Interview with Giordana Caputo – 4zzzfm
by Rah Mcv
For 35 years volunteers at 4zzzfm have been supporting the Brisbane music community. They’ve played music that doesn’t get airplay on other stations, they’ve put on gigs and they’ve created a space for people to make things happen.
I went to Zed to talk to Training and Volunteer Coordinator Giordana Caputo about the station’s place in the Brisbane music scene, the importance of community media and activism and how it is the station has managed to keep on thriving after all these years.
Could you tell us a bit about how many people are involved at Triple Zed and how that’s changed over the years?
I’ve been involved at Zed for 11 years, and I’ve been working here for the past two-and-a-half as a full-time employee. I’m the volunteer and training coordinator so I’m at the coalface when it comes to interacting with the volunteers
I’d say that when I began back in 1998 there was a really good vibe around Triple Zed but there wasn’t much support for volunteers. You had to fend for yourself – there wasn’t any formal process even to come in. You worked out for yourself what you were going to do and stuck around and made friends and stuff like that. That’s changed a lot over the years. Now we have a lot more formal volunteering processes because so many people want to get involved with the station, and we’ve had to kind of target it a little more so we can get people with the skills that are required to run the organisation.
In the last few years we’ve done a few different things – we’ve started an internship program. The news department was the first one to begin that, so we had interns in the news department coming in and writing the headlines. They’re generally students from university, studying journalism or media or something like that. Then there were lots of people coming into the station who were interested in the music industry. Getting into the music industry can be quite difficult unless you have some contacts, so since our music department has a lot of contact with record labels and independent artists and publicists we thought it would be a good way for people to gain some skills. So now we have the music industry internship – generally it’s people studying music or production or have some interest in that. They might be a manager for a band or something. They come in and spend a certain amount of time in our music department doing a whole bunch of stuff. It can go from processing CDs that come in to actually contacting labels, setting up interviews … that kind of stuff.
That segued into people who wanted to come in and be involved in the interviews department, so we have interview interns as well now. They’re involved in getting interviews, pre-recording interviews, creating an archive of all the interviews we have done at 4zzz, going out and searching for interviews that announcers want.
It’s really helped, because we’ve made these targeted departments so that volunteers can make something relevant to the work that they might like to do, rather than them having to fend for themselves. That’s the main progress we’ve made in terms of volunteering – to make it more structured, and also a lot of those people can use it for credit for their university subjects.
The other stuff that we’ve been doing is recruiting people that might want to do school-based traineeships through Triple Zed – we’ve had one of those just complete her school-based traineeship. Obviously, we also have our work for the dole regulars and they are a really big help. They come in, usually people who are unemployed for a period of time, they spend two weeks with us doing everything from taking out the bins to answering the phones and reviewing CDs – anything they like. There are lots of opportunities to get involved.
How about fundraising? Has that been an issue for the station?
Fundraising is always an issue for Zed. We only have three full-time employees and they’re all on a fairly low wage – it’s not a managerial wage. We try to keep our employment overheads really low but the main expenses for 4zzz are things like electricity and the equipment that it takes to run a radio station. Our promotions and sponsorship department are working to fund that stuff and everything else on top of that. Just down to being able to have tea and coffee for our volunteers when they’re coming in – having toilet paper, having hand wash … That’s the kind of stuff we have to fundraise for. We try to get a lot of our volunteers to start thinking about ways they could raise money. Particularly, say, people in the music department or the news department where they’re using the phones all the time, they’re using computers and so we say “OK, how can we raise the money to cover the costs for this sort of stuff?” So the news department runs a fundraiser every year, the music department runs their weekly gigs and they also help out with other events around the station.
Fundraising ideas are always welcome and we’ve recently had a few volunteers solely dedicated to fundraising. We have one lady that comes in and makes sure that all our subscriptions are up-to-date. Then we have our radio-thon coordinator spend all their time trying to figure out how to make the most money out of that.
What have the trends been in subscription numbers?
It goes up and down. The GFC hit us last year and 2009, but things are definitely coming back. I think the floods had a major impact – our subscriptions were down in January and February but they’re starting to come back in-line now. But towards the end of last year we were seeing a really steady level – sitting at around 1,700 subscribers. That’s consistent – they haven’t dropped off too much or gone too far above that. That’s pretty good – the kind of level that we would expect and that’s also come up from 1,300-ish back in 2008 so we’ve had a steady increase but it’s plateaued at that point. We’re hoping that the radio-thon coming up will really encourage new subscribers to come on board – not just people renewing their subscriptions.
What kind of demographic does Zed have?
Everyone has ideas about who the 4zzz audience is but statistically it’s really hard for us to know because we only do audience surveys once every two years and they generally don’t have a lot of specific information about each radio station because they are done by the Community Broadcasting Association. We say it’s fairly reflective of the general population. We say we’ve got around 89,000 listeners a week. The demographic is 15-35 generally but we do have some older listeners as well. They’re low income earners but most of them tend to be full-time employed. We do have a large student-listening population – so it could be we have a lot of students who are also working full-time listening to us. That’s kinda how we see our demographic.
What are the plans for the next couple of years?
We have lots and lots of plans. Last year was our 35th anniversary so the focus was on trying to gather our history together and make sure that we had archives of everything, make sure that we can tell people about our history so that’s what all of last year was about.
This year and into the future – the next couple of years – we’re going to be focusing on new technology. Looking at digital radio and how that’s going to impact on us. We’ve launched our digital radio channel unofficially, and it’s going to be launched properly in May. So we have this whole new channel, this whole new space which we can explore and discover and experiment and do all kinds of stuff with. The other thing we’re thinking about a lot is web 2.0 technology and how we can use it to connect with our audience. We’re launching a website very soon that’s going to have a lot more interactive stuff going on on it, like making it more of a social networking hub for people around 4zzz. We’re looking at updating our equipment – we have pretty archaic equipment here at 4zzz – and looking at the building, how we can maximise the potential of the building as well because we are in this amazing space in The Valley and there are great licensing options that have come out through the council recently. You can have small venues, so we’re looking at how that might be able to be used to our advantage.
We’re also looking at some social enterprise stuff so trying to set-up profit for purpose enterprises that might be able to engage with 4zzz and might be able to help us with our fundraising and also provide training for people in the community outside the media sector so we might be looking at hospitality training, event management training … that sort of stuff so that we can expand what 4zzz is all about.
Wow. That’s so exciting! Do you feel that political activism is still alive and well at Zed?
I think through the programming you can definitely hear that. The programs that we run are still very politically-minded. As a political activist organisation 4zzz probably isn’t as active as it was in the past and that could be for a whole range of different reasons. But it’s still an organising point for people and I guess the whole activist organising method has changed a lot as well. Before 4zzz was one of the only outlets for that and now with the internet and all sorts of social networking it’s become much more sophisticated and easy to network people. Whereas 4zzz used to be a space where you could really network. So the organisation doesn’t have that radical look about it anymore but the work that people are doing here has that element and has that real community activism going on where people are doing things from themselves. They’re not working for a bureaucracy. They’re not working within guidelines. The idea at 4zzz is that you can create whatever you want and I think that’s a really exciting concept. That you can still do that, that you’re not bound by all sorts of restrictions.