Leigh Robartes of Radio Free Moscow, Inc.Moscow, Idaho
Radio Free Moscow, Inc.
116 E. 3rd St. #201
Moscow, ID 83843
To train citizen journalists to produce a daily half-hour news program for this new low-power FM station. A companion website will allow listeners to tune in to the latest broadcast in streaming audio, download podcasts of previous shows, and hear unaired, expanded reports. A web-based message board and a 24-hour phone line will allow listeners to sound off on the issues and suggest new stories to cover.
Check back for future news and updates.
Jump to progress reports:
• Final Report: October 2007
• May 2006
• November 2005
• August 2005
Evening Report Informs Community of Breaking News and Big Issues
Final Report: October 2007
For the last two and a half years, KRFP has been operating as a volunteer-based, community radio station, providing listeners with locally produced news, discussion and entertainment programming, as well as a variety of syndicated shows that would not be otherwise available on the local airwaves. The New Voices grant enabled the station to purchase production and portable equipment necessary to launch an evening newscast called “The KRFP Evening Report.”
The newscast is produced live on FM and streamed online Monday through Thursday, pre-recorded Fridays and holidays, and posted and archived on the website. News stories produced for the KRFP Evening Report are often updated or re-broadcast the following morning.
In June 2007, more than 3,000 individual users downloaded the audio or podcast of the KRFP Evening Report. That’s because the station offered sound files of local public hearings on a very hot issue: a proposed Super Wal-Mart in Moscow, and the city’s “big box store” ordinance regulating large retail establishments.
KRFP has trained University of Idaho students and other community members in interviewing, writing, remote recording, and sound editing. The training has paid off: Seven volunteer reporters worked at least four days per week during the grant period, while about a dozen others contributed occasional stories. One has even sold a couple of stories to a national network.
“The impulse to inform the community has rubbed off on some at our station who aren’t in the news operation,” says News Director Leigh Robartes. On the night of May 19, a man sprayed the sheriff’s office with automatic and semi-automatic gunfire, killing a police officer and two others before killing himself. Larger local radio stations were operating on automation and did not broadcast information to the community until morning. But KRFP was on the air and on the ball; its DJ gave listeners police updates every 15 minutes throughout the night. Robartes says one resident sent a letter to the editor thanking the radio station for its “exceptional community service” during the sniper crisis. It said, “when our son, a University of Idaho student, called us from Moscow after midnight to tell us about the shooting, I was able to learn what was going on by listening to KRFP.”
“One woman who lived across the street from the church where the gunman was holed up called to thank us for providing information all night long as she huddled with her daughter in a room away from windows,” says Robartes. This small low-power station was a critical source for a community in a time of crisis.
“Listeners love hearing their neighbors sound off, and our coverage is not limited to short stories with single sound bites.”
—KRFP News Director Leigh Robartes
KRFP News is most proud of its election coverage. “Although difficult to measure, we have anecdotal evidence that many people tuned in for our reporting and were moved to vote and otherwise become involved,” says Robartes. KRFP coverage included full broadcasts and highlights of nearly every local candidate forum. The station also produced its own shows, giving citizens a chance to publicly question candidates by phone. Most of this programming was soon made available for download on-line.
That station also covers city and county public meetings in depth. “Listeners love hearing their neighbors sound off, and our coverage is not limited to short stories with single sound bites,” asserts Robartes. He says the news staff get a lot of bounce from covering these events; they often produce multiple stories from a single government meeting that has a lot on its agenda. “Although a couple of commercial stations in the area cover these events, their coverage tends to be brief. Our status as a low-power station sometimes works to our advantage, as we can focus our coverage on Moscow when needed, while larger stations have to spread their coverage more thinly,” says Robartes.
KRFP has paid attention to regional concerns, such as the ongoing impact of heavy metal pollution from mining in Idaho’s Silver Valley. Through its involvement in a new Northwest Community Radio Network (another New Voices project), KRFP will be able to acquire and contribute more content of regional interest.
Although the New Voices funding has expired, Robartes expects the Evening Report to continue. The station may add on-air fundraising to support the effort. But perhaps the best hope for future financial stability lies in the FM signal itself.
