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Community Advisory Boards
CAB Legal Considerations
Profiles of Community Advisory Boards:
North Dakota Public Radio
New Hampshire Public Radio
Focus on Civic Leadership
Gov-o-Metrics 2 Results
First Report on Governance
Gov-o-Metrics 1 Results
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By Kathy Merritt
Community advisory boards are mandated for some public radio stations, but their value goes far beyond compliance with CPB and congressional regulations. In fact, some stations not required to have CABs have established them to benefit from community feedback on programming, guidance on policy decisions or assistance in fundraising. At stations that are committed to making them successful, the boards can provide meaningful input that results in better public service.[Connect to a review of CAB Legal Considerations]
Here are snapshots of eight boards we surveyed, which demonstrate the range of models that exist. More detailed information about each of them can be found in individual station profiles – click the name of the station in the snapshots below or select from the list of profiles on the left of this article.
Stations required to have a CAB:
WITF, a radio/television community licensee in Harrisburg, PA, created three advisory boards in the early 1980s, one in each of the major cities the stations serve. By the late ‘80s, the boards were inactive and station management decided to establish one large regional board whose role is to make sure the content and services the stations provide are relevant and continue to meet listeners’ and viewers’ needs. The board provides very specific feedback on programs and program proposals, filling out “summary reports” that inform staff decision-making. The Vice President of Audience Relations staffs the board and is largely responsible for finding new members. Members are limited to three years of service. The CAB has by-laws and a statement of roles and responsibilities for members. The board has 30 members and meets every other month.
New Hampshire Public Radio is a community licensee that established its community advisory board in 1981. In its early days, the board was often a forum for complaints about the station and even opposed some programming decisions. NHPR worked to make the board more valuable by asking its members to do “constituency interviews,” gathering opinions from community stakeholders. The change has led to a more productive CAB that supplies meaningful input on the stations’ programming. The board has by-laws that call for 10 -16 members and quarterly meetings. The program director is the station point person for the CAB, which underscores the board’s role in providing feedback on programming. Members are elected by the NHPR Board of Trustees and serve a maximum of three two-year terms.
The North Dakota Public Radio Council began in 1999 when the North Dakota Public Radio network was established. The stations in the network are licensed to two state universities and a community non-profit organization. In addition to performing the usual roles of a CAB, the Council monitors the network’s progress and allows for communications between network partners. The Council gives feedback on programming and reviews budget and policy decisions. Six members are appointed by the partners of North Dakota Public Radio and serve terms at their discretion. The council also includes five members from the general public. Council members may serve two three-year terms. There is an informal emphasis on geographic and constituency representation. The Council meets four times a year as mandated in its by-laws.
WPLN, Nashville, became a community licensee in 1996. The station established a community advisory board at that time, but it was dissolved after proving to be ineffective and confrontational. In its place, the station created the WPLN Advisors, an informal focus group whose purpose is to provide a source of independent advice and criticism for the station. The group has no documents to define its procedures but has recently decided to institute two-year terms for its members. It has 18 members and meets four times a year. The primary staff contact is the station’s general manager.
WAMU, licensed to a private university in Washington DC, reformulated its Community Council in 1992 after several years of infrequent meetings and inactivity. The council can have up to 21 members and meets four times a year. The station’s Manager of Community Relations and Special Projects staffs the board on a part-time basis. Station management and the council’s nominating committee work together to recruit new members, who are appointed by the station after being approved by the full board. The council has a Statement of Purpose that loosely outlines its mission and procedures. Its role is to serve as “an extra set of ‘eyes and ears’ for the station,” representing the diverse interests of the listening public to the station and helping with community outreach activities. To help fulfill that role the Council organizes “community dialogues” that bring experts on particular topics to the station for off-the-record briefings with programming staff.
Stations not required to have a CAB:
WKSU, licensed to a public university in Kent, OH, has had several incarnations of its community advisory board. The station created a board in 1978, then disbanded it several years later. Another board, established in 1990, worked effectively for a while and then began to flounder. Current management is rebuilding the board and instituting guidelines. The community advisory council is downsizing from 33 members to 30 and increasing its number of meetings from three to four each year. The council has been discussing its role and has decided to institute term limits for members. It does not focus specifically on programming issues, but receives regular updates from staff about programming decisions. The council has a committee structure that works actively in development and other areas. The station manager and several department heads work directly with the council.
What works The examples show the variations of community advisory boards, from carefully structured bodies with well-defined rules to informal discussion groups. The style and approaches may vary, but these groups have elements in common that they believe lead to success.
Change is good
At their best, community advisory boards can play an invaluable role for stations by acting as a conduit for information, bringing it from corners of the community staff members don’t normally access and taking it back to a network of friends, colleagues and co-workers who might not hear about public radio otherwise. By providing input on programming, CABs can enhance stations’ efforts to connect with listeners. And for some stations, CAB members are lending expertise in a variety of areas that are helping stations build their reputations and increase fundraising. The case studies that follow give more detailed insight into how stations are using and benefiting from CABs.
This report was developed as part of Charting the Territory, SRG's national planning initiative for public radio that is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SRG member stations.
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