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CPB: Telling Public Radio's Story (WCBE's Chapter for Fiscal Year 2016)

CPB SAS Report:  FY16
Submitted: 15 February 2017
Section 6:  Telling Public Radio’s Story

1. Describe your overall goals and approach to address identified community issues, needs, and interests through your station’s vital local services, such as multiplatform long and short-form content, digital and in-person engagement, education services, community information, partnership support, and other activities, and audiences you reached or new audiences you engaged.

At a visioning workshop recently, WCBE staff individually submitted their perceptions of station values and mission.  Everyone viewed our focus as being outward: WCBE exists to serve our broader community...using audio content and platforms to answer community issues, needs, and interests.

Our core goal is to answer issues and needs informationally (via News and announcements) and culturally (music and entertainment).  This can be done through on-air and online programming.

That's not enough for true community service, though.  With such a small staff, it's difficult to go beyond we will work to expand our partnerships with other area non-profits.  We worked with about 25 NPOs in 2016.  On the education front, we also aired an experimental program giving voice to urban teens -- students with our licensee, the Columbus City Schools.  We plan to use the knowledge gained from that show to produce a new program in FY17 incorporating students from each district high school (increasing the number of teens involved), and significantly elevating production standards to attract a wider audience.

2. Describe key initiatives and the variety of partners with whom you collaborated, including other public media outlets, community nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions, the business community, teachers and parents, etc. This will illustrate the many ways you’re connected across the community and engaged with other important organizations in the area.

One of our hallmark initiatives is helping to feed the hungry in central Ohio.  We accomplish this by forging a public-private partnership between WCBE, DNO Produce, and the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.  In December, DNO Produce agrees to donate three pounds of fresh produce to the Food Bank for every financial donation a listener makes to WCBE.

We don't presume to know all of the good works being done by non-profits in Columbus, so we also seek feedback in several ways from our listeners.  One obvious technique to expand our non-profit reach is our day sponsorship program, in which station donors can use their sponsorships to promote awareness of other area non-profits they support.

Of course, we honor our situation as a school district licensee by working on education initiatives, and giving voice to concerns unique to urban students.  The teen program mentioned in Question 1 is one example.  Another is our new-in-FY16 Geek Sneak initiative for science outreach.  This involves a partnership between WCBE, the local non-profit Gateway Film Center, and staff from Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Ohio State which we leverage new blockbuster films to teach core science concepts to children AND adults.

Central Ohio’s NPR station also hosts a robust internship program, with students entering at a high-school or college level. Though we take on students from many sources, our primary partners in FY15 were Cristo Rey (a high school for highly at-risk teens), Columbus Alternative High School, and the Ohio State University.  Our interns are taught critical writing skills for radio, equipment operation, and digital audio editing, among other topics. Not only do interns learn the practical skills of working at a radio station, they also have a “real-world” job experience, encouraging them to gain confidence, whether they are entering the workforce or continuing their education.

In a similar vein, but on a smaller scale, WCBE also continues a thriving touring program for youth (and their families), regularly hosting Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other youth groups.  We also participated in vocational tour programs for teens with agencies focusing on service to impoverished and homeless youth.  In all these cases, the goal of the tours is not simply to promote careers in radio -- but to excite a new generation about expressing themselves in the audio arts.

This same spirit expresses itself on the air through our local radio drama show, "Midnight Audio Theatre."  Through this program, we host an international audio drama scriptwriting competition.  The winning scripts are produced/engineered by students in the Columbus City Schools' audio production vocational program, with voice actors cast in conjunction with the annual auditions of one of Columbus major non-profit theater NPOs, Players Theatre -- which attracts high school and college students in the performing arts, in addition to the many adult actors.

3. What impact did your key initiatives and partnerships have in your community? Describe any known measurable impact, such as increased awareness, learning or understanding about particular issues. Describe indicators of success, such as connecting people to needed resources or strengthening conversational ties across diverse neighborhoods. Did a partner see an increase in requests for related resources? Please include direct feedback from a partner(s) or from a person(s) served.

This is difficult for us to objectively and statistically assess, so comments here are more anecdotal than evidential.  
Generally, we're told by our non-profit partners that involvement with WCBE does increase interest in their work, and increases in attendance at their activities.  For example, we partnered with Bridgeway Academy -- a local center focused on the education and therapy of children on the autism spectrum -- to help promote their annual gala.  The added publicity helps with attendance...and, thus, the success of this major fundraiser.

