Report: The Allegheny Front – Voice of the Bioregion
(Note: this is an excerpt from the full report. If you’re interested a PDF of the full proposal, please contact Sue Schardt , SchardtMEDIA)
July 27, 2001
Prepared by Sue Schardt, SchardtMEDIA
Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible… Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones. The Amish question, “What will this do to our community?” tends toward the right answer for the world.—Wendell Berry
Table of Contents
1. Executive Summary and Recommendations …………… 1
2. Editorial development …………… 3
* Identity …… 3
* Producers’ survey …… 4
* Training …… 6
3. Fundraising …………… 8
* Strategies …… 8
* Competition …… 12
* Prospective sources of funding …… 12
4. Marketing, Promotion, Visibility …………… 14
* Landscape …… 14
* SWOT …… 15
* Positioning …… 16
* Expanding distribution …… 16
* Building community via the airwaves …… 18
5. Staffing and Operations …………… 19
* Volunteers …… 19
* Core team …… 20
* Board of directors …… 21
* Freelancers …… 22
* Facilities …… 22
6. White paper …………… 23
7. Budget …………… 24
* Equipment …… 25
8. Timeline …………… 26
* Public radio program producer survey …… i
* Summary of program producer survey …… ii
* “What are Bio-Regions?” …… v
* Listing of bio-regional programs …… vi
* Bio-regional programmers questionnaire …… vii
* Allegheny Front Conservation Directory …… viii
* Station carriage prospect list …… xvi
* AIR Code of Fair Practices …… xxi
* Resumes of key project participants ……xxiv
The Allegheny Front is a weekly half-hour environmental program focusing on the bioregion encompassing roughly the drainage basin of the upper Ohio River including the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. The program has been broadcast on Pittsburgh’s WYEP continuously for ten years, and produced exclusively by volunteers. Through the generosity of the Heinz Endowment, The Allegheny Front hired Sue Schardt of SchardtMEDIA to carry out a strategic planning project. She began the project in February, working in close conjunction with Tom Livingston of Livingston Associates, Lee Ferraro, General Manager of WYEP, and Kathy Knauer, Executive Producer of Allegheny Front.
Project goals and “uniqueness”
The mission of The Allegheny Front is to… “Engage and inform the audience to deepen a respect for nature and inspire all to act in an environmentally responsible manner by exploring topics relevant to the lives of the people of our region.” The overarching goals of this project were to develop a strategy to a) expand the reach of The Allegheny Front, b) strengthen the quality of the program, and c) professionalize the staff. A central underlying assumption was that significant progress on this goal would require converting from its all-volunteer staffing to some number of paid staff. It was also understood that this report serve as a template for developing funding proposals for the program, and also considered as a resource for other programmers or radio stations seeking similar objectives.
While many public radio stations have made the transition from volunteer to paid staff, the professionalizing of a public radio program is unique. Through the process of carrying out this project, there emerged a loose network of pubic radio programs like The Allegheny Front that are a) primarily staffed by committed volunteers, b) generally not funded nor staffed full time, c) focus on a particular and unique bio-region. The Allegheny Front is unique in its quest to map out a strategy for expanding and solidifying its presence and strengthening its commitment to the community. In this way, The Allegheny Front might serve as a model for other programs throughout the country who wish to pursue a similar path, and begin to establish a cluster of bioregional voices which, collectively, have the potential for significant impact.
Finally, the opportunity to “converge” a group of local volunteer producers with some of public radio’s most respected program producers is unusual. Through the Producers’ Survey, this project provided a rare opportunity for those on opposite sides of the spectrum to learn from one another and to appreciate each other’s contributions to their shared community of non-commercial radio.
There were a variety of tasks carried out as part of this project. In addition to convening semi-monthly teleconferences, other key activities included:
* an assessment of the current program volunteer staff
* a competitive scan of the regional radio market to determine both competitors, and also to identify public and commercial outlets that might serve a outlets for The Allegheny Front
* identifying regional organizations who can serve as the base of outreach and which may also be potential content partners
* funding analysis
* research of comparable programming efforts in public radio
* survey of leading program producers and trainers to critique the program and provide advice
Products of the producer survey process include suggestions for improving the editorial content of the program and a matrix of how to accomplish the structural development of the activity including staffing, training, and budgeting.
Key findings and observations
* There was a positive response to the content of the program in the producer survey, which also yielded important and actionable suggestions for improvement of the program.
* The survey of comparable environmental programs around the country suggests the model developed in this plan is unique and has the potential to serve as a template for others.
* Producers of local, regional, and nat ionally distributed environmental programs surveyed as part of this process indicated significant interest in content sharing.
* No other Pittsburgh broadcasters are seeking to fill the need for environmental programming that The Allegheny Front is. The Allegheny Front fills an exclusive niche.
* National environmental programmers and local bio-regional programs in other parts of the country are more potential partners than competitors.
* The Allegheny Front represents an activity that is highly aligned with WYEP’s strategic focus on increasing localism in its service. The program has a tradition of service and quality that it can build on as it seeks funding and to professionalize the service.
* Pittsburgh has a rich network of organizations that are actively involved in the quality of life throughout the region. This spans economic, cultural, as well as environmental issues, and is a tremendous resource for the program. The Allegheny Front has an opportunity to play an even stronger role, both drawing support from and serving this network.
* The Allegheny Front would significantly increase its reach, service, and impact in the community by evolving towards a professionally staffed service.
* Because of its unique positioning, there is the potential for broad carriage for The Allegheny Front through a network of public and commercial stations throughout the bio-region.
* There are a number of foundations with missions related to enhancing the
understanding of environmental issues, and a substantial number that are
specifically concerned with the Pittsburgh region. A funding strategy is suggested which seeks the stewardship from the Heinz Endowment in partnering with like-minded foundations for the resources necessary to complete the expansion of The Allegheny Front. Specifically, the Heinz Endowment, working in conjunction with The Allegheny Front, should convene a summit of foundations “introducing” The Allegheny Front and aimed at developing support from other foundations.
* A first order of business is for The Allegheny Front to establish its own 501c3 and to appoint a board. As resources become available, staff should be hired in the order and configuration outlined in this report, starting with an Executive Producer, who will then play an active role in shaping the content, hiring, and implementing a training plan for the rest of the staff.
* The partnership between WYEP and The Allegheny Front is mutually beneficial and every effort should be made to enhance communication, seek activities that support each organizations’ objectives, and generally strengthen the relationship.
* The Allegheny Front has a unique and powerful opportunity to take a leadership role in creating a national confederation of bioregional environmental programs.
* Because of ground-breaking nature of this project and its potential to serve as a model for other programs across the country, there is value in building into the strategy a means of determining the success of this proposal and its implementation. It is recommended that there be a evaluation conducted in approximately one year, and a brief “white paper” produced to provide an objective analysis of the progress of the project for funders and staff.
* To provide the maximum leverage from the activity of this project in regard to creating a replicable model and building a network of potential content partners, we recommend that this report be shared with other bio-regional programs, public radio and those in the environmental community. A first step would be to post the full report on the Internet and publicize its availability to various key constituencies throughout public radio and to organizations who have a vested interest in the community of Pittsburgh.
* The Allegheny Front should continue its tradition of volunteerism, which is the bedrock of the program, by retaining positions for volunteers on the program staff. In addition to continuing an important tradition, retaining volunteer positions provides a means for the program to develop future core team members, and to cultivate a dynamic range of programming ideas. The Executive Producer is responsible for drafting explicit guidelines for volunteers, for determining what role volunteers will play, and for leading the recruitment of volunteers.