High Powered Low Power News

How WOOC maintains a Daily News Program on Pure Passion

Steve Pierce, Executive Director for Media Alliance, and Station Manager for WOOC in Troy, New York

Steve Pierce has a credo that fuels his low-power radio station WOOC in New York.  He says, “If you want to be on the radio, you have to be on the news.”  

This statement is at once an open door and a guiding principle for newcomers.  Everyone is welcome to join the team, though no one is granted their own show upon arrival.  Everyone gets to share in the process, though no one gets to dominate it. The culture of WOOC strives for harmony.

“almost anything can be interesting for 10 minutes”

Equally important to harmony however, is passion.  If you are passionate about something, anything, and you want to put it on the air, you can have 10 minutes on the daily news program, Hudson Mohawk Magazine (HMM). A variety program that focuses on local issues and passions, HMM is named for the two rivers that frame the geography of WOOC’s listener-ship, in Schenectady, Troy, and Albany, New York.  And, after 2 years of broadcasting, the program serves as the nucleus of the station, while continuing to deliver daily quality content.  

The Hudson Mohawk Valley Region

The Weekly Meeting

Monday night is the starting point for anyone who wants to get involved at HMM.  At 7:07 p.m., volunteers gather to set the lineup for the local news show.  Anyone just joining in can see first-hand how the process works.  During the meeting, the co-creators decide how the programming slots will be filled for the week.  Topics can include anything from history to science to art.  Whatever the theme, each segment lasts for 10 minutes, which makes it easy to change things around if necessary. 

New people have different roles they can try, from audio production and interviewing to social media.  The host and engineer roles are for more experienced volunteers, with a secondary host slot that can fit an equally or less experienced person.  Whichever duty a new person decides to take on, they will instantly connect with the appropriate mentor because everyone involved will be at the meeting.  

The Sanctuary for Independent Media, where Hudson Mohawk Magazine is produced.

Passion is the Driver

While the weekly meeting is the portal of HMM, the passion of the volunteers is what drives it.  Pierce says, “almost anything can be interesting for 10 minutes, and the format allows experimentation to see what subjects and passions have staying power.”

If a person is interested in quilting, they are welcome to do segments on quilting.  If someone is interested in housing issues, they are welcome to do segments on housing issues.  For the volunteers with little to no experience, Pierce recommends a simple approach.  He says, “Identify someone who’s interesting to you, or who’s doing something interesting or represents an interesting organization oppositional an issue, and write 10 questions and ask them about it.  And there’s your interview.”

 Recently they had somebody come in who had never done anything [on the radio] before.  She decided to interview her neighbor who did charity work in the Caribbean.  Pierce found it interesting because the dialogue brought up international issues, and it was unique.  He went on to give another example of original material the magazine had recently broadcast.  He said, “We just had a great run of the last few weeks, where we covered all the candidates for mayor and city council in the city of Troy. Which meant doing, you know, probably 20 interviews something like that.  And no one else was doing it.”

What They Have to Get Right

To keep up the pace of a daily show, everyone at HMM has to be alert to time management.  To avoid burnout, volunteers are encouraged to keep interviews close to 10 minutes.  This saves work with editing.  

The station is uncompromising on keeping basic standards for quality.  Pierce insists on high-grade microphones and studio equipment, noting how fortunate it is that recorders have become more advanced and less expensive over time.  He also insists on a certain performance standard.  He says the leaders “really ride hard on folks to do things that are very easy to do.  You know, stay on mic, watch out for wind noise, stand close enough to the person to capture mic sound.”

 Lastly, HMM encourages everyone to watch for errors because, just like in mainstream news, there is no luxury of having a fact checker.  If a producer gets a name wrong, the host will get the name wrong, and soon the blunder will be on social media before it gets noticed.  And once something gets on the internet, it’s hard to undo.  So, people are vigilant at every level of production.

A Worthwhile Endeavor

Despite the stresses of keeping the program running, Pierce says HMM has created a consistent and energetic team, he says “…for the most part, people are, I think, happy.  It’s created a community of people who enjoy working together and are excited about doing stuff.”  

For a more thorough demonstration on the inside workings of Hudson Mohawk Magazine, check out Steve Pierce’s presentation with the Pacifica Round-Table.