About Us

Where We Stand: AIR Looks Ahead

TO: Participants in AIR’s 2008 Strategic Planning Project
FR: Sue Schardt, Executive Director
Sid Selvidge, President
DT: February 6, 2009

Where We Stand: AIR Looks Ahead

We’re grateful for your contributions to the strategic planning process AIR undertook over the last half of 2008 facilitated by Andy Snider and Steve Quatrano of Snider Associates. The AIR board and staff have taken time to reflect on Andy and Steve’s recommendations, which you’ll find on pages that follow. As we consider the year past and formulate the organization’s priorities for 2009, we want to share some of our views that have come about as a result of your survey input and the consensus from our August meeting in Boston.

The economic reality brings new urgency and uncertainty to our work to establish a strong role for AIR and bringing greater visibility to the vital role of producers in public media. These were key drivers of the strategic planning process. The ground has shifted in the few short months since we met in Boston, and it continues to shift as we look ahead and consider the recommendations for AIR brought forward by Andy and Steve as a result of your input.

One of the top line findings is that AIR has the trust of producers and the support of key stakeholders across the spectrum. As we look ahead, we envision AIR as…

a source for talent that fuels the industry; a steward of its well-being.

The economic crisis is bringing contraction to public radio and an unseen consequence is the profound impact on our talent pool. The cancellation of Weekend America, Day to Day, and Third Coast Audio Festival threatens the viability of public media’s ability to attract and hold the best and brightest talent. AIR has a critical role in confronting this threat to our industry.

an engine for experimentation for the industry.

The MQ2 project is the opportunity to cultivate a model for R&D and hone a sustained model for identifying the new talent, new formats, new economic models necessary for the future.

a full time operation with sufficient financial support for its key programs: mentoring, training, new talent cultivation.

AIR is the sole organization in public radio providing networking, training, and consulting to a large and rapidly growing constituency of producers from independents to station and networked based veterans to promising novices who consider media as a possible career. We must find the funding necessary to bring the AIR staff to full time, and to put the mentoring and training programs, the on-line, and communications activities on solid footing.

a willing and desirable collaborator and partner.

The economic landscape drives a shift from “building capacity” to “maximizing capacity.”

AIR will work with potential partners identified in this process and beyond to merge redundant programs and exploit common purpose to benefit producers and the industry at large.

We thank you for your input and participation; we have already begun moving to develop the seeds that you’ve planted. We will stay in close touch as we move ahead. We’re grateful for the opportunity to work with you to the benefit of AIR’s membership, and to our colleagues throughout public radio.


Snider Associates

AIR Strategic Planning Project –
Executive Summary of Process & Consultant Recommendations

September 30, 2008

In May 2008, AIR contracted with Snider Associates to conduct a strategic planning process. The goals of this process were to clarify and validate the actions being planned or under consideration by AIR and also to create opportunities to get input and suggestions from different stakeholders. Several planning meetings were held including live meetings with Executive Director Sue Schardt, and a phone meeting with members of the Executive Board. The purpose was to set goals, and agree to a process. In June and July, Andy Snider and Steve Quatrano began a fact-finding process of structured interviews with 21 people from different areas of the public media community.

The following individuals agreed to be interviewed. They represent a spectrum of industry stakeholders including: radio producers, station and network executives, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AIR members, and the AIR board.

  1. Jay Allison, AIR co-founder/Atlantic Public Media 11. Amy Mayer, Independent Producer/AIR Board
  2. Harriet Baskas, Independent Producer 12. Jen Nathan, Independent Producer
  3. Mike Bettison, Director New Media, MPR 13. Marita Rivero, VP of Radio and TV/WGBH
  4. David Brown, Host Texas Music Matters/KUT 14. Rob Rosenthal, SALT Ctr /Documentary Studies
  5. Barrett Golding, Hearing Voices 15. Ruth Seymour, GM/KCRW-FM
  6. Paul Ingles, NPR producer liaison 16. Robynn Takayama, Ind. Producer/AIR BoD
  7. Maxie Jackson, Sr Dir of Program Dev/WNYC 17. Tom Thomas, Co-CEO SRG
  8. Jay Kernis, Managing Editor CNN; past VP NPR 18. Melinda Ward, VP Content and Partnerships/PRI
  9. Jennifer Lawson, Pres/WHUT-TV; past CPB Exec 19. Ellen Weiss, VP News/NPR
  10. Karen Lewellen, Independent Producers 20. Joanna Zorn, Founder of 3rd Coast Audio Festival 

In each interview, people were asked to talk about what they viewed as the current value of AIR, the barriers they perceived, and a vision for future success. Several roles for AIR emerged consistently. They were AIR as: an advocate, a member service provider, a source of programming diversity for public radio, and an instigator of and source for industry collaboration.

