Just a few weeks ago, more than 40 workshops were presented for the annual Grass Roots Conference in Rochester, New York. Attendees could learn everything from managing the Emergency Alert System to how a group of volunteers can produce a news program. After a full day of seminars, everyone was invited to let loose at the aptly named nightspot, Radio Social.
Three local radio stations in Rochester partnered to host the event this year. I asked one of the hosts, Rashida Burch-Washington if she would share her experience with hosting almost 80 conference guests from around the country.
You guys did such a nice job of hosting us all for the conference. All three of the featured stations from Rochester are young stations– 2015 (Poder), 2016 (WXIR), and 2016 (WAYO). What inspired you to take on the large project of hosting so soon from each radio station’s inception?
Our three of our stations attended the GRC and found that it was the only time we really got to spend any time together despite being in the same city. We would travel to a GRC and then get to pick each other’s brains. We discussed the possibility of co-hosting at the Albany conference after realizing Rochester was unique by having multiple LPFM stations and we had the capacity to support each other. I reached out to the LPFMs in Rochester, hoping to start a consortium of sorts to be able to work together periodically. When bidding for the GRC, this seemed like the best way to start that process.
Are there any ways you wanted to make the Rochester GRC unique from others you had attended?
Yes! In my experience, there were two things that I wanted to see at previous conferences. The first was more people of color. The first GRC I attended was in a location that was very uncomfortable for me as a woman of color. I was completely new to the radio world, and our station was not operating yet. It was my job to get it going. The lack of representation in the town and the conference was unsettling. Everywhere I went, I was watched, and while the people at the conference were welcoming, the lack of representation even in the GRC space, subconsciously made me wonder if this was the right place for me. It wasn’t until I attended a NAB Radio conference and returned home to reflect on both conferences that I realized how valuable the GRC is. I learned so much more at the GRC than at the NAB show that was relevant to WXIR and then realized how special it was. Those feelings were solidified when I attended the Albany conference where there was much more diversity in the attendees and presenters. So, my first goal was to make this year’s conference more inclusive, specifically for people of color. The second goal was to make the conference feel a bit younger and provide information for engaging youth in radio. Each conference I have attended, there has been discussion and questions about how to get youth involved in radio. It has been a challenge for many, and I haven’t seen many tangible solutions provided. Only discussion. It is in WXIR’s mission to focus on youth and we have had great success doing it. WAYO has a young staff that has previously worked extensively in college radio. I hoped that both of our keynote speakers, David Pakman and Glen Ford, would help with accomplishing those goals, in addition to having a diverse lineup of presenters.
After some time for reflection, how was the GRC hosting experience for you?
Mostly chaotic, but also lots of fun. I loved sharing Rochester with everyone and working with the rockstars at WAYO and PODER. They are a great group of people, we work well together, and I’m looking forward to doing more with them.
You mentioned in the GRC program that the GRC has been very helpful to you in the past. What are some of the courses or experiences that were helpful to you this year?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend any sessions this year. But, I was able to network a lot more. I am a hardcore introvert, so I have done very little mingling at past conferences. As the host this year, it was not an option to hide in my shell. I really, really enjoyed meeting all of the people I met this year. I loved finally having real conversations with people I’ve seen each year, but have been too shy to approach. I learned a great deal from those conversations.
Any advice for future hosts?
First, know that it is ok and encouraged to get advice from the veterans outside of your station, but you and the people in your city are the only ones who should do the planning. Outsourcing provides more challenges than solutions. Second, you can not please everyone all of the time. Once you understand that, things get easier. And finally, have fun! Work with people you like and don’t take yourselves too seriously. Having planning meetings are so much easier when everyone has fun together.
Rashida is the co-founder of WXIR 100.9 LPFM under RCTV and currently serves as the station’s Program Director. The station launched May of 2016 and is a beacon of alternative urban sound in Rochester, NY.
Thank you to all the hosting radio stations that made GRC 2019 possible.