I recently applied for a scholarship to attend the 2011 Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The scholarship was being provided by the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) as part of their ongoing efforts to advocate on behalf of independent media producers. I was honored to be among the 21 independent producers and radio programmers chosen to attend the conference and wanted to share some of my experiences at the conference and introduce some of the great folks I met while there.
Just before my trip to Baltimore I visited with a couple of friends who have an eleven-month old son named Nashville. Nashville is an awesome kid and is pretty darn lovable. He is even-tempered, quick to smile, curious and hardly ever cranky. Like a lot of kids, though, he is not a huge fan of certain fruits and vegetables. Kelly, his mom, has come up with quite a few ways of introducing these fruits and vegetables into Nashville’s diet; mashing up the much loathed banana with the absolutely adored graham crackers, virtually pureeing the carrots and broccoli, about which Nash is somewhat ambivalent, into a yummy and easily digestible quiche. Kelly wants Nashville to grow up healthy and strong and she is really putting her thinking cap on to figure out ways to ensure it. AIR has been putting its thinking cap on too. It wants Public Radio, which it loves and supports, to grow bigger, better and stronger. AIR is finding new ways to persuade Public Radio to eat its broccoli. I am proud to consider myself and the other New Voices Scholars the broccoli that Public Radio will totally love if it just gives us a try.
During the Opening Session: Change and Why Its So Hard, Radiolab host and 2011 MacArthur Fellow Jad Abumrad made a case for trying new things. He challenged stations to allow producers, newbies and veterans alike, to experiment, to fail, to upset the broadcast apple cart. Jad understands that straying from the traditional path can sometimes get you lost but it can also lead to charting new and exciting territory. His message folds nicely into AIR’s New Voices initiative that brings independent producers and new station programmers to the PRPD Conference so that they may share fresh ideas and diverse perspectives with local Public Radio stations from across the country. Bringing 21 New Voices Scholars to the conference was the equivalent of putting the broccoli on the plate, but AIR was not content to simply present us to the Public Radio establishment. AIR decided to make it easy for them to digest our ideas and enthusiasm by organizing the Speed Date Session the day before Jad’s opening address. The idea was to put New Voices Scholars in the room with program directors and station managers from all over North America so that everyone could get to know one another. New Voices Scholar Emily Corwin threw down the gauntlet by proposing that the powers-that-be in attendance task a staff member with regularly reviewing pitches from new, independent producers. That couldn’t have happened without AIR.
New Voices Scholars could be heard throughout the four days of the conference discussing, critiquing proposing solutions and sharing novel insights into long standing queries. Inspired by New Voices Scholar Luis Perez, I also stepped up to the mic during the Beyond Age, Color and Creed Session. I asked the panel and attendees to consider some of the regional, socioeconomic and political communities that we often forget when we talk about diversity in our ranks and in our audience. It was so validating to be heard and to realize that as far as AIR was concerned “being heard” was not just my right but also my responsibility. I, along with the other scholars, had an important part to play in making Public Radio better.
Luckily, my time at the PRPD Conference wasn’t just about work. It was such fun getting to know my fellow scholars. Everyone was so enthusiastic and supportive of one another. When my pitch bombed at the Getting to Yes (Perfect Pitch) Session I heard such words of encouragement and support from New Voices Scholar Michele Faust for pitching a story in the first place. Do you realize how many times I hear the word “no” in this line of work? A lot. Rarely, however, do I get a pat on the back from a peer or colleague for even trying. There was a level of camaraderie among those of us brought together by AIR that was priceless. Everyone seemed just as interested in helping each other as they were in helping themselves. You can imagine how often the word “community” is used at an event like PRPD, but for the four days of the conference I didn’t just hear it I experienced it. The best thing about being an AIR New Voices Scholar is that even though the conference is over I have a feeling that community will extend far into the future.
Finally, I think the pièce de résistance of the entire conference was the AIR Localore Launch Reception. I can’t imagine the work that went into aligning CPB, member stations around the country and independent producers for this game changing initiative.
With Localore, AIR and CPB hope to tap gifted, inspired producers to redefine public media for the 21st century by leading the way for research, experimentation and development of local public stations and their markets. If Localore pays off not only will local stations better serve the people who already tune in but they’ll become a hub for more active and diverse listeners in the cities and towns to which they broadcast.
Way to serve up the broccoli, AIR!