Volume 3/Issue 1
“We are the produce of seeds of thinking and action planted by Bill. We are disciples who extend his ideas. We cherish knowing him because he gives our lives focus and brings meaning to our work. Tune around the radio dial and I guarantee you will hear Bill Siemering talking to you.” -Dennis Hamilton
“He keeps the big questions in mind. He is–rare in radio, rare in any field–a serious person. Not solemn, thank God, just serious.” -Larry Massett
“To many of us in South Africa, radio represents the hope of new beginnings, of a new democracy in which all the voices are heard. Bill has helped nurture the seeds of this new generation.” -Sue Valentine
It’s not just coincidence that the “seed” metaphor runs through the life and work of Bill Siemering. As he says in his memoir below, “the only definition of ‘broadcast’ in 1901 was ‘to sow seeds.’ This is still my favorite metaphor for public radio.” Bill’s words, and the example of his life, are his seeds.
It is our great pleasure to welcome Bill Siemering here at Transom, where we hope he will find himself very much at home. –Jay A
Bill Siemering’s Manifesto
January 22, 2003
My First Fifty Years in Radio and What I Learned
Because I’d been driving straight ahead, it wasn’t until I passed the marker of my 50th high school reunion last year that I realized I’d also been working in radio for fifty years. The present is so full, I glance only occasionally in the rear-view mirror. So maybe this is a good time to pause and see where this life-long love affair with radio began, and to reflect on some of the places it has led.
As early as first grade, radio both educated me and spurred my imagination. In a two-room country school near Madison, I learned from radio by listening to the Wisconsin School of the Air. Twice a day the 20-minute programs were broadcast over WHA-AM, and included music, science, nature studies, social studies and art. One of the most popular programs was Let’s Draw! Sometimes we’d paint listening to a dramatization or reading of a story.
My family’s house was so close to the WHA transmitter that it was almost in the shadow of the towers. I was so full of radio waves that radio captured my mind. I didn’t have a chance.
How I Got Into Radio
My parents had been actors in the Chautauqua circuit putting on plays in the Midwest in tents in the summers. In high school I also found my place working on the stage crew and performing in plays. Ruth McCarty was the speech teacher, head of the drama program and my mentor. Her husband was H.B. McCarty, director of WHA and an educational radio leader, and she suggested I see about working with him at the station.
So I began my vocation at WHA in June, 1952 and worked my way through the University of Wisconsin as a board operator, announcer, and newscaster. I also acted in some of the radio plays. My previous summer jobs had including bailing hay and harvesting grain, working in a hotel laundry and sometimes cleaning the lavatories. WHA seemed like an improvement: it was air-conditioned and the job required no heavy lifting.
WHA is “the oldest station in the nation,” started in 1917 as 9XM, a project of the physics department. To start a radio station was natural for a university with the motto, “The boundaries of the campus are the boundaries of the state.” And it’s worth noting that it came out of an agricultural environment; the only definition of “broadcast” in 1901 was “to sow seeds.” This is still my favorite metaphor for public radio.
After serving as a guard and education specialist at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and teaching school in northern Wisconsin, I returned to WHA summers while I completed my Master’s in education. In 1962 I had a phone call from Richard Siggelkow, formerly a professor of mine and now dean of students at the University of Buffalo in upstate New York. He was looking for someone with a background in radio/journalism and student personnel to supervise a newspaper and radio station, both student-run. WBFO was a place to play with radio, a Petri dish for public radio and Fresh Air.
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like many other student stations in the early 60′s, WBFO signed on each day at 5:00 pm after classes were over, and went off the air entirely during vacations and summers. Programming was decided more or less by a consensus of the staff.
I realized I couldn’t use the WHA model in Buffalo. Dean Siggelkow said, “This is just a small bush now, but you can help it grow into a big tree someday.” I realize now, he unconsciously became a model boss: he supported me and left me alone.
I spent the first year learning about the city, conducting a porch-to-porch survey in the Black community and producing a program on what it was like “To Be Negro.” I also worked with Native Americans living at nearby Niagara Falls to produce a series of programs on the Iroquois Confederacy.
Over time WBFO became a professionally-managed station, acquiring a core of paid student staff and extending its programming day and year-round. I hired Mike Waters as news director from a commercial country and western station. He had also been a stringer for CBC, VOA and others. Mike later became a co-host of All Things Considered.
We used the station like an experimental laboratory and the results informed work with NPR and created the genesis of Fresh Air. We broadcast live events from a major arts festival, meetings of the Common Council and readings by local and visiting writers.
