Radio Heads - Where Young People Run the Show
18 June 2014 at 10:50 am
An iconic youth-focused media production Not for Profit has managed to keep radio "sexy’" and move from strength to strength through its own model of income generation, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
SYN, a media organisation run by a community of young people that provides training and broadcast opportunities for young Australians, is experimenting with social enterprise to raise funds for its suite of media programs.
The organisation was formed in 2000 as a result of a merger between two youth radio projects: 3TD (an AM station run by high school students from Thornbury-Darebin Secondary College) and SRA (Student Radio Association) of RMIT University.
SYN 90.7 FM commenced permanent broadcasting in 2003.In the time since, it is estimated that over 12,000 young people have been directly involved with its programs.
Now with an estimated listening audience of 80,000 people per week, SYN continues to keep radio alive for young people in an internet-saturated world – aided significantly by its fee-for-service programs.
Pro Bono Australia News spoke to Tahlia Azaria, General Manager at SYN Media, about the struggles and successes of their social enterprise.
Dollars through Diversity
Social enterprise is ensuring that media organisation SYN can stay true to its purpose: creating training and broadcast opportunities for young Australians.
“We have a few different social enterprise streams,” Azaria says. Ït has been necessary to meet our mission.
“We have always done this, but we haven’t called it social enterprise. It’s only in the past 18 months we’ve begun calling ourselves that.
“Our media learning programs give students and community groups the opportunity to make media on a fee for service basis. Schools come and pay a fee to take part in our training.
“All of the money made through our social enterprises goes back into subsidising our programs.”
SYN offers a range of Media learning programs for schools including:
- Schools on Air – weekly live radio for a full term or special once off broadcast
- Media Learning Workshops – create audio and video content for digital platforms
- Radio Tours – make a demo radio show on this short excursion to SYN
- Live Radio Workshops – Create a special once off broadcast.
The programs cater to over three and a half thousand students per year.
“We also do fee for service production, mainly with Not for Profit and community sector clients but also governments and local councils,” Azaria adds.
She says this may involve anything from professional editing to filming and producing digital records of events.
Social enterprise-generated funds currently comprise about 40 per cent of overall turnover.
“Particularly for us, we have very high overheads. We have transmission costs – we have to pay to send the radio signal out to the tower at Mount Dandenong. One of our goals is to increase our amount of self-generated income,” she says.
“We get a mix of income – from social enterprise activities, but also funds from the government and philanthropic sectors.
“We’ve seen most success from bringing multiple partners to the table.
“All the feedback we've received is that income diversity is a good thing and that funders are more likely to invest if they’re not the only investors.”
SYN is fortunate in that it has been able to secure steady government funding, with the Victorian Government acting as a major partner.
“SYN has consistently demonstrated it has fantastic outcomes with young people – that has made it easier,” Azaria says.
Revise and Revisit
SYN is maximising its potential by tracking – and tweaking – its operational models.
“We’re about the launch our next strategic plan,” Azaria says. “It would be very difficult if we didn't have that defined structure and process to measure.”
Currently, the organisation’s social enterprise streams are being redeveloped as part of the Social Trader’s Thrive program. The incubator program is designed to help social enterprises that have been trading for two years or more to improve their financial viability and increase their social impact.
“We’ve got a mentor from PwC helping us find out where our gaps are,” Azaria says.“It’s fantastic and it means putting a theoretical grounding behind what we do.
“We have ideas of customer segmentation and things like that, but now we have the evidence to say ýes, we’re right in that.”
She says an ongoing challenge is how to grow the enterprise with limited resources.
“You have to spend money to make money, and coming from an organisation that doesn’t make a lot, it’s hard to grow. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.
“The social enterprise space has grown a lot in the past 5 to 10 years so it’s become more competitive.”
One of the core features of SYN’s structure is its large volunteer workforce.
“We have a fantastic culture where people can come in, try things, screw up, and try again. We innovate a lot because of that,” Azaria says.
“In terms of managing large numbers of volunteers, we have some really good processes in place that have taken a while to hone. You can’t just treat young people as one big cohort.
“We have monthly sessions where we take in around 40 to 50 new volunteers. We do them once a month because we have to – “We’ve got a waiting list of people wanting to come in.
“Having so many new volunteers can be hard at a staff level, because you have to adapt, but Ït means we have constant new energy, never standing still.
“We also have around 45 volunteer leaders – like managers and executive producers. We take them on a three day camp to Healesville and have mid-year reviews to track their goals and review their progress. We vacate those roles at the end of every year and refill them.
“It’s a massive process, and it takes a lot of time and a big coordinated effort, but it’s okay now that people understand that process.”
SYN also endeavours to offer the young people that transition through its programs coveted jobs in media and production when they arise.
“So many have skills but because it is so competitive, there are no jobs,” Azaria says.
“We have an organisational exemption from the discrimination commissioner to give preference to young people.”
Radio Lives On
“There’s been a lot of discussion around [radio dying], but it hasn’t affected our demand at all.
“The medium of radio is becoming so much more exclusive. Not just anyone can have a radio station, but anyone can sit in their bedroom and upload a video to Youtube.
“It’s still really sexy I think for young people,” Azaria says.
“People come to SYN because they want to be presenters and be the next Hamish and Andy but they stay because they find a community to connect with.
“I think traditionally it is said that young people are early adopters and users of technology. But they don’t always know how to use it in the safest or most effective way to get their message across.
“We’ve just launched a digital channel, SYN Nation. That’s a huge thing that’s been a long time coming.
“We now have a focus on cementing and scaling that. It’s now in seven communities and we want to resource that – and grow it.”
Image courtesy Alan Weedon. Read more about SYN here.