As in FY15, the student program has a significant affect on the teen hosts involved; we consistently see a boost in focus, maturity, and current events knowledge in the students.  Our partnership with the Dick & Jane Project -- which gives middle schoolers a way to express their concerns through music -- clearly empowers and boosts confidence in the diverse array of students involved.

And the new Geek Sneaks partnership is having a very clear impact on general community members, boosting their interest in science.  We've seen a cadre of "regulars" who make a point of attending premiers so they can learn from the related science demonstrations...and the National Science Teachers' Association regional conference welcomed a presentation on the program, garnering excited feedback and requests to replicate the program from science teachers (and a documentarian) in the audience.

One particular initiative had an impact which stretched beyond our state borders.  In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Columbus business -- Traxler Printing, a long-time supporter of WCBE -- developed a project in conjunction with another area NPO to encourage donations of bottled water from Columbus citizens, which Traxler then shipped to Flint for its people to have safe drinking water.  Traxler approached us about helping to publicize the project, which we gladly did.  Though our part was small, the greater effort clearly had a direct health impact on the recipients in Flint.  (It also inspired us to focus outward during one of our semi-annual on-air fund drives, offering a Health Day with various thank-you gifts to donors which encouraged healthy practices and habits.)

4. Please describe any efforts (e.g. programming, production, engagement activities) you have made to investigate and/or meet the needs of minority and other diverse audiences (including, but not limited to, new immigrants, people for whom English is a second language and illiterate adults) during Fiscal Year 2016, and any plans you have made to meet the needs of these audiences during Fiscal Year 2017. If you regularly broadcast in a language other than English, please note the language broadcast.

All aspects of the station come together in this area.  Our news team, of course, is constantly scanning the community to determine issues of import...and our music staff does the same on the cultural front.  This is where it also helps us to be physically located in the heart of an inner-city high school campus, surrounded constantly by a diverse group of students from immigrant communities and a swath of economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Some examples of the news process results include reports answering concerns about the Zika virus, a Columbus-based effort to help parents of stillborn children, addressing the city's high rates of infant mortality, the role of racism in homelessness, and -- like too much of the nation -- the shooting of a Black teenager by police (a concern which was addressed on-air beyond the news team, expanding to the teen show to give voice to peer concerns about the incident).

Hyper-locally, we foster relationships with various teachers and school staff (for example, serving on the curriculum advisory boards of school programs).  We also stay involved closely with area non-profits serving diverse communities (from our station partnerships to sitting on NPO governing boards).  Geek Sneaks and our own teaching activities (one station staffer, for example, teaches middle schoolers at the Thurber House writing center in downtown Columbus) also keep us in tune with various elements of the community.

To harvest hard data, we also began a more aggressive surveying process in FY16.  When considering new shows, we formally ask the producers to consider what community needs and audiences the show will serve.  After airing pilots/test versions of the shows, we also invite listeners to provide feedback on the shows, and how effectively those shows serve the community.

In FY17, we'll continue our current process...and expand our efforts by developing the new high school program beyond simple cheerleading about each students' school into an exploration of the issues facing that school's neighboring community.

5. Please assess the impact that your CPB funding had on your ability to serve your community. What were you able to do with your grant that you wouldn't be able to do if you didn't receive it?

FY16 was clear proof of the import of CPB funding.  Due to a late filing in a prior year, our funding for the year was reduced...and this had a very obvious, negative impact on WCBE.

The funds free up other revenues for us to take on new initiatives to serve the community.  We'd hoped, in FY16, to develop more locally produced shows so we could better address area issues in a variety of topic areas.  But, without full CPB funding, we couldn't afford the extra staff time and required equipment to bring those shows to fruition.  We also couldn't support other non-profits in more meaningful ways than simple on-air work.  Even the expenses for the few new initiatives we launched, such as the Geek Sneaks, were funded out of pocket by WCBE staff and the principal from Nationwide Children's Hospital.

With full CPB funding now restored, we should be able to launch some of those new local programs...and develop new ways of helping our sister non-profits -- thus more meaningfully serving central Ohio as a whole.

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