For a program titled Talking Painting, we reproduced student paintings in the program guide and heard the artists tell of their creative process. In another experiment, we brought in five live lines from around the city, and composer Maryanne Amacher altered and mixed the sounds into a 28-hour composition, “City Links WBFO,” that we broadcast non-stop.
Listeners became aware of the music in their environment, and checked the sound of the city as they might check the weather. You could hear a steel cutting-saw and guys changing shifts at the Bethlehem Steel factory, airplanes coming in, and a musical bell-like machine at General Mills.
Far out? Sure, and yet it also demonstrated how radio could be a creative medium in itself, a celebration of sound.
In an article for a professional magazine in 1969, I wrote:
Public radio should be a concert hall where the old may be enjoyed and the new introduced. In our fine arts programming, we must regain that faculty, which as Hannah Arendt says, ‘is originally peculiar to all cultural things, the faculty of arresting our attention and moving us.
Most importantly, in 1969-70, we established a storefront broadcast studio in the heart of the Black community. With guidelines drawn up with local residents, they produced 25 hours a week of programming on WBFO — essentially all weekend from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. I told them one of the key ideas in broadcasting in America is that “the airwaves belong to the people.”
We sponsored a Black Arts Festival and folks brought in paintings and photographs, read poems and performed live jazz. Although there were two commercial black-oriented stations, Ed Smith from the storefront center was the first to play Roberta Flack in Buffalo. Some of the broadcasters went on to successful careers in commercial radio and television.
Radio as a Voice of Calm and Reason – Fresh Air
In March, 1970, a student strike erupted on campus and three hundred police were brought in to quell it over several nights. WBFO was housed in the student union, which was tear-gassed. Surrounded by chaos, we set out to capture as many points of view as we could.
We asked the leader of the protest how he came to this point in his life. He told of being arrested in a civil rights demonstration and going to jail, and of books and professors who influenced his thinking. We spoke to the acting university president, with moderate faculty members, and to anyone else with a point of view.
I went on the air and said, “You see, there isn’t a single truth here. There are different perceptions of reality and we’re bringing them all to you.”
WBFO later received praise from the local newspapers for being “a voice of calm and reason” amidst the turmoil. And we had learned about the power of radio in a crisis.
As events surrounding the disturbances gradually subsided, we started a program called This Is Radio! to build on the sense of immediacy and provide a forum for ideas from the riot coverage. It aired in the afternoon for three hours and was poised to respond quickly to any timely event. We did interviews with local and visiting writers, and with a range of other people of ideas. To the interviews we added a variety of music.
Later on, when some of the staff from WBFO moved to Philadelphia and Terry Gross joined as host and producer, This Is Radio! became Fresh Air.
From “Educational” to “Public” Radio – Establishing NPR’s Identity
With the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967, non commercial radio stations across the country changed their names from “educational” to “public” broadcasters.
In 1969, I wrote an article titled “Public Broadcasting – Some Essential Ingredients,” laying out what I thought this change meant. I think it was because of this article and the programming we were doing at WBFO that I was elected to the founding board of National Public Radio and asked to write the original mission statement.
All of my experience in Buffalo was fresh as I was writing the original NPR Mission and Goals statement that said NPR:
…will promote personal growth rather than corporate gains; it will regard individual differences with respect and joy rather than derision and hate; it will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied rather than vacuous and banal; it will encourage a sense of active constructive participation, rather than apathetic helplessness… The total service should be trustworthy, enhance intellectual development, expand knowledge, deepen aural esthetic enjoyment, increase the pleasure of living in a pluralistic society and result in a service to listeners which makes them more responsive, informed human beings and intelligent citizens of their communities and the world.
The board appointed Don Quayle, who had worked in both public radio and television, to be the first president. Quayle then he hired me as the first director of programming to implement the mission.
A vision without a task is but a dream; a task without a vision
is drudgery; a vision with a task is the hope of the world.
~ An inscription written on a church in Sussex, England, 1730.
Many of those on the founding NPR Board and among the early program staff were passionate about reclaiming the imaginative power of radio as a sound medium. We wanted to create something authentic to contrast with the hype and artifice of so much in commercial media.
Public television was already ahead of us, and we were tired of having radio elbowed aside. (Initially, some public television leaders wanted to exclude radio from CPB.) We wanted to say, “Listen! This is what radio can do, damn it!!”
