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When the head of Clear Channel Radio wants to buy a new station or start a new project, he can go to a board of directors at his company who know the business of radio. He doesn't have to explain the basics of the media industry every time he wants to move forward. The business conducted by Clear Channel Radio and the governing structure of the company are aligned in their goals.

Public radio is not always so lucky.

As public radio stations plan their strategies for becoming the public service media companies of the future, they will have to look critically at the governance structures now in place and determine whether they need adjustment or overhaul. Individual leadership will always be important in public radio, but an appropriate, strong governance structure will allow individual leaders to flourish while providing the stability and accountability stations need to pursue their public service missions.

Good governance is more than a theory or a model drawn on chart paper. It is a means by which very concrete ends are achieved. When governance works well, stations can concentrate on the business of radio and leave behind the hours spent tip-toeing through the minefields of bureaucracy and board politics. They have stronger connections to the communities they serve and can increase the value of their programming to listeners. They can tap into new funding sources with the help of high-level community volunteers. Even stations that have already achieved a large measure of success can further increase their value as community institutions by seeking ways to increase the effectiveness of their governance. Personalities, funding, policies and priorities all change over time and governance has to adjust accordingly.

New ideas in fundraising and programming have emerged over the past decade along with increased proficiency in operating stations. Now is the time to aim for similar growth in governance. In recent years, a handful of stations have shown that new models of governance are possible and, in fact, necessary, to move public radio forward in the changing and ever more competitive media environment. For example, the emergence of operating agreements shows that an independent organization can manage a station or group of stations, with or without a change in license holders. The biggest challenge ahead is finding governance structures that align with the mission of public radio. If stations are governed by entities that don't share or completely understand the mission of public radio, those stations will never be able to fully serve their communities.

Several forces have converged to prompt a discussion of governance changes, including the maturity of stations and the public radio system itself, changes in funding allocations from licensees, the desire to group multiple stations under one management structure and the need for closer ties and more accountability to the listeners not the license holders.

It is important to note that there is no "one size fits all" solution to improving governing structures. There is no one particular model that will work for all stations. Each station is shaped by its own history and community and needs to determine what will work best to achieve its vision.

In addressing governance our aim is:

    To define the characteristics of good governance

    To help stations align governance structures with their public service mission

    To provide models, tools and information that will help stations assess their progress towards good governance

Our examination of governance includes the traditional models along with those recently established. We work with stations licensed to universities, school boards, state agencies and community boards. We work with single stations, networks and joint licensees. All are a part of the story and all have lessons to offer. We welcome feedback and suggestions to strengthen our work.

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.

Copyright © 2007 Station Resource Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.