Sourcefabric's community manager Jakub Górnicki tells the remarkable story of Bieszczady.fm, a Polish youth station who, in only eight months, have undergone an amazing transformation using open source software and a community passionate about radio.
When someone urges you to contact them late on a Friday night, it had better be good. Last Friday, I got such a call from Kamil, manager of Bieszczady.fm. He told me that... well, wait. Before I tell you what he told me, let me share a story first.
A couple months back, a user named "krzakx" showed up in our forums asking questions about how to hack, build and improve our open source radio automation software Airtime. Soon, he had somehow tracked down my mobile phone number and began to ask me questions directly via text message. Being the good community manager I am, I called him and learned that he was the manager of an independent radio station called Bieszczady.fm.
Bieszczady.fm is a youth-organised, community online radio station based in Sanok, Southern Poland. They received initial funding from the Youth in Action programme on July 1st 2011 and since then have pursued this great dream of building their own radio station. On January 7th 2012, I finally met the team when I travelled to Sanok to help organise a special Reporters Lab (Sourcefabric's series of events bringing together developers and journalists).
I arrived in Sanok hoping to spend some time in a city full of snow (especially as there is a lack of it this year in my hometown Warsaw), but even there, at the gateway to the Bieszczady mountains, there was nothing but rain. Sanok, with its 40 thousand people is a very old Polish city, with a castle established by the Polish king Kazimierz the Great, and a beautiful small old town. You can smell the mountains all around the city.
The day before Reporter Labs, Kamil gave me tour of the town (packed with our event posters) and to avoid the rain we hid in various cafes in the city. He introduced me to Judyta - mother of all this radio madness and his partner in crime. She is just about to take her university exams in a couple of months. We talk about how they organised the radio station, that over 40 people were involved in making it happen, and what their plans for the future were.
So, January 7th and Reporter Labs arrives. It's 3pm and the small room is packed with 60 people. After giving a small introduction to Sourcefabric, all the young DJs start to explain what their shows are about. One hour and a half later we are done... from rock, pop and women's shows, to youth EU news and local stuff. It's maybe a little bit chaotic but, hey, it's youth radio and that's their privilege. Before the event I was told that Bieszczady.fm has grown so much that they now need to structure everything more, analyse their actions, find errors and name actions to improve on mstakes. Each one of us took a small piece of paper and wrote down three things: what I dislike, what I like, what I want.
Apart from the inevitable "we want sugar for our coffee" suggestions, we nailed a list of everything to be solved in three hours. Dislikes changed into likes, errors found solutions. Kamil and Judyta now know where to go and are clearly surrounded by great people, who want to contribute. I think we all left the event at Saturday's night feeling that Reporter Labs, which is all about helping journalists, worked pretty damn well. I also witnessed how community can influence radio and how important it can be. It's not only the power of big team, partly voluntary, making things happen but also the total engagement of its listeners.
The day after the event we went deeper and deeper into the mountains and amazingly, when sat in a remote traveller's shelter by a fireplace thawing our frozen feet, Bieszczady.fm got offered their first advertising contract. The owner of the shelter was also a teacher at a local school and had remembered the posters advertising the radio station. She urgently wanted more information for hikers to be broadcast on the airwaves and wanted to advertise her mountain hideout. An awesome experience when all you want is coffee and some warmth in, honestly, the middle of nowhere.
So, to return to the beginning of this story, it's late on a Friday night, and I get that it-had-better-be-good call from Kamil. It was good. On the end of the phone was an excited voice relaying to me that Bieszczady.fm had just been awarded their FM license for city of Sanok and the nearby town of Jasło. In eight months, a bunch of high school and freshmen students took their radio staion from nothing to a full-on FM station - all built on open source software. Truly remarkable. Now they are broadcasting both online and on air, I can't wait to see what else they will do to Airtime by way of hacks and contributions, and I look to forward to shaping the software with them. Go open source!