Peer Perspectives share media-savvy ideas and insights from the field. This post is by Ann Kloeckner, executive director of Legal Aid Works in Fredericksburg, Virginia. www.legalaidworks.org
June 3, 2019
Early in my tenure as executive director at Legal Aid Works in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2012, I was invited to be a guest on Town Talk, an hour-long show airing from 8 to 9 AM weekdays on WFVA, an AM radio station with a conservative talk show format (their slogan: “Talk…Done Right!”). From this unlikely media outlet, I have not exactly shot into the firmament populated by the conservative pundits whose nationally syndicated shows take up the rest of the station’s programming. But the experience has taught me things about radio, and how legal aid can take advantage of these niche-y opportunities to spread our message.
The host, Ted Schubel, is an old-fashioned news hound, a one-man news department covering local sporting events, county government budget hearings, Christmas parades, and other noteworthy events for that station. Our development director was looking for any way possible to advertise our fundraiser, and she convinced Ted to give me a slot to pitch our event. Legal Aid Works covers 17 mostly rural counties, with our biggest “city” of Fredericksburg, reached by WFVA, boasting a population of 20,000. The region does not contain a national broadcasting affiliate TV station, so we make connections with the small town local newspapers, the radio stations that everyone tunes into during drive time, the public access TV channel, and the websites from those media outlets which let you post an event for free on their community calendars.
Town Talk exists mostly so the station manager can offer the enticing hour-long exposure of a talk show slot to the station’s commercial sponsors. But in between tire store and brewery owners he interviews, Ted also creates shows featuring “local leaders,” including politicians and nonprofit directors. Since my first appearance, I have been on Ted’s show at least half a dozen times, either because he invites me or because I pitch him a topic.
What have I learned? First and foremost, a station’s format does not tell the full story. I had assumed that a conservative talk radio station would have zero interest in a nonprofit that helps low-income folks with civil legal problems. What I figured out is that any group or media outlet is always trying to find interesting content to fill their shows, reach their customers, and display their community-service cred. I can help Ted craft content that is intriguing to his listeners while raising the profile of Legal Aid Works in a challengingly sparse media landscape.
In your organization’s service region, a radio station probably exists which reaches your legal aid community. Depending on the format, a local news program or a PSA slot could be available. The key here is to get to know ALL media outlets, the obvious (I see you, local NPR station!) and not so obvious (country music with news during drive time), any that will give you a few free PSA minutes to a whole, luxurious hour, to highlight a program, raise awareness of an issue, publicize a fundraising event or just offer basic legal information (such as tips on avoiding legal issues that can arise during disaster recovery).
Ask yourself: Who has the “community” beat or regularly features community resources on the radio waves in your town? Find that person, listen to a broadcast, and offer to meet. Show that person what you can offer in terms of topics, becoming a resource he or she can call upon to elucidate a current issue. Come to that meeting with a written “menu” of topics upon which you can offer expert commentary.
During my Town Talk interviews, I try to follow the media-savvy messaging guidance on the Voices for Civil Justice website (such as describing a person or a family as “struggling to make ends meet,” instead of “low-income,” “poor” or “poverty-stricken.”)
I also send Ted a set of basic bullet points in advance of our on-air conversation, which helps him formulate interview questions and puts basic information (e.g., the location/time of a Fair Housing Forum we are offering) at his fingertips. Much like thinking on your feet in court, you can enter a radio interview with a brief outline instead of a script, glancing at bullet points now and then, extemporizing on your topic.
Ted and I have chatted about disaster legal issues and tenants’ rights, as well as upcoming legal clinics and fundraiser events. Other legal aid colleagues, board members or representatives from collaborating entities might join me. What is “gained” in a measurable sense from this exposure on a very small, very weak-signaled AM station? Hard to say. But I am surprised how many people say they “heard me on Ted’s show” after a particular segment airs. I have hardly gone “viral,” but just as one example, one of my board members told me he had heard me during his commute, which surprised me because I had not imagined that anyone in my organization was a listener. Link to a sample show: http://tinyurl.com/yxtug7qt
The other big takeaway about my radio experiences is that Ted will share the interviews via other “message streams” to make the most of an edition of Town Talk he just taped. WFVA is active on Facebook and Twitter, and Ted quickly posts a recording of the show on those social media outlets as well as his station’s website, all of which we are encouraged to use for our own insatiable media feeds. No, this is not a call-in format, but from time to time, he does get a question from a guest via the station’s Facebook page. He photographs his Town Talk guests and uses the photos when he posts the audio recordings. So, expecting this to be “just” radio is missing some key messaging opportunities. Having a radio clip posted on our site or retweeting his post allows me to explore other ways to get our messaging to a wider audience.
Another aspect that I had initially overlooked is the win/win/win of bringing a board member or staff attorney with me when I am a guest on Town Talk. Ted gets an engaging group of people to converse with, I get a chance to praise a committed board member, and a staff attorney is featured as the expert in the room. While a big audience might be intimidating in other kinds of public speaking, my colleagues and I are “just chatting with Ted,” at their ease in a way they might not have been if Ted had not created a sense of just one-on-one conversation. Some of my “strong silent type” board or staff members have surprised me with their voluble personas while shooting the breeze in the tiny studio.
Find your Ted! Find your Town Talk! Lots of localities have a civic-minded soul who is trying to find unique and compelling local content about community resources for their daily newscasts or local talk shows, and you can fill that need.