KVMR’s retired General Manager Julie Chiarelli shared her insights in our December newsletter from an outgoing manager.
As you wrap up your duties as a general manager, what are some of your favorite memories of community radio?
Without a doubt, my favorite memories revolve around people, community and connection. KVMR plays a critical role in providing our local community a place to come together to share joys, fears, concerns, a love of music and passion for our fellow humans and the place we call home. I remember the levity and thrill while passing the mic across the street as we moved to our new building, the teary-eyed joy of watching our engineer dance to the music of our first community room house concert, the annual amazement of watching hundreds of volunteers transform the local fairground into a magical Celtic weekend, the joy of replacing dead CD players late one Saturday night and winning the heart of a certified curmudgeon broadcaster, the sadness of losing our friends who passed away, the satisfaction of bringing community members together at town hall meetings to discuss fire safety, dementia, food insecurity, and other timely topics. I loved the constant buzz of activity, with studios full of guests, and meeting rooms hosting community collaborations and innumerable staff, board and broadcaster committees all working in pursuit of KVMR’s mission.
How has community radio changed, and stayed the same, to you?
It seems to me that there is an increased appreciation of the deep need our country has for independent media. Of course, I’ve been on the inside looking out, but I believe our community truly embraces the mission of community radio in bringing people together for civilized discourse to work towards solutions and to celebrate creativity and joyful aspects of living that we can share together.
Your community has faced some of the wildfires the nation has heard about. What role has the station played in responding?
When the fires broke out around 1:00am, our broadcaster Mark was likely one of the very few people awake and on the job in our local community, other than law enforcement, healthcare workers and other first responders. People were confused and wanted details. They called Mark. As he scrambled to find timely information, an evacuee broadcaster came to the station (thank you Joyce!) to help juggle information gathering, broadcasting and phone answering until others began to arrive. Throughout the ensuing week, we provided a voice for local agencies dealing with the fires and evacuations, a connection between people needing and offering help and a friendly ear in the midst of frightening chaos.
Is there a role the station played that you did not expect?
I was surprised that so many people called the station for critical evacuation-related information. I assumed they would call County OES or 911 or the sheriff, but there were so many people in evacuation advisory areas who had no electricity, no transport, were elderly or disabled and had very little in terms of timely information. And no one wants to “be a bother” (!!) to the busy “authorities.” So, they called KVMR, in droves, all day long. When I got called early morning, I stopped off to pick up some snacks for everyone and grabbed an old-fashioned street map. What a stroke of luck that was, as we spent the rest of the day plotting the fire’s progress and evacuation boundaries and being the sounding board for fellow community members as they waited and worried.
How can other stations be better prepared for situations like this?
As we can see from not only last year’s fires, but also from the devastating fires of 2018, there is so much preparation needed and it requires the involvement of people throughout the community. KVMR’s first move this past year was to broadcast a town hall on fire danger, sponsored by a local website that focuses on fire information and other local news. We then arranged a meeting with County OES to gain a better understanding of roles during an emergency and to exchange contact information and plan for the upcoming fire season.
KVMR was represented by broadcasters who agreed to be available to come to the station in the event of an emergency as well as staff. Now, it’s time to turn to prevention and preparation and KVMR intends to play an integral role in hosting/broadcasting community forums and focusing on critical issues that need collaboration and serious thought and planning. After the Camp Fire in Paradise, we are well aware of the parallel dangers that exist in Nevada County – narrow, limited roads leading away from the area, trees lining all major highways and most surface streets, abundant fuel, drought conditions late each year, exposed power lines that weave their way through the forest of our community. KVMR has an obligation to promote and support the work that is necessary to decrease the risk of disaster in our area. We are also looking into the possibility of obtaining a mobile broadcast vehicle that could provide continuing information to the local area should our studios or transmitter site be damaged.
What is one issue you hope the next leaders of community radio can solve?
We have to be planning to pass the community radio torch to younger generations. We need to find ways to inspire the upcoming leaders of our communities to get involved in this incredible public resource and to transform it to be a place of collaboration that reflects their lives and interests.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give those leading or wanting to lead stations?
Listen. Be present. Breathe. Respond. And, take a vacation every now and then – it’ll be there when you get back.
When the days have gotten longest at the station, what has picked up your spirits most?
Someone dropping by on a Saturday afternoon and making their way upstairs to my furthest-from-the-front-door office to deliver a fresh avocado from their tree or a few of their favorite tea bags or to tell me about a really cool show they went to the night before. The idea that they thought I might be there, churning out emails, grinding out financial statements, and they brought by a smile.
How might you do things differently, if you knew then what you know now?
That’s hard to say. I feel like I did the best I could. I worked hard. I loved them. I wore myself out and was self-reflective enough to know when it was time to find a fresh leader to carry forth the legend of KVMR. I’ve been so proud to be a part of it, to be trusted with this precious community jewel built by so many creative and thoughtful people over the last 40 years. What a ride it’s been.