This interview appeared in a recent NFCB monthly newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.
Matt Murphy is the general manager of WERU Community Radio, which broadcasts along the Midcoast and Downeast Coast of Maine, as well as up the mighty Penobscot River.
Matt has been involved at the station since 1993, first as a volunteer working in outreach and promotion, then as a board member, followed by a stint as Underwriting Manager and finally as General Manager since 2000. He has also hosted a number of programs over the years, most recently showcasing Maine musicians performing live on the air. Prior to joining the staff of WERU, he worked in education and boatbuilding.
What got you into community radio?
I was, of course, a dedicated listener, but I also worked at a boat yard up the road from WERU. I drove by the station every day after work and got thinking: “I ought to help out there.” Before I knew it I was the volunteer editor of the monthly program guide, amongst other things. It was very cool meeting so many nice and interesting people, and being part of such a community-oriented organization.
What are the biggest challenges your station faces today?
When WERU started thirty years ago in a big converted chicken coop, it was the area’s only local source for alternative content outside mainstream and corporate media. Now there is an abundance of options available for entertainment and information, and thus our competition has never been stronger. Another challenge is demographic, as we live in a rural area of the oldest state in the country, listeners and volunteers under 40 are in short supply, and our core audience and volunteer pool is aging. Both in terms of fundraising and volunteerism this is obviously a big problem, one that we share with a great many other stations.
WERU recently re-launched its website. How did this project start, progress and conclude?
A couple of years ago, we decided that our decade-old website was crowded, cluttered and not particularly user and management friendly. It was time for something new and clean. The project started with polling of staff and key volunteers to determine the requirements for a new site. We then put out an RFP and chose our consulting firm from a field of six. Progress was slow because our once-a-week IT person and I had eight gazillion other things going on, but we persevered in working with our design consultant. Ultimately we did beta testing with a small group of staff, volunteers and listeners we know well, and then launched near the end of last year. We are currently in the stage of finding and fixing things that aren’t quite right, but for the most part it is working. Reception of the new website has been largely positive. Grant funds and personal gifts paid for the project.
What has strategic planning for WERU been like for you?
It has been both a fun adventure and a nerve-wracking experience.
First, the fun: community member focus groups and an online listener survey. It has been very interesting to see themes emerge and dovetail between the groups and the survey. Also very interesting was a Board and Staff Summit to work on goals and outcomes for the plan that will ultimately emerge. Our small Strategic Planning Committee is now working a summary of the research (which actually goes beyond the focus groups and survey) and a draft plan out of notes from the summit.
The nerve-wracking part is that there is so much information to summarize and so much is riding on this plan for the next one in three years. Nearly everyone is anxious about the challenge of aging listeners and volunteers and many people (inside and outside the organization) hope that this plan will provide answers. There is a lot of pressure for this strategic plan to be really, really good.
How has digital factored in to your station vision?
That is a matter yet to be determined in strategic planning. Our online presence will obviously have to continue to grow in quantity and sophistication. Actually, I’m hoping to pilfer ideas from other stations as they evolve like us. Seriously, though, there is so much information that our stations have to share.
As a longtime manager, how can new leaders avoid burnout in doing work they love?
Recognize that you can’t be all things to all people. Don’t try to do everything. Align your priorities with your board’s priorities (through strategic planning). Delegate. Have some non-station activities and endeavors that you do to recharge, be creative and connect with people without your community radio hat on. Don’t be a community radio GM all the time!