In the early 1980s, WITF re-created its original advisory boards, establishing three boards, one in each of the major cities the stations serve – Harrisburg, Lancaster and York. Each board had 10-12 members who were leaders of key organizations in their areas. The groups met for several years and then became inactive by the late 1980s. When meetings did happen, they focused on members sharing news about their communities. In 1991, WITF decided to re-examine its approach to community advisory boards and created one large regional board. The station invited the people who had served on the previous boards to be part of the new board. About half agreed to serve and the station filled the remainder of the slots with new people. The board has been meeting actively and regularly ever since.
According to Kathy Silks, Vice President of Audience Relations, the CAB acts as a sounding board for WITF to make sure the content and services the stations provide are relevant and continue to meet listeners’ and viewers’ needs. She says, “We actually go to them with program proposals and schedule changes, ideas for public affairs shows. We go to them when we need to find partnerships in a particular geographic region or with a particular type of organization. We go to them when we want to make strategic decisions about events in their areas.“ The board “Roles and Responsibilities” document also states that members should inform the station about “’hot’ issues, newsworthy happenings, community resources, and perceptions of WITF.”
Silks says the board members do not fundraise – that is the responsibility of the board of directors. Board members do help answer phones during fund drives.
The bimonthly meetings typically include a mix of feedback sessions and staff presentations. WITF staff members ask the board for feedback on some very specific questions. For example, in January, the radio news director was evaluating the policy for handling crime stories. According to Silks, “He decided this was a perfect opportunity to use the advisory board. He came to the group with a series of six questions, some of which had examples of crime related coverage. We asked if they would expect to find such a story on our air, and, if not, why. If they answered no, he wanted to know if there were elements of the story they felt were appropriate or inappropriate. The news director found this incredibly helpful.”
Staff members have also asked the board to review pilots of programs. The board members fill out feedback “summary reports” that give detailed information on their reactions. In addition to staff from the radio and TV stations, the editor of WITF’s regional magazine attends the CAB meetings to get feedback on the publication.
WITF conducts an annual orientation for its new board members, and each board member receives a handbook, which includes the following information:
Board of Directors list
Role and responsibilities of CAB members
CAB meeting schedule
Broadcast area chart
One meeting each year, usually the July meeting, is strictly social. It’s held at the home of a former board member and allows the board members to get to know each other better.
Selection of members
Part of Silks’ responsibilities as Vice President of Audience Relations is to find members for the community advisory board. She says she keeps a list of 75 to 90 prospects. “I’m always on the lookout for people who have an interest and who use at least one of our media.” She also solicits names from the staff and current and former board members. When she determines how many slots are open, Silks says she develops a demographic profile of the board, “looking for areas that are under-represented – age groups, gender, geography, fields of work.” Her goal is to make the board representative of the region. She then narrows the list down to 10-12, sends invitation letters out and conducts follow up phone interviews. Silks assemble profiles of the candidates, and the WITF Board of Directors votes on the nominees.
Board members are limited to three years of service. Silks says she would like to find ways to use board alumni to help the stations. “Ninety-nine percent of them are totally high on WITF; they are wonderful community ambassadors. It’s a shame to lose that relationship after three years.”
Silks is enthusiastic about the community advisory board. “It’s one of my very favorite parts of my job. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make very strong and very deep relationships with people we might not meet any other way. And it’s an opportunity to try out ideas and get input on important decisions from our audience, people who use us all the time and value what we do. I can’t think of anything more important to do as a community licensed station.”
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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