role. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but the good of the station is everybody’s concern.

  • What about executive positions, officerships and editors?

    In the past some ‘area editors’ have played an important role in doing behind-the-scenes work for their area, and co-ordinating activities. Some would have done the work without a title, but the title provided recognition of the role they were (perhaps already) filling. Others agreed to take on an area filled by someone else in the past – the task having been identified, and ‘given a name’ by the creation of the position. However, some have clung to titles and come to see certain areas as their personal ‘fiefdoms’ and this has sometimes been problematic for other volunteers (and potential volunteers), for station managers, and for the proper growth of the station.

    Much of the problem here has been lack of structure, and an over emphasis on the individual rather than the task. First, a move to a team model would help – this would allow those working in an area to identify who would be their ‘chairperson’ or ‘editor’ and the title could move as appropriate. While problems would undoubtedly still arise, it would be easier for a station manager to intervene without feeling they were taking on an individual – rather they are restructuring a group. Regular weekly, fortnightly, or monthly meetings of these groups would encourage greater involvement in the tasks to be done, and also mean that those who are actually active in an area the ones who run it, preventing someone from assuming a title and then disengaging from others in the area, or from the area itself.

    Note that structures should ensure that ‘editors’ do not have a gatekeeping function in deciding who gets on air. This can lead to new volunteers being exploited by ‘high-ranking’ volunteers. This was one of the main things we fought against in founding the Radio Society and then Flirt FM. I’ve heard a small number of reports of volunteers using their status to persuade those wanting to get involved to work ‘for’ them in off-air tasks, such as promoting their own shows – the structures should prevent this.

  • Do you see a role for former volunteers? What?

    I set up the alumni group for several reasons: to help former volunteers stay in touch with each other and stay informed about the station, and to develop this (obviously) continually growing group as a resource for the station. Former volunteers could help with training – several have specialist skills that would be useful in providing advanced training. It might also be possible to solicit financial donations from former volunteers, for specific capital expenses, or once-off costs, that would not otherwise be met from the station’s normal budget. Most ‘alumni’ are still at an early point in their careers, but we must build a network now, so that they still have linkages with the station later, when they likely to be able to make more substantial donations (and if we want to go down this path we should encourage a culture of giving back to the station that you gained so much from as a station, even before people can give sizeable donations – so I’m hoping to start with very modest fundraising drives).

    It might also be possible to include alumni in an advisory, oversight, or long-term planning role for the station, but this is something that should be very carefully approached, as the station is by and for the _current_ student body at any point, and cannot be tied up in the culture of past generations of students (I discuss this in the talk I reference below).

Planning

  • I gave a talk to Radio Soc recently, where I discussed how the role of Radio in society is changing, and likely to change further, and pointed to questions about how college radio should respond. A lot of this depends on what you see as the core role/value-add of college radio currently.
  • Would you put any processes in place for reviewing and developing the station? There are occasional externally funded workshops etc., but would you suggest any ongoing internal processes (e.g. listener panels, round-tables with SU, societies and other groups, public meetings, surveys, advisory panels). If anyone does put such processes in place, I’d be available to help in any way I can.

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