The strategic planning process culminated on August 22, 2008 with a day-long retreat in Boston with representatives from the community including: stations, networks, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AIR membership, the AIR board, and those in related fields.

  1. Jay Allison Independent Producer/ Director Atlantic Public Media
  2. Arthur Cohen President, Public Radio Program Directors
  3. David Freedman VP AIR Board/ General Manager, WWOZ
  4. Don Lee Director of Content Operations, PRI 
  5. Colin Maclay Acting Executive Director, Berkman Center
  6. Judy McAlpine Management Consultant, American Public Media 
  7. Kathy Merritt Director Radio Program Investment, CPB
  8. Erin Mishkin Membership Director, AIR
  9. Dana Davis Rehm Sr. VP Strategy & Partnerships, NPR
  10. Jim Russell President, The Program Doctor
  11. Sue Schardt Executive Director, AIR
  12. Sid Selvidge President, AIR/ Exec. Producer, Beale Street Caravan
  13. Jake Shapiro Executive Director, Public Radio Exchange
  14. John Voci General Manger, WGBH Radio


Conclusions and Recommendations

The August 22 retreat yielded 5 primary directions that had broad support and which informed our conclusions and recommendations:

  1. Develop models for active collaboration between AIR and other groups in Public Radio to support producers working towards shared and common goals.
  2. Encourage new economic models for new media, mind-set-shift.
  3. Establish an active and visible business model for of experimentation.
  4. Promote new format and production models suited for emerging sound markets.
  5. Continue to advocate for the creative producer community, to seek funding to support their work, and to provide information and support to connect and sustain the producer community.

Undertaking this planning process, we did not take a blank slate approach. The board began devising a new strategy early in 2007, and with the hire of Sue Schardt in September 2007, advanced its agenda to lift the organization to a new level within the industry and in terms of service to its members. In this planning process, the purpose was not so much to surface wholly new ideas but, rather, to clarify the existing vision and bring industry leaders into alignment with the new directions of the executive director and the board.

There is considerable enthusiasm for the new role AIR has been pursuing and there is a significant opportunity for AIR to have a substantial effect on the radio industry and to enhance the standing and role of its constituents.

The current activities and the direction AIR is pursuing are broadly supported and well aligned with the long-term goals that have been developed in this process. Here are the major action items that emerged:

  1. AIR should continue to develop models and opportunities to work collaboratively with other organizations that are connected with the overall goal of improving public media and creating new opportunities for creativity to emerge.

  2. AIR is a membership organization that needs to continue to provide the excellent programs for its members. All of the existing and planned activities benefit some, or all, of the members. The immediate challenge will be to involve more volunteers, members of the board of directors, and to seek collaboration opportunities to balance the demands on the AIR staff so that the organization will be able to continue and expand its services without compromising the quality or frequency of delivery.

  3. The CPB MQ2 grant creates a wonderful opportunity to really establish a new brand for AIR and create real long-term value for the public media community. There was almost unanimous agreement that there is a deep industry need to allow more experimentation. A key goal is to find ways to encourage small experiments that can be tested quickly and then expanded or abandoned as appropriate. AIR has a central role in facilitating this. Below are some critical tasks that are essential to the long-term success of this initiative:

    1. The criteria for distributing funds needs to be thoroughly vetted, clarified, and communicated. An immediate task is to set up forums to allow as many stakeholders as possible to provide input on the specifics that they would like to see used. Once that process is complete the criteria needs to be broadly distributed by e-mail and through press releases to inform the whole community.
    2. The actual process of grant administration will require a relatively formal application process and a well-defined results tracking system that is easy to understand. A number of Boston grant making institutions like the Boston Foundation, The Barr Foundation, or EdVestors have documents and processes that they would probably be glad to share.
    3. Some of the grants are likely to yield very interesting results. There should be a process agreed by grantees up-front on how to publicize and share these outcomes. As in any R&D effort failures also need to be celebrated and their lessons disseminated.

  4. Prior to the end of the current CPB grant there needs to be a plan to continue to develop experimental projects that explore new media and creative opportunities. Exploring options to continue in this direction is an essential priority for the coming year.

  5. For AIR to be successful ultimately in its mission requires an active communications program to inform the broader community of its activities. The likely options would be e-mail, conferences, general articles, forums. It would be a good idea to develop a specific annual plan for how to use these communication options.

  6. The biggest challenge for 2008 and 2009 will be staffing to execute the expanding activities. This involves staff compensation (currently part-time), recruiting/managing volunteers, and engaging the board in new ways as AIR pursues resources to enable it to execute effectively on all the opportunities ahead.


During this project, it was helpful to understand the potential position that AIR occupies at the center of the public media community.