WAMU established a Community Advisory Board in 1978. Following WAMU’s 30th Anniversary in 1991, station management working with a group of WAMU supporters enlarged and reorganized the board giving it a more formal structure and changing its name to the WAMU Community Council. The Community Council held its first official meeting in January 1992.
The WAMU Community Council’s role and activities are defined in a statement of purpose. It says that the purpose of the council is “to represent the interests of the listening public in regular meetings with the staff and management of WAMU, and to provide appropriate assistance to station staff in carrying out community outreach activities.” The council, which is “solely advisory in nature,” is charged with reviewing station programming and other significant decisions and advising management whether community needs are being met by the station.
Anne Healy, Manager of Community Relations and Special Projects for WAMU,
has worked with the Community Council since its inception in 1992. She says the main focus of the WAMU Community Council has been community ascertainment. The council’s ascertainment activities have evolved over the years, ranging from public forums that addressed community issues to in-house “community dialogues” that bring experts on particular topics to the station to talk with staff. Council member Peter Tannenwald says the dialogues are the most important and successful activity of the council. “The dialogues have brought people in who have sensitized the staff and presented an opportunity for community people to meet and have a discussion or debate. One of the things a station ought to do is stimulate thought about solving problems. Bringing people together for this kind of dialogue – that’s part of our mission.” The council sponsors as many as six dialogues in the course of a year. Topics have ranged from Washington DC area demographics to housing to the role of arts organizations.
Some members of the council have helped with station fundraising projects, but Healy says the council was not intended to be primarily a fundraising body. However, since the mid-1990s, council members have chosen to pool their contributions to make a challenge grant to the station prior to the annual fall
on-air fund drive, and many members have made significant additional donations.
The council played an important role in 1992 when WAMU made a change in its afternoon format, removing a bluegrass program and adding a talk program. According to Healy, the council held a special meeting to allow members of the public to voice their concerns over the programming change. She says the meeting gave protesters a chance to be heard and quieted the debate. In 1994, the council also helped rally support for public broadcasting when it was being assailed on Capitol Hill.
Selection of members
The council has a nominating committee that selects candidates for the entire council to vote on. The council recommendations are sent to station management, which makes appointments to the council. Terms are for three years. The immediate past chair serves as an ex-officio member. Members must live within the station’s coverage area and work to “preserve, promote and strengthen” the station’s services. Management expects council members to be contributors to the station at the basic membership level or above.
Healy says it is crucial that the council be diverse. “You not only want your listeners, you want to represent the community at large. You want gender and ethnic balance. You also want a balance between people who are strong supporters and you want some people who have the capacity to give.” She says it is also important to keep the council members informed if they are to carry out their duties effectively.
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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