Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Trials and tribulations of pirate radio parenthood.

THIS is being a parent. Running a pirate radio operation is alot like being the parent of a couple of dozen kids. Maybe Jr. High teacher is an even better comparison. I just had another discussion with one of our youngest and most vocal DJ's. She's been with the station for some time and hasn't learned the finer arts of human communication yet. If she's unhappy, she sends an email out to everyone screaming about an imagined injustice (usually something I've done) and get's everyone stirred up and upset.

To date this has happened about a dozen times. Usually what you have to do is calming explain why you did what you did and why it's good. Hold their hand and let them calm down. Let everyone discuss it for awhile and eventually it dies away. Often some good comes from it. A policy get's changed, a why of doing things is improved, a voice is heard. All goodness.

All MAJORLY stressful for the target (usually the guy who's the defacto leader of the station.. in this case, me).

This time I reacted a little differently. I decided that there's a point where someone can beat on you, but if it's the same person, and they keep using the same tactics (public accusation without any private discussion beforhand, the flinging of crap and fear and vague reference to how unhappy everyone is, when it's usually just that one person, maybe one or two others.. tops), it's got to stop. Everyone doing pirate radio with a group larger than 6 will experience this. I'll lay money on it. If you've been around more than 6 months and have a dozen DJ's, you exactly what I'm talking about.

This happened to us about a year ago and it almost shut down the station. I ended up moving the entire setup to another location because of it. It always comes down to one or two very loud very unhappy people. Usually unhappy by nature, and the station just happens to be in their lives at that moment so it get's to be the dog they kick. I used to take it personally, I've come to the conclusion that in a group of 12-20 people there WILL be someone like this. Expect it. Prepare for it. And deal with it.

What I've found works is fairly simple:

1) listen and respond to the concerns. Sometimes it's a real issue. Sometimes it's not. If its real, it should be addressed. If it's you being called on something, and they're right.. you're being a butthead (god knows I can be), admit it, change your mind, change some process, procedures or policies to address it and move on. If it's not real, talk it out. Eventually everyone will see you were right to begin with and settle on what you originally wanted to do (be it policy, shows, playlists, political bend, whatever the issue.. doesn't matter).

As long as it's different people doing it, it's healthy. Keeps the stations collective mind thinking and improving. As it's leader, you've got be both firm and humble. If you're right, you're right. If you're wrong, damn it, admit it and change what needs to be changed and move on.

If it's the SAME person, or a small group, all the time. YOU have a problem. This could be a serious one. It CAN destory your station. If it's the same person or same 2-3 people constantly causing agitation, constantly complaining, it's one of two things: you've got a dog kicker (wife/husband beater... etc. etc.). It's what they do to everyone around them. Pirate radio attracts rebels and malcontents. Usually that's good, sometimes, it's not. Sometimes these folks are just not meant to be part of a group of humans. They really need to be issued a cave, bow, arrow and fresh spring and left alone. They, of course, don't know that, so they go about making everyone's lives miserable. You'll know them when you see them. They can't be made happy regardless of what you do. It's always another issue. They also won't back down from arguments or stances that just don't make sense to anyone but them. They are what we'd call unreasonable (and man, it takes ALOT be unreasonable in pirate radio.. but believe me, they are).

You can do one of two things: Ignore them or kick them out. Ignore them and you'll eventually regret it. They'll slowly tear away at the fabric of family that a well run station develops. your best bet is to simply ask them to leave. This will cause an uproar. Even among your faithful and reasonable folks. It may cause enough of one to kill the station off in it's current form. And that's not a bad thing. If 1/2 your DJ's leave, well, new slots for new blood, and a new sound. I think it's almost required every so often, actually. It cleans out the people that are ready to leave anyway (and yes, some you'll regret seeing leave), but in the end you'll find the station is better because of it. It's organic and constantly rotating folks through is a very good thing and keeps things fresh and interesting.

The second type of person or small group that can cause discord like this isn't a dog kicker, he/she is power hungry. They want control of the station. They want to get on the air and scream kill the president, even if you told them not to. Especially if you told them not to. It doesn't matter to them you'll be getting a visit by the secret service if you do that. It's something they just HAVE to do. And if you won't let them, well, by god, they'll do everything to get you out and take control.

Interestingly, they are very very rarely the folks that started the station. They usually have no real technical knowledge of how to set up and run things (and no interest in learning). They are the hangers on. They are along for the ride, but don't want to do the work, just reap the rewards of a free open platform to scream off of at the top of their lungs.

These folks need to be purged. Good old fashioned soviet style pogam stuff. No other way to do it. And quick. Don't wait, don't contemplate. Once you figure out you've got this problem it's like having termites. Get em out fast or the whole house is gonna come down. They are capable of everything from sabotage and theft to turning you in to the FCC. Trust goes out the window. Don't try to fix it just cut it out and move on.

Now, I'll admit, this is a style of running a station I've always called the benevolent dictator model. Works for me so I use it. We are consensus driven, we all make the big decisions, but if a decision can't be made, at some point, I make it. hence: benevolent dictator. That benevolent part is important. Being just a dictator never ever works. You've got to be in charge, but do it in a way that the power rests with the group and you channel it and focus it when it can't do it by itself. Usually you don't need to do much. A good group will run itself very well for long periods with occasional hicups.. you just have to be there to catch the baby as it falls out the window. Don't miss, if you do, it's messy.

Monk@kbfr.org

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