“We have to focus on our strengths, otherwise we get overwhelmed by the problems, and that’s when we are helpless.”    – <em>Bill Siemering

In his keynote address entitled “Where Ideas Come From”, Bill Siemering challenged our Twin Cities summit participants to break free of the deficit thinking that is so easy for all of us to do. Bill shared stories from working with radio stations across Africa through his organization Developing Radio Partners. These stories illustrated how much can be done with very little. “Funding”, Bill said, “is hard to come by when people in your community live on less than $1 a day.” And yet, radio in Africa is growing and creative people across the continent are overcoming the challenges that they, and their peers in the United States, face.

How? According to Bill, successful community radio stations share a few critical features. They have: a clear mission and sense of purpose, a culture of continuous improvement and candor, and they focus on engaging with their communities in multiple ways. Community radio is particular, Bill reminded us all, because of what it is about. It’s about social gain and community benefit, not profit. It should be “owned by and accountable to the community it serves.” Bill’s address was full of reflections that no doubt meant different things to each person who listened. And yet there was one message that was undeniable: remember what is at the heart of community radio – community – and then think about how that is a strength, and how it can be leveraged.

In her keynote, WYSO General Manager Neenah Ellis also spoke about the value of thinking about what you’ve got. Neenah delivered a presentation entitled “Back from the Brink: WYSO Case Study” in which she walked us through the recent history of the station and how WYSO went from being a failing station to a robust and stable community institution. The challenges WYSO faced when Neenah was hired were like a perfect storm, the nightmare of GM’s everywhere: weak finances, pissed-off volunteers, staff tensions, mold-infested facilities, a recession, the list goes on. And yet, through focusing on the strengths of the station and the team, engaging the community, and being creative, Neenah and her staff pulled off a transition. Now, the station is once again a model for the industry. Neenah’s presentation was a ray of hope that didn’t skirt the very real challenges while reminding everyone of how much is possible.

It’s been a beautiful whirlwind and now we can hardly believe that we’ve only got one summit to go … Olympia July 23-24. We are excited to be with one more group of radio folks before turning our attention to synthesizing what we learned from these summits and using that to make a better NFCB.

*For more thoughts from Bill Siemering, listen to this interview we did with him.