Lorenzo Milam is “the Johnny Appleseed of community radio,” sez Broadcasting magazine. He helped establish KRAB-FM in Seattle in 1962, which grew into the KRAB nebula, a loosely affiliated group of freefrom stations (KTAO, KBOO, KDNA and KCHU — “the wet spot on your dial”).
But listen: the fears of the community radio people, I am loath to tell you, come as strongly from within as without. It works like this: people like you and me who are involved with strange and honest broadcast operations have a looseness in the brain-pan. We (you and I, love) operate best through tension, insane schemes, and bizarre fears. We seem to create nests of slander, inwit, neurotic outrage, and mental dyspepsia.
I tell you all this not to cover you and me and the existing community stations with calumny. But rather, to suggest that as you move towards getting your operation on the air, you should also set about defusing the madness inherent in the people who will come to be volunteers or staff for you.
See: commercial radio stations have a built-in defusing process which is make-money. You don’t have that. What you have is a group of dedicated sincere people who want to Do Good and Right. And they are all crackers. Aren’t we?
Choose your fellow workers carefully and well. Get people who are stable and loving and involved, but get people who have a life outside the station. Because they can drive you (and it) balmy.
Listen: the reason KRAB was such a benign operation through its first five years was not just because Seattle is such a benign city where the outrage of free speech has been tolerated up through the ages. Nor is it because for the first Ave years we were convinced that no one ever listened to us: what with our two hour concerts of Korean Temple Bells and weekend extravaganzas of the music of Dahomey. No — it was because Nancy and Gary and Jeremy and James and I were careful to people the station with richly self-contained individuals. Good people, who loved listener-supported community radio, and what it could do for our minds; but, individuals who valued life outside the station.
It was not just that we took a couple of gallons of Mountain Red to the board meetings; it wasn’t that we practiced an anarchistically politically detached wryness in our daily lives: it was, most of all, that we had a loud early warning system which went off whenever ‘political’ types came in the door. And I ain’t talking about communists or John Birch Society members.
You will have hundreds of volunteers. They, and your board and staff, should be apolitical. Apolitical in the most inner sense. Apolitical in that you can only survive through openness, warmth, and a militant avoidance of rumor. You must be a lightning-rod.
—Lorenzo Milam, Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community (available: Prometheus Radio Project | Amazon)