The WGBH Board of Trustees established the community advisory board in 1979 to serve its radio and television stations. In its first year, the CAB undertook a comprehensive review of programming on its stations. In 1980-1981, the board adopted a committee structure, with committees convening between meetings of the whole board. The committees have changed over time, but initial assignments included an examination of program funding and an exploration of how best to define community problems and educational/cultural needs. The board also developed procedural guidelines and established a structural process for receiving and responding to public comment. Several years ago, the committees were eliminated because members wanted to learn more about the station as a whole, not just a particular slice of it.
According to the board fact sheet, “the board offers an outside perspective on matters pertaining to WGBH’s responsiveness to the diverse educational and cultural needs and interests of the communities it serves.” The mandate of the board states that its members will review programming goals established by the stations (radio and TV), assist the stations in being responsive to community needs and evaluate whether the stations are meeting their goals. During orientation of new members, station leaders stress that this board is advisory in nature and not a policy making board. The WGBH Board of Trustees is the governing body, and there is also a Board of Overseers that focuses on development.
Station management presents updates on station activities. Margie Yamamoto, Director of Community Program Initiatives, says, “It’s like taking WGBH 101. The members learn so much.” Members determine the topics and speakers at the meetings. For example in 2002-2003, they visited the future site of WGBH and recommended guidelines for the new facility. They recommended that the new building be welcoming, accessible and open to community, draw the public into production of programs, and make a strong visual statement. Also that year they examined building social capital in youth and community, diversity initiatives and new technology at the station, and the role of WGBH in greater Boston’s creative economy.
The CAB writes an annual report to the Trustees summarizing its activities and making recommendations. Staff provides feedback to the CAB regarding their recommendations.
Selection of members
WGBH sends letters to several hundred community organizations asking for nominations. Yamamoto says the organizations cross “ethnicity, religion, geography, everything.” They get a field of about 30 nominees who are asked to complete a candidate’s form. A screening committee of trustees, overseers and CAB members reviews the candidates and recommends a list of new CAB members and alternates. The WGBH Board of Trustees makes appointments to the CAB from the final pool of candidates. Terms are for three years. Yamamoto says donating to the station is not a requirement. “We don’t even ask if they’re a member of the station. We ask if they have a rich interest in public radio and TV. We make no fundraising demands, but if they aren’t already members, they usually are before they leave the board.” She says the board is the most diverse group at the station in terms of “age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and profession. We sometimes have everyone from CEOs and retirees, to college students and young people just starting their careers.”
Yamamoto says the most valuable contribution of the board is that its members bring a different perspective to the station. “Too often, being where we are (in Cambridge), most of our people are highly educated and are used to dealing with people like themselves.” She says the outreach work through the board members has been very valuable to the stations as well.
Yamamoto says it is important to treat the CAB with the same respect the other WGBH boards receive. “Don’t ever make them feel like they’re a lesser board. Don’t just bring them in to rubber stamp.” She says most of the members are very busy people, so she tries to make membership “painless” by having few meetings in addition to the regular monthly meetings. Members who write the annual report or work on planning the monthly meetings find the work can be done by e-mail and conference calls
Yamamoto says top management attends as many of the CAB meetings as they can fit into their schedules. This includes the president, vice president and TV stations manager, vice president and radio stations manager, vice president for corporate communications, and director of broadcasting. As a result, the communication is two-way – the CAB has access to top decision makers, who, in turn, benefit from access to a group that is representative of WGBH’s potential audience.
If the board makes recommendations to the station, Yamamoto says it is important to respond to their ideas. WGBH presents a report to the CAB at the beginning of the new CAB term that summarizes past recommendations and their status.
Yamamoto says she wants to do more to work with CAB alumni, which number in the hundreds. She believes they can become community ambassadors for the station. They have begun emailing a monthly report (that is sent to active CAB members) to the alumni and have added news about the alumni.
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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