Becky Meiers is the General Manager of KCAW Sitka. She served as Board President at Freeform Portland, was the Development Director at KBOO Community Radio, and the co-host of 2018 Grassroots Radio Conference. She currently serves as the Vice President of Common Frequency, is the Treasurer of the Sitka Ham Amateur Radio Klub, and sits on the Sitka Local Emergency Planning Commission.
If you can name one moment in your life where you could say, ‘that’s when I got into radio,’ what would it be?
I went to high school in Tallahassee, FL, and ended up attending Florida State University. All throughout high school, my friends and I listened to FSU’s college station, WVFS – The Voice of Florida State. We all loved how wild and diverse it sounded. Fast forward many years, and my friend Joan (who later became the editor of Maximum Rock and Roll) said we should go to one of their “Cattle Calls.” I did, and I ended up applying to become an announcer. After some interviews, I got set up with my slot: an outrageously sought-after 6 AM – 10 AM Sunday morning slot. That moment in 2006 was my first time on the spectrum!
Many people know you from your tenure at iconic community radio station KBOO. It is a station that many look up to. What were its greatest successes and challenges when you were there?
I look back at my time at KBOO, and I’m grateful that I got to be a part of it. The people and programs there continue to inspire me — so much of KBOO’s success comes from their willingness to take programming risks and use their frequency to create gorgeous, innovative radio. KBOO faces many of the challenges we all face in this sector: limited resources, paid/volunteer staffing issues, and a narrow understanding of how important the ‘business’ part of nonprofit operations is. Being at KBOO from 2015-2018 has definitely informed my work as a manager.
You made quite a change when you left Portland to run Raven Radio in Sitka, Alaska. How did you talk yourself into taking such a big leap?
Working on staff at a community station was the very first time I’d felt like parts of my life snapped into place. I was a part of a group of people working to keep a sliver of radio free of the spectacle that gets broadcast elsewhere. I feel strongly that there should always be a place on the dial that promotes education and easy access to information/culture, free of commercial influence, in perpetuity. Sitka seemed like a place where so many people in the community aligned with that mission. Becoming the General Manager here afforded a few opportunities I wanted to pursue: joining sector leadership in strengthening our field, and moving to a place where radio is a beloved public square for people who depend on it. KCAW Sitka is also a member of CoastAlaska, which is this storied community station collaboration — and I wanted to be a part of that.
Describe what a day in the life of a station manager there looks like.
Our staff is pretty small – there are only 5 of us here full-time — so my day is usually full of surprises! I work closely in support of the staff here, so no day ever really looks the same as the next. I’m the one coordinating a lot of station business, so I process all the things going to the CoastAlaska business office. I also bottom-line everything, so I’ll step in for last-minute coverage, small repairs, take listener calls/reports of outages, live-streaming community meetings, etc.. Being the KCAW General Manager means also being a deeply integrated part of the civic structure of Sitka, and I cultivate partnerships with all sorts of entities here: schools, emergency responders, retailers, nonprofits, and government agencies to name a few.
What has been the most interesting thing about Sitka so far?
For a town with less than 10,000 people living in it, there sure is a lot going on! Our community calendar is full of cool things to do. Sitka is the hub of a creative community that extends throughout coastal southeast Alaska. Have no doubt about it — Sitka is a remote, rural community — but I am always learning new, fascinating things about this beautiful place. I’m a guest on Tlingít Aaní, surrounded by culture and history as dense and deep as the Tongass rainforest itself.
How has this role changed your perception of radio?
If anything, my role has deepened my passion for radio. I want to learn everything! Being an Alaskan broadcaster has opened my eyes to how critically important the medium continues to be. The radio is a lifeline for people out here in a tangible way, like utility services and roads (not that we’re connected to the road system anyway.) I’m constantly learning how to support these communities by providing an excellent, informative broadcast.
State cutbacks still threaten the future of noncommercial media. How has your station addressed these issues with donors?
I’m upfront about my approach: in uncertain times, it’s important to double-down on our service to the community. The threat (and the trauma of that threat) could easily cause us to constrict and retreat into ourselves to conserve our remaining resources. But I don’t believe in that. I believe in activating the people around me to connect with our mission. That’s how we’ve addressed these issues with donors. We’re stronger together, and we all believe in our resilience and interconnectedness. The station demonstrates our belief through increased public service; the community responds with their contributions of monetary and human support.
What are the most surprising conversations for you as general manager?
It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does: management is highly relationship-dependent. This spans across everything I do, from collaborating with staff, to donor management, to contracting service providers. It sometimes surprises me how often discussions come down to the fundamental human need for connectedness, compassion, and empathy — even when coordinating the installation of a new water heater.
What is your community radio superpower?
This one’s tough! I’ve gotten pretty good at editing many tiny pieces of recordings to make sound collages. I’m quite serviceable with a machete and snow shovel. And I’m an infamous cover-band vocalist in Tenakee Springs. I do a little bit of just about everything, I guess!