Presenting the case were the KFAI staff, and area communicators who talked about the importance of community based radio. There was opportunity for everyone, the underserved, unheard and unspoken to express their views. People of all ethnicities and backgrounds were present.
KFAI managers talked about the issue of signal strength despite the installation of a 900-watt correctional antenna in 2008, which itself was a marked improvement from the 125-watt signal when the station was first established. According to Adam Mehl, Program Director-KFAI, the signal is strongest in the southeast metro area, and West St. Paul. He explained how signal strength affects listenership. Then there is the issue of non-English speaking communities who are not reached because of the language barrier, though, ironically, they are surrounded by KFAI transmission.
Ahndi Fridell, News Director-KFAI, said that the language barrier is one of the challenges, but she said, “This is a generation thing; the second generation is speaking English a lot more than their parents are.”
Andy Driscoll, KFAI Programmer, said that his programs are as broad as the communities he chooses to focus on. He tries to include information the community needs to know; issues that are local, regional or statewide. He said that KFAI takes on issues that have a greater impact at the local level than commercial or public radio. Regarding immigrants, Driscoll said when they moved out of the inner city, they were moving out of the strongest signal coverage area of KFAI. He said many young people do not even listen to the radio. Rather, they listen to everything on their iPods, and read their news from the Internet. Hence he suggested that one way to increase listenership would be to create pod-casts.
KFAI’s slogan, “Fresh Air Radio/Radio Without Boundaries” essentially says it all. It provides the separate programming of music, politics, gospel and community, yet shows how they are all connected to one another. That connectivity should be the basis for linking the station’s work with the aggressive technology training and adoption goals of the University of Minnesota’s Broadband Access Project.
The Broadband Access Project, envisioned as a service to bridge the digital divide for Twin Cities communities of color and underserved populations, consists of 11 public computer centers located inside four federally-designated poverty zones: North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis Southeast Minneapolis, and West St. Paul. The project is a $3.6M initiative of the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC) in partnership with the University of Minnesota's, Office of Business Community and Economic Development, and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium.
Mike Wassenaar, Executive Director-St Paul Neighborhood Network said that ironically, KFAI in the late 1990s was the sole Somali language service when web streaming first started for the station. Unfortunately, the size of the community determines the economics of the market; hence, communities of color, such as Somali and Hmong communities are not significant for the broadcast market place. “Our media institutions fail them, they ignore them, because they are not deemed to be a viable market,” he observed.
Another KFAI volunteer, who is also an affiliate of ABC news, stressed that commercial stations only target communities they see as important. He said, “I will find a job, but I want to make sure this station stays.”
Cheryl Leanza, a policy advisor, mentioned how the media and budgeting are important factors in the success of a radio station. One of the key elements she says is the inability to access the value of the community. If the community you are trying to fundraise in does not have a lot of money, the results of the fundraising are going to be low. The goal of fundraising is to demonstrate effectiveness of a station.
The compelling case emerging from each individual account at the meeting impressed upon the Commissioner that there was a cohesive voice to support community radio stations. She said that she understood the value of community, loyalty and hard work for those who struggle to make ends meet. Everyone’s voice was heard, and those voices demonstrated that KFAI really is a radio station “without boundaries.”