How would we be different from public television? Here are some things we decided:
- First of all, we wouldn’t have self-important titles like Masterpiece Theater. We wouldn’t look to Brits, with the BBC, for programs and inspiration, although we did identify with the radio revolution at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
- In contrast to television, we wouldn’t schedule our news program after the network news, as a kind of follow-up. Instead we would provide the first national electronic record of the day’s events.
- We wouldn’t support a handful of producing stations without a center, but would instead create a single production center that gathered news and programs from all stations. I think this decision has made a profound difference between public radio and PBS.
Radio isn’t about masterpieces. Radio is a companion that makes the everyday elegant, like a Shaker chair or carved wooden spoons. It’s with you when you’re making breakfast, nursing the baby, fixing the car, sewing, or driving (even a tractor).
Radio is personal, for both the producer and listener. This is why it has such power and why we feel so passionate about it. Hearing a voice alone gives radio an intimacy unmatched by any other medium. And because public radio is non-commercial we establish a bond with our listeners through our art.
Lewis Hyde has written on the role of the artist in a commercial society and as well as the Trickster in myth and art. He writes in “The Gift”:
That art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – that work is received by us as a gift is received…It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling bond between two people, while the sale of commodity leaves no necessary connection.
In establishing a public radio sound, I thought we should be more out of the studio than in, and I was convinced that if we capitalized on radio’s unique strengths, we would create a broad audience. We would use a conversational style, treat sources with respect, and seek solutions. The Core Values Marcia Alvar developed for PRPD are a theme and variation of the original tune.
By early 1971 all the CPB-qualified stations were linked by live lines. May 3, 1971, the first broadcast of All Things Considered, coincidentally, saw the largest anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC. Seeking out multiple perspectives, we produced a 20:00+ documentary that stands as one on the best records of that event.
Every one of the staff contributed to the evolution of ATC. However, Jack Mitchell, the first producer and Cleve Mathews, the news director deserve special recognition that they have not received. Though we’d had a rocky start, ATC received a Peabody in the first year.
In its first year NPR also broadcast nearly a hundred hours of hearings held by the House and Senate. It contributed to the Senate investigation of health care legislation by sponsoring six forums across the country on the problems of health care.
By the first quarter of 1972, there were 125 members operating 148 stations, and 22 percent of program material distributed by NPR came from the local stations.
Just as the first brush strokes on a canvas set the style for a painting, so the early voices on NPR set the tone. Susan Stamberg, more than anyone else, became the voice of NPR. Listeners responded to her authenticity and genuine engagement with people. She listened. She asked the questions listeners would ask and more. She knew how to tell stories, skillfully using sound in the telling. Susan still has one of the most expressive voices on radio.
Although there were many growing pains starting a new enterprise like this, I thought things were smoothing out. Instead I was fired on December 10, 1972.
I applied for a job doing landscaping near Washington, D.C. but I needed a truck driver’s license and had no truck on which to learn. Then Bill Kling, president of Minnesota Public Radio, kindly offered me a job as manager/producer/reporter at KCCM, Moorhead Minnesota.
From Washington to Moorhead, Minnesota; Back to the Basics
Moorhead is separated from Fargo, North Dakota by the Red River, the remnant of an old alluvial lakebed, flat as a tabletop. The winters are cold, windy and long, and I felt I was in a Siberian exile.
My marriage had ended and my daughters were living in northern Wisconsin. I felt my career in public radio was over. I felt shame about losing my job, and about my divorce. But over time, with grace and the care of friends, I moved through the depression and learned to find the gold in the deep mine of adversity.
I hired Marcia Alvar, who was working as an auto mechanic in the unheated Freedom House garage serving the poor in Minneapolis. She was smart, curious, and had a good voice and a refreshing sense of humor. We produced a Saturday thematic program called Home For The Weekend and fed news stories to St. Paul and NPR.
Dennis Hamilton, who became vice president of MPR and John Ydstie, who went on to NPR, started at KCCM right out of college. One year I set a goal for KCCM to contribute an average of one story per week to NPR and we made it. I figure if we could do that in Moorhead, it could be done anywhere.
Among the stories we contributed to NPR were a series of twenty-six half-hour sound portraits of six small towns in North Dakota. On the weekends, for the money and because I enjoyed it, I worked on farms in North Dakota helping with planting, cultivating corn and spreading manure.
After nearly a year as vice president for programming at MPR in St. Paul, I was ready for a new challenge. I decided to leave the stable, radio-only operation of MPR and accept the manager’s job at Philadelphia’s WHYY-FM (then known as WUHY-FM), an under-performing station with a joint TV licensee.
