Executive Summary

The continued success of radio broadcasting hinges on its ability to offer features that the Internet cannot: local programming and true social participation. Radio broadcasting remains a strong form of communication despite the explosion of web-based platforms, because it delivers local flavor in music, news, talk, and politics (Girard, 2012). The social feedback that comes naturally in radio broadcasting allows listeners to influence their station, leading to highly customized and localized focus. Community radio is still seen as an important aspect of social change, given its ability to link communities (Steeves and Melkote, 2001).

This study focused on the efforts of Human FM, a community radio station, located on the edge of Victoria University’s Kelburn Campus. The station offers a variety of music and spoken word programming. The Ramsey House is host to Human FM, as well as the adjacent lounge and café, and is operated by AngChap at the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), an Anglican organization dedicated to students. After five years of operation, Human FM has trouble identifying its impact. It has not yet grown into a fully supported community station, and faces challenges such as low volunteership and uncertainty about the enthusiasm of its listeners.

Findings & Analysis


The goal of our study was to strengthen the ways Human FM engages its community. This included gaining a deeper understanding of who is involved with Human FM and how to use Human FM’s resources and surroundings to grow its community. To achieve this goal, we identified five objectives:

  1. Identify Human FM’s available resources.
  2. Gain a better understanding of Human FM’s listenership.
  3. Explore Human FM’s potential connections to similar, existing communities.
  4. Determine the financial feasibility of the Ramsey House café and its