In the early days of the pandemic, the KOOP community of volunteers and staff rallied together to continue broadcasting safely from our homes. Now, with vaccinations rolling out and infection rates easing, the station is preparing to return to live programming, slowly and with care. With all the change, I wanted to speak to our GM, Federico about the state of the station and what programmers, volunteers, and listeners can expect in the coming months. Check out our conversation below.
Michael A. Brown: KOOP has been totally pre-recorded for more than a year because of COVID-19. What has that been like for programmers and station staff? How have listeners responded?
Federico Pacheco: The decision to lock down was harsh but necessary for the health and safety of everyone. We automated our broadcasting, and it was all music at first. Then we had to determine how to connect programmers to the station remotely and fill entire days with full programming. The tech team developed and implemented the process to do that, and they were outstanding. The challenge for programmers was to learn remote production and editing. But within two months, 80% of programmers were doing their shows from home. The playout team made sure that shows were in the proper sequence and ready to air. Many listeners thanked us for making the effort to stay on the air through the difficult COVID times.
MAB: With the pandemic easing, you have announced the station’s intention to resume live shows in late August. What are the challenges to doing so?
FP: The main challenge is to remain sensitive to the health crisis and protect our volunteers, staff, and everyone else who comes to the station. Vaccinations will be important because we’ll have 140 volunteers and perhaps guests coming in and out. We’ll have to develop proper protocol to access the station. The second challenge is technical. During the lockdown, we have upgraded much of the studio software and some equipment, including Enco and the phones. There will be training and re-training so our 82 programmers learn how to use everything properly. We also will be evaluating a hybrid model where we enable broadcast both at-home and in-studio production. Our tentative date to go live again is August 23.
MAB: As a community radio station, we’ve been emphasizing diversity and striving for engagement with underserved communities. What sorts of initiatives are underway and how are they going?
FP: The past year included not only the pandemic, but also some sad social situations such as George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed. We recognized the need for the station to make a statement re-emphasizing our community mission and reaffirming that we will do what we can to help prevent social injustice. KOOP has always been about diversity and giving opportunity to the underserved. Now we are being more proactive, via the Community Council and its subcommittee on racial injustice. We also intend to sponsor activities dedicated to the betterment and enhancement of diversity and to support community organizations and their members.
MAB: How did we do in the most recent membership drive and how go the various grant applications?
FP: The two most recent membership drives, done remotely, have worked great! Despite the pandemic, we made 98% of our fundraising goal, largely from our loyal base. It was quite different from 2019 and early 2020, when we enjoyed the momentum of our 25th anniversary and all the live community events. So now we have to regain that momentum and to do that, we cannot merely convince listeners to become members … we have to reach people personally and in-person in the communities we serve. Regarding grants, we have been very fortunate to receive grants to upgrade or replace studio equipment, and one unrestricted $20,000 grant from the City of Austin’s COVID relief program. Now, we are pursuing additional funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting along with CPB membership, which would be very nice for KOOP.
MAB: Other new and exciting things going on?
FP: The most exciting thing is our upcoming return to live broadcasting. And we’d like to conduct our fall membership drive from the station. One of the greatest things about KOOP is the ability to come to the station, to do your show, welcome your guests, and enjoy the spontaneity of live radio. It’s great to bring KOOP to the community!
Interview by Michael A. Brown