From Minnesota to Philadelphia – More Fresh Air
In 1978, more people listened to public radio in Ames, Iowa than in Philadelphia. CPB offered grants for under-performing stations in major markets. We applied for one and received $1 million over five years. We met the income and audience goals every year. By the end, the audience had grown fourfold, the staff by three times and the annual budget from $350,000 to over $2 million.
We hired a news staff and produced a half-hour nightly news program. WHYY became the most frequent contributor to NPR news programs. We upgraded the music programming, including community concerts; provided more support for Fresh Air; and smoothed out the program schedule.
Because I knew I would make lots of changes, I started a monthly Dialogue with Listeners call-in, usually on Fresh Air, to explain the reasons behind our decisions and to get listener feedback. Radio is really quite simple and easy to explain and it was wise to include the listeners as partners in the programming.
When I arrived at the station, Fresh Air was a local, three-hour daily program Terry Gross produced with the help of Liane Hanson as associate producer and Danny Miller as an intern. We created a position for Danny, added other staff and reduced it to two hours.
As guests left, they frequently told me, “You know, that’s the best interview I ever had.” I knew Terry was exceptional.
In 1985, Fresh Air began producing a weekly half-hour program for national distribution, to test a larger audience. Around this time, some east coast station managers were agitating for ATC to start at 4:00 pm. I thought this would be too early for reporters to file their stories and it would dilute the quality of ATC.
I thought we could design Fresh Air to be a lead-in to ATC as a kind of arts and culture section of a newspaper. We even had a live promo with the ATC host so it sounded like they were right next to each other, so the hand-off would be seamless.
In May, 1987, the national daily version of Fresh Air was launched; it became the third most listened to program on public radio.
Once I worked with a choreographer who described a dance in a way that listeners could create it in the privacy of their own homes. “You are a gnarled, old tree, swaying in the wind.” We called it, “Dance On Your Radio.” The narrator: Mumia Abu Jamal, who is now serving life in prison after a jury found him guilty of killing a policeman.
In moving to Philadelphia, I had wanted to prove my management abilities. After nine years, I was pleased by what the staff had achieved. I’d also come to some conclusions about what it meant to manage well:
- Have a clear vision, hire the best people possible, and stay close to the listeners.
- I manage as I would like to be managed: have an agreed upon job description, be left alone to do the work and get feedback.
- The skill that has served me best is to recognize bright, creative people and support them. Whatever success I’ve had is because of the people I’ve hired and worked with.
While WHYY had come a long way, after close to ten years I was getting weary with corporate battles in a joint licensee. The situation became untenable and I left in June, 1987.
Jay Allison and Larry Massett had come up with the idea for a national documentary series to showcase the work of independent producers. Dave Creagh decided to host it at WJHU in Baltimore and asked me to be the executive producer of what came to be Soundprint. After five years, although there was strong support from producers and many stations, CPB stopped the funding. I felt it an appropriate time for me to leave.
A New Career in New Countries
After my first trip overseas in 1991, I became interested in international possibilities. In May, 1993, at age 58, under a USIA program, I went to South Africa to meet with folks who were planning to move into positions in the state run SABC once it was reformed, and others interested in community radio.
When I returned, I realized there was much follow-up work to do but no one to support it. Just then, I received a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation that enabled me to start a new career.
Community radio was part of the liberation struggle to empower the majority of people living in townships. The challenge was formidable: program for the poorest with a staff that had no experience in radio, using volunteers, with no state funds in a volatile political environment.
The Open Society Institute opened a foundation in South Africa and asked me to develop guidelines for supporting radio. OSI gave grants for planning and development, training, equipment and program production.
South Africa held its first elections in 1994, and established a broadcast licensing authority. They believed the interests of the new democracy could best be served by community radio and only licensed these stations in the first year.
Ten new South African station managers came to the U.S. for a study tour and when they returned, participated with many others in NFCB Healthy Station workshops. Most of the stations quickly developed engaging programming that spoke directly to the immediate community and carried plenty of pop music.
They were innovative and responsible. One of the most effective stations operated out of a truck container, which proved that it is people, ideas and dedication that matter most, and that radio is the most accessible, democratic and easy to learn of all media. Yes, some of the stations had management and financial problems. Not all succeeded, but the majority did.
Independent media monitors concluded that the community stations did the best job of covering the most recent elections; they covered more issues than events. The excellent training developed by the Open Society Institute of South Africa certainly contributed to this.
