This interview appeared in a recent NFCB monthly newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.
In June, KZMU Music Director Serah Mead was named manager of the Utah community radio powerhouse. Mead came to KZMU after endeavors like Third Space Moab, a collaborative studio that supports low-cost and DIY arts, and interning at KCSM, a Bay Area jazz station. She takes on the job with big shoes to fill. Legendary community media leader Marty Durlin steered KZMU through challenges before her retirement, and had served at KGNU and many other stations before.
Community media is seeing a major transition movement, with stations coast to coast welcoming new managers as veteran organizers pass the mic. Durlin’s retirement and Mead’s selection have meant a major change for the station. Serah Mead answered a few questions about her new role, and community radio today.
Your station is a snapshot of many community radio stations, with longtime leaders transitioning and new managers like yourself coming in. What have you learned in your short tenure thus far?
Oh so much. Since I’m so green, everyday is a lesson in patience, confidence, tenacity, and humorous resolve. Here are my two favorite lessons so far, though: Always be listening. Not just to our air, but to our programmers, our fellow staff, our board of trustees, and especially our community. I have found that when I stop talking and just listen, solutions abound. The other big lesson that I come back to every day is that there is no universal hard and fast rule book about community radio stations. Every action, every strategy, every innovation needs to be uniquely of that station while also incorporating lessons learned from being part of a bigger sisterhood of community radio stations around the country. We are at our best when we are able to easily adapt and synthesize those lessons into the “KZMU Way.”
What’s the best advice you have gotten to this point?
I’ve spent the last three years as the Music Director at KZMU. The best advice came from Marty Durlin in response to the growing mountain of music on my desk. “It’s a black hole, Dahling. You need to know when to walk away.” I’ve since applied the Black Hole analogy to other challenges at the station and learned that everything gets easier from a little time away, even if it’s only five minutes.
What skills would you recommend be developed by someone who aspires to become a manager?
Oooohh… thick skin and the ability to keep the big picture in view at all times. Always be able to articulate “why we’re here,” in a way that inspires others and yourself.
And what things should someone unlearn to be a good manager?
Unlearn status quo. Unlearn unilateral thinking. Unlearn reaction and learn response.
What excites you most about community radio right now?
Again, so much. It’s independent journalism in an era of corporate influence; it’s art of art’s sake; it’s human; it’s the ultimate intangible: providing a sense of place for our community of local listeners and visitors from afar, a sort of invisible anchor to a place and time, which we all need sometimes.
What are the things that keep you going when days get long?
Our programmers. Amateurs and seasoned DJs alike. Their dedication, enthusiasm, and rawness inspire my heart and ears. Yeah, programmers and chocolate.
And finally how do you think community radio can have its best future?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t really know the answer yet, but I do know that whatever happens it will have to be innovative. We who work in community radio will need to be able to access our inner geniuses, feel free to Think Wrong, and work in tandem with our communities to be able to keep this thing we all love relevant and accessible.