radioNUR [part II]

Often, the way that a problem is defined is the problem. In radioNUR’s case, the problem is that mangement thinks their only problem is lack of money (and therefore, the solution is more money).This is the problem. As long as they believe this is what they should be solving, radioNUR will be in dire straits (or may very well disappear altogether). Profit is only a consequence of running a successful venture. A by product, if you will. So then, the solution must address why the current incarnation of radioNUR isn’t successful and what can we do about it. I’ve come up with a few thoughts and suggestions on how this can be done. They are under three main headings: marketing, programming and structure.

Marketing and Promotion
The aim of these suggestions is to increase the audience base of radioNUR among Baha’is around the world. There are still many Baha’is (in developed/ing countries) which have not heard of radioNUR; there really is no excuse for that. Thankfully, this is one of radioNURs least worries as its audience has been growing pretty steadily ever since its founding and even after all the financial difficulties, its ranking on live365 is very respectable.

radioNUR’s website needs to be redesigned to be more user-friendly and attractive. I made a little test by asking a few friends to go to radioNUR‘s website and asked them to listen to radioNUR’s broadcast. I then timed them to see how long it would take. On average it took them 3-4 minutes to figure out what they had to do and where they had to click (the computer had all the necessary software). One of the guinea pigs in fact gave up (and no these were not technophobes or ignoramuses). The website needs to provide a prominent method for gaining access to the broadcast (huge red button?). Maybe a visit to this guy is in order. This suggestion is very important because you only have one chance to make a first impression and when you’re a web-based business, that happens when your audience visits your site. If you confuse, confound and frustrate them, that is probably the last time they will be there.

radioNUR should then seek to attract visitors on the web by placing its link on other Baha’i websites. There are hundreds of Baha’i websites (persons and organizations) that still don’t have any link to radioNUR. Also, radioNUR can create a small icon which can be placed on other websites and act as a link to their Sponsorship webpage. radioNUR should write (email) Baha’i communities around the world and ask them to inform their members about radioNUR.

radioNUR should use Google AdSense on its website to create a small stream of cashflow. This revenue stream may not be significant but it does allow the audience a way to make the smallest but still practical contribution (by clicking on the ads whenever they visit to launch the applet). As well, the dollar amount will grow as radioNUR’s audience grows.

radioNUR should also enable more interaction between itself and its listeners as well as between the listeners themselves. Interactivity is important because it creates a sense of community. The only way to keep your audience (both online and offline) coming back is to provide the means to establish relationships. radioNUR can encourage this by continuing to ask for feedback, responding to feedback, running contests, creating a ‘call-in’ or ‘email-in’ show, reading emails from listeners on the air, and by adding a messageboard to its website.

radioNUR should consider selling its CD compilations through the Baha’i distribution networks around the world. This may not garner it much of a profit (then again it may) but at least it will make people familiar with the name radioNUR. As well, radioNUR might consider donating (at cost) merchandise to Baha’i institutions so it can be used as fundraising merchandise. This will garner goodwill and again, publicity.

On-Air Programming

I suspect that the majority of radioNUR’s audience is comprised of young adults (teenagers to 40′s), since they have access to the internet and the know-how to access internet radio. And although I’m sure that they are happy with the programming on radioNUR, that does not mean that with a few changes, they could not be happier.

radioNUR after all is a specialty radio channel and must offer something special to its audience. They can always just turn on the regular radio to get popular music. What they seek, by turning to radioNUR is, of course, something else.

In keeping with the suggestions to increase interactivity with the audience, radioNUR should increase its non-music programming. Since radioNUR has a 24 continuous program schedule, it should have no problem adapting to a 40-45% non-music schedule. This allows for the audience to receive something from radioNUR which they wouldn’t get elsewhere: Baha’i related non-musical programming. This can be in several sections, for example, programming for parents, youth, Persian speakers, couples, humour, and news. It should, however, maintain its main focus on English language programming. This will allow it to reach its main audience (in the US, Canada, India, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ, Netherlands and northern Europe) while keeping production costs low.

Specialty programs for segments of their audience, for example, the Persian believers, can be achieved at a fairly low cost by airing the classes of Dr. Ghadimi or doing audio versions of Andalib articles (with permission). As well, radioNUR can conduct ‘interviews’ with Baha’i artists, writers, scholars and others. Other sections can be dedicated, for example, to interesting stories from the history of the Faith or community life. As well, radioNUR can use its own listeners base to keep Baha’is abreast of local and national Baha’i news of importance.

The purpose of all of the suggestions above is to create an interactive community where radioNUR’s audience around the world can not only get Baha’i related music but much, much more. This will in turn spur an increase in the audience base because there really isn’t anything remotely like this offering out there right now.

Structure

I know that by now I must sound like a broken record but I repeat that radioNUR’s request for for money or fresh capital is a band-aid solution because it does not resolve the underlying problem: radioNUR is not generating enough cash to sustain itself. It is clear by now that radioNUR is not going to be supported by businesses and therefore can not sustain itself by continuing to rely on this model.