The issues are different in the countries of the former Soviet Union. For the most part the new private stations follow American commercial music radio formats so that until the back-announce you think it must be an American station. They do virtually no news or information programming and contribute little to the development of civil society.
Although parliamentarians talk about transforming state broadcasting into public service, they remain essentially state-controlled. People in Ukraine, for example, talked of a third way and found our system of being both listener and mission-driven appealing. But voluntary listener support is, at least for now, an idea that would not work there.
In Kosovo a number of commercial stations are also development-oriented, carry 60 percent information programming versus 40 percent music, and are self-supporting. In many counties the private newspapers and electronic media are controlled by oligarchs or political parties, so it is difficult to get a straight story.
What is News, Anyway?
Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.
I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
~ Abraham Lincoln
This is the challenge in both new democracies and our old one. When millions of dollars are spent to misinform and distort, as is the case with political advertising, it is little wonder that voter turnout is so low.
John le Carre’ cites a poll that one in two Americans believe Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center even though there has been no link ever established. People are still not getting the information they need to understand the world. The challenge is to make people want to hear what they need to know.
I was in Mongolia in September 2002 during the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, and I watched coverage of the summit on BBC World. They had a compelling piece profiling a wealthy family in Houston, the most polluted city in America, followed by a visit to the Alexandra Township in South Africa. The scientists then explained that it will simply be impossible to maintain that American life style and level of consumption in the future.
What were Americans talking about the same day? When I checked my hotmail, the question of the day on the MSN home page was, “Is Brittany’s restaurant mediocre?”
Let’s see, where’s the story on “Life on earth may end if we don’t make some changes?”
Journalists are fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson, from 1787:
Our liberty depends upon the freedom of the press and cannot be limited without being lost. When the press is free, and every man is able to read, all is safe….were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.
You don’t often see what he said in 1807:
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle…I will add that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; in as much as he who knows nothing is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.
My point is that freedom of the press by itself is no guarantee that the interests of democracy will be served. Media must be independent and responsible. If they aren’t responsible, they undermine civil society.
In workshops overseas, we have discussions about What Is News? Once I was asked to speak on “News as True Fiction or True Lies.” When local television stations increase their coverage of crime when crime is decreasing, this is a true lie as it creates the impression that it is less safe than it is.
Art speaks a truth beyond facts and this is why we included arts and culture in ATC as one of the defining qualities of NPR. Abe Rosenthal of the New York Times wrote in 1981:
I wish I were a poet, because poets are the best reporters. They tell you what counts and they do it with few words. They tell the truth so plainly that every reader is struck immediately by the reality of truth and doesn’t need facts and figures to back it up.
Now we’re getting to the work of so many independent producers. Joseph Conrad wrote:
The artist speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity and beauty and pain.
There has always been a certain tension between the news and feature producers at NPR and probably always will be. It’s okay. However, when features generate such strong listener response, when everyone agrees they are memorable, why aren’t more run? Public radio is rich with independent producers who make engaging, evocative pieces.
“What’s past is prologue.” ~ Shakespeare
My staff position with the Open Society Institute ended in October because of a restructuring at the foundation. This has been a whole new career, more learning than teaching.
Now with these ten years of experience, I’m working independently to raise funds to be able to continue this kind of work with more flexibility. I will focus on countries where radio is the dominant medium, and with stations that can make a significant difference in the lives of the people.
Where can radio make such a difference? Here are a few examples:
Rwanda and the other countries in the Great Lakes of East Africa: Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Never before was radio used so effectively – yet with such evil intent — as it was in Rwanda in 1994 where it was used to promote genocide.
Bill Berkeley describes listening to the radio in Rwanda in “The Graves Are Not Yet Full”:
From a crackling transistor radio behind me I could hear Radio-Television Libre Mille Collines, the state-allied broadcasting arm. “Defend your rights and rise up!” a voice was singing. There were drums and guitar in the background. A popular crooner named Simon Bikindi was beseeching his fellow Hutus – the bene sebahinzi, the sons of cultivators – to carry on the slaughter without delay… His voice was soft, gently cadenced, almost lyrical.
Then, as the violence escalated, they told listeners who to kill and how to kill them. They said: “You have missed some of the enemies. You must go back there and finish them off. The graves are not yet full. Who is going to do the good work and help us kill them completely?”
In spite of warnings by the CIA and pleading by General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force, the international community looked the other way as eight hundred thousand Tutsi and Hutu moderates were massacred in a hundred days in 1994.