A recent FCC rule change would make it easier for full-power stations to encroach on Low Power FM stations. So, KRFP has decided to apply for a full-power non-commercial broadcast license. The station needed to raise at least $4,000 for an engineering study that would help its chances of getting the license. If the station is lucky enough to win the coveted frequency, says Robartes, “it will increase the range of our signal to the point where we will be serving Pullman, Washington and a larger portion of Latah County. At full power, Radio Free Moscow will more than double the population it can reach on the FM band, and therefore more than double our potential fundraising base.”
Radio Free Moscow Board to Support Citizen Newscast
After one year of operation, KRFP’s News Department got a huge vote of confidence when the station’s Board of Directors pledged to raise at least $5,000 towards continuing the citizen-produced newscast in Moscow, Idaho, for the coming year.
Two to three volunteer citizen journalists have regularly been producing material for the weekday drive-time (5:30-6 p.m) Evening Report since its September 2005 launch. A dozen other volunteers have contributed on an intermittent basis.
They are working under the direction of a part-time news director hired to help train them. Volunteers use mini-disk recorders in the field, record interviews over the phone, write scripts and edit the audio using Sound Forge. They also write radio versions of other area stories for the newscasts.
The newscasts are available to download as podcasts and are streamed and archived on the station’s website.
The newscast has been deeply involved in covering such contentious issues as zoning for commercial development, uses of downtown property, a proposed Super WalMart, and water issues. The station has recorded numerous public meetings and made the audio available online. During recent City Council elections, the station aired live candidate forums and used short audio clips in the evening report.
“This kind of information has never been readily available to members of the community before and has contributed to a larger community awareness of the complexity of the issues and participation in the debate surrounding them,” said News Director Leigh Robartes.
Robartes said that recruiting, training and sustaining volunteers continues to be the biggest challenge. People like the idea of volunteering, but find it hard to make the time to do it.
This summer the station expects to have a couple of interns from Washington State University’s School of Communications.
Because the station does not accept advertising or underwriting support to protect its independence, it has been holding fundraising events every six to eight weeks to supplement memberships and donations. These events net about $1,500 each, Robartes said.
Radio Free Moscow’s Board of Directors has pledged to dedicate $5,000 from those events to support the newscast.
“We know that having the News Department makes our fundraising burden easier, not harder,” Board Chairman Steve McGehee wrote in a letter to Robartes. “Quite a few new members and continuing donors cited News among the reasons why they support us.”
Robartes said that anecdotal comments made to staff, volunteers and board members tell him that the newscast is having substantial impact. “There has been an upsurge of citizen involvement in community affairs coincident with the establishment of KRFP News,” he noted. “Although we cant really say that we’ve caused that involvement, we are confident that we have an important role in supporting it. Well-informed citizens communicate with one another and make good decisions.”
Evening Newscast Launches; Volunteers are Trained
Radio Free Moscow launched daily afternoon newscasts for KRFP 92.5 FM in Moscow, Idaho, in late September, delivering world, national and local news provided by volunteer reporters, Pacifica Radio and others.
The program, The Evening Report, airs at 5:30 p.m. and includes at least one local news segment in every edition. So far seven volunteers have contributed recorded material for the report and two citizen journalists work with News Director Leigh Robartes on the program, Monday through Thursdays. A volunteer has now offered to produce an Evening Report in the Friday time slot.
As of early November, Robartes said, “We have met our goal of producing at least one local news segment with audio for every edition of the KRFP Evening Report ... Some days we produce two segments.”
“Volunteers record events in the field, conduct and record interviews in person or over the phone, write scripts on our station computers, and edit the audio using the Sound Forge audio editing program. Sound files are transferred to our control room computer, where they are integrated into the show by the two hosts live on the air,” he said.
Volunteers also write short versions of other regional stories found on the internet and in newspapers, with a goal of including any major breaking regional or local story, even if there are not enough volunteers to do their own reporting.
WHAT WE USE:
- winLAME audio encoder to compress newscasts into MP3 files.
- Sony Sound Forge to edit audio.
- Sony MiniDisc recorders for recording interviews.
Stories produced for the Evening Report are also rewritten, sometimes with different sound segments, for the Morning Mix drive-time program.