While the number of advertisers has been in a steady decline (having fallen from a high of almost 70 in early 2003 to a low of approximately 15 in late 2004) the audience of radioNUR has been either stable or growing slightly. So we know that people are interested to listen to the radio but businesses are not interested to advertise on it. This apparent paradox may actually contain, within itself, the answer.

Its interesting to note that of all the different steps taken to “plug the holes” early on (affiliate programs with other online companies, merchandising, an online bookstore, an online music store, and radioNUR records), only one helped.

That was the decision to approach the listeners directly and ask them to buy “sponsorships“. These non-commercial entities (Baha’i individuals, localities and institutions) responded positively and began to buy air-time mentions of themselves. In fact, the bulk of radioNUR’s operating revenue today comes from such “sponsorships” and by the management’s own admission, it is only by the grace of the positive response to the “sponsorship” program by the listeners that radioNUR has managed to stay on the air.

While the temporary salvation of radioNUR has been the buying up of these “sponsorship” air time, they are, for all intents and purposes, donations. The people, communities and assemblies buying them do not profit, in the traditional sense , except by knowing that they are helping radioNUR stay on the air (I doubt that anyone is so egocentric to simply want to hear their own name on air).

This of course creates an incongruency: charity given to a for-profit corporation. That is why radioNUR must change its structure to match the realities of its situation and become a not-for-profit corporation.

As well as bringing congruency back to their venture, this change will bring many other benefits. For one, they will be explicitly relying on their listeners, the only stakeholders who have from the beginning supported this venture and continue to do so. Actually, the audience will support radioNUR more once they know that it is a not a for-profit venture and it is, in fact, they who will profit by its continued operation and growth. And while this change will increase listener’s support, it won’t alienate commercial advertisers. Let’s face it, businesses don’t really care if they are advertising on a for-profit or not-for-profit medium, as long as they get through to their target audience. radioNUR will also see other, less tangible, benefits – such as being able to attract volunteers more readily.

With these suggestions and changes, radioNUR will be able to attract new investors because they present a reasonable valuation as well as a realistic way to achieve an increase in the audience base and a way to turn cashflow positive. I am realistic enough to admit that eventhought this is the best course, it is probably the most difficult change to acknowledge and implement for radioNUR’s owners.

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Michael and others have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into radioNUR and I, along with a lot of other Baha’is around the world, would be very sorry to see all it all dissapear into a “footnote of history”. But as in any instance in life where a challenge presents itself, there is also an opportunity to snatch from the jaws of defeat an even greater victory.

The greatest opporunity that I see for radioNUR is to become a medium for Baha’is all around the world to experience a new sense of community. radioNUR has a singular chance to give the Baha’i community what it lacks, a free, independant and objective media. All the present medium of communication within the Baha’i community are under the auscpices of institutions (all local, national and international Baha’i media are supervised by their respective LSAs, NSAs or the BWC).

The content and style of these official media are saccharine. They present a cartoonish view of the Baha’i community where everything and everyone is in a total state of bliss. By only reporting positive news, events, and analysis with glowing vocabulary, they create a disconnect from reality as experienced by the average Baha’i in their community. Such bias actually does the whole community a disservice because it causes alienation, confusion and removes any opportunity for introspection and consultation on difficult issues facing most Baha’i communities. Therefore, there is no real chance for growth or maturation as a community.

While the pre-publication review is a very harmful type of censorship imposed mostly on Baha’i scholars, writers and artists, this type of implicit, and often, self-imposed bowlderization does much more harm because it effects everyone in the Baha’i community. We all feel as if saying or reporting a mistake, failure or scandal is taboo. But, very often, it is through just such troubling things that real growth takes place.

Interestingly, Baha’u’llah was a critic of this because He, Himself, was the target of such biased reporting. He often had to endure the calumny, unfounded rumours and half-truths that were printed in the papers of that time in Egypt, Palestine and elsewhere:

Concerning this Wronged One, most of the things reported in the newspapers are devoid of truth. Fair speech and truthfulness, by reason of their lofty rank and position, are regarded as a sun shining above the horizon of knowledge . . . It is reported in the press that this Servant hath fled from the land of T?? (Tihr??n) and gone to ?Ir??q. Gracious God! Not even for a single moment hath this Wronged One ever concealed Himself.

Baha’u’llah instructs the writers for the newspapers, saying:

In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.

Sadly, current Baha’i journalists and writers (for the official publications) are not following this guidance. I suppose in their attempt to show piety and goodwill towards the Faith, they are doing a wrong just as egregious as that done by the journalists that Baha’u’llah refers to above. They are subjecting His Faith to biased reporting (not a negative but rather an extremely positive bias instead).

It is inevitable that a growing Baha’i world wide community would have such an independant, and objective medium of communication. And radioNUR’s chosen method of transmission is ideal as it has low fixed costs, an egalitarian world-wide reach, immediate turn-around time and the inspiration that can only be provided by voice and music. So if you are a like minded Baha’i and wish to support such a voice for the Baha’i community, put money where their mouth is and contact radioNUR. You’ll be surprised that many other Baha’is around the world share your convictions.