Now there are few in places in the world where can radio be used more effectively to facilitate the peace process, reintegrate refugees and strengthen the fragile transitional democracy.
Last May I traveled to Burundi where radio is virtually the only medium. The Search for Common Ground Studio Ijambo produces programs on peace and reconciliation. I also visited the two private stations, Radio Bonesha and Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) that provide accurate news and investigative reporting and are hanging by a thread to stay on the air with pathetic equipment.
When I visited Sierra Leone in West Africa, I met Andrew Kromah, a remarkable, courageous station owner and manager. I saw the bullet holes in his home, fired by the rebels when they tried to get him. I organized a trip to the U.S. for him and he visited several public radio stations and was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. He wants to develop a national public radio in Sierra Leone.
He and his staff do investigative reporting under the name of Mr. Owl. He recently exposed a policeman who used his position to smuggle illegal diamond dealers on his motorcycle to evade checkpoints. Now he is in court to defend himself against three counts of criminal libel.
His and other stations in the region broadcast soap operas and other information about HIV/AIDS. In this case radio is literally saving lives. Now that the fighting has stopped, they are helping with peacemaking.
Large USAID projects rarely offer support for small local stations. I hope we can raise enough funds to help some stations. Folks overseas are familiar with the BBC but not the U.S. public radio model.
We would give grants to stations that are free of government or other political control that provide significant information programming and adhere to professional standards of journalism. All of this is in a formative stage. I’ll keep you posted of developments on Transom.org.
At the same time, Americans need to listen to and understand they way the majority of the people of the world live, that is, on $2.00 a day or less. These are not sad stories. Even though I’ve traveled to some of the poorest countries in the world, I always come back inspired by their generous spirit and optimism. They have rich, ancient cultures. They do extraordinary work with little; three stations operate in Mongolia with annual budgets of $1,000.
A Sister Station relationship is one way to form a mutually beneficial link. Jay Allison and WCAI/WNAN have volunteered to pilot with Gobi Wave in Mongolia. North Country Public Radio in Canton, New York is also linking with another Mongolian station and WXXI in Rochester is planning a link with a station in Nigeria. There can be an exchange of information, mentoring, posting on Web sites, where it might be possible to raise funds. There might also be producer exchanges. It’s really up to each station to determine how the relationship evolves between the two.
As you can see, radio is improving the quality of life around the world. Radio is an extraordinarily democratic, personal and imaginative medium. In every country I’ve visited I’ve found dedicated broadcasters who share the essential values of public radio here.I’ve been fortunate to have witnessed the way those ideals have taken root and grown into the vast public radio system here in the United States. My most important contribution to radio has been the people I’ve hired and encouraging others I worked with to believe in themselves and the mission of public radio.
Looking back, one of the themes has been the importance of experimenting, of trying something different. The two places I played with radio the most, WBFO and KCCM, Moorhead, I had the least money. The time of experimentation in each, prepared me for the next job. Some of the most recent fresh voices have come from the various youth radio projects. It is odd that with great success comes timidity. I’ve always just regarded our listeners as curious and believe they will go much further than we give them credit.
We all need revitalization, as individuals and organizations. It’s just the nature of life and institutions. Sometimes change was forced upon me, but good always came from it. During the last ten years, I’ve traveled half way around the world to places not recommended for tourists. Was I anxious? You bet. When I first read the guide for Mongolia, I broke out in a cold sweat. Even though I’ve been there eight times, travel in the countryside is still challenging. Mongolia is also my favorite country. Overcoming our greatest fears can bring the most rewards. That’s the beginning of adventure.
So, based on my experience, I invite you to go outside and play. You don’t need to travel overseas. Just step out of the familiar. If you like, link up with a sister station and be encouraged by new ways young people are using radio. Have some fun with radio. I’m starting my second fifty years in radio. Let’s sow some seeds.
About Bill Siemering
As a founding member of the Board of Directors of National Public Radio, William Siemering wrote the mission and goals of NPR and was subsequently was hired to make the vision a reality. He hired the initial staff and with them developed the news and information program All Things Considered. He brings over 30 years of experience in public radio station management, program development, fundraising and program evaluation.
Since 1993, he has used this knowledge to assist in developing independent media in new democracies. His work with the Open Society Institute has taken him to South Africa, Mozambique, Moldova, Macedonia, Sierra Leone and Mongolia, among other countries.
In 2000, National Public Radio gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award for his “countless contributions to journalism and public radio.” In 2001, the State University of New York presented him with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.