In October, KRFP began offering live streaming of the program on its website. For those who want to listen later, sound files of individual daily programs are also available for download or streaming on the site.
“Archiving of the KRFP Evening Report on our website has taken place within two hours after the cast ends, and most nights it is up on the web within 30 minutes,” Robartes said. KRFP uses WinLame to compress the newscast audio into MP3 files suitable for dial-up and broadband Internet connections.
Robartes said he hopes the Internet broadcasts will attract listeners who are interested in the station’s reporting but are outside the range of the radio signal. “We think there will be considerable interest within the ‘Inland Northwest’ region in supporting a grassroots station with considerable news coverage,” he said.
Robartes is particularly proud of the station’s coverage of the Nov. 8, 2005, mayoral and City Council elections, which were considered crucial to the city’s future. KRFP made sure voters were informed of the candidates and issues before election day. The Evening Report recorded and produced stories on five of six public candidate forums and the station also broadcast the forums unedited.
KRFP also invited the candidates to its studio for a series of live, call-in forums, and most participated. The forums were then turned into stories for the Evening Report and Morning Mix and posted for download on the station’s website, www.krfp.org, shortly after they were held.
In the forums, a field of newcomers tackled the city’s pressing issues. Record high oil prices provoked thinking on how to prevent sprawl and encourage concentrated land use. Also, a controversial private college with ties to the neo-Confederate movement was found to be in violation of the city’s zoning laws, which made the college and zoning points of focus.
“The KRFP Evening Report covered all sides of these issues,” Robartes said. “Our community of listeners has given us feedback that the sort of comprehensive coverage we do is very important to their making decisions about the elections and other social issues.”
Listeners are showing their appreciation with donations, attendance at fundraising events and participation in the station’s silent auction. In October, KRFP made approximately $1,900 from these activities, a goal Robartes said he would like to sustain. “I believe revenue will increase as more people get into the KRFP listening habit,” he said.
For now, Robartes is “training volunteers as they arrive.” Volunteers learn how to record on the portable Sony minidisc recorders, and sound is then transferred to computers via a component-style minidisc desk.
He also holds evening training sessions. “Because of the high number of important local news stories occurring right now, I am encouraging participants to start reporting as soon as possible,” he said.
Radio Free Moscow Recruits Volunteer Journalists and Story Ideas
KRFP now has audio archives of their Evening Report available for download here.
KRFP News’ Radio Free Moscow, a start-up low-power FM newscast in Moscow, Idaho, is moving forward with plans to begin a nightly, half-hour newscast in mid-September that will probably start at 5:30 p.m.
In ramping up for the program, the station is recruiting volunteer citizen journalists and developing story ideas that were suggested in a June community meeting, held to determine what kinds of content local residents wanted from a radio news program and what time of day it should air.
“The meeting resulted in a bounty of suggested news stories, plus a number of suggested news beats,” said Leigh Robartes, KRFP news director.
Participants urged the station to target coverage of water, land use and zoning issues and also offer other reports on agriculture, development and the local University of Idaho.
To gain an audience beyond the station’s reach, the evening newscasts will be available via podcasting so Internet users will be able to hear the program on demand. The station has already begun podcasting a bi-monthly entertainment show and will build on that experience for the news program. The station is also exploring the possibility of live online streaming of the newscasts.
The website for the newscasts, to be located at news.krfp.org, is under construction and will provide a place for visitors to suggest stories.
KRFP is running on-air promos asking for volunteer “citizen journalists” to assist in gathering news. The promos include short skits portraying locals discussing and arguing about how issues are inadequately covered in the local media. So far, eight people have responded.
In the meantime, volunteers are helping to prepare space for the news studio. They are painting, wiring and paneling a room that will become the permanent music library and transmitter room, thus freeing up the current music and transmitter room for news.
Radio Free Moscow’s first news training session is slated for late August. Recruiting of volunteer journalists will continue in September. Because Moscow is a college town, the schedules of students and non-students mostly revolve around the University of Idaho’s academic calendar, so a second wave of volunteers is anticipated once fall schedules are set.
The station has also contacted the University of Idaho Communications Department and made preliminary arrangements for journalism students to report for the KRFP News Department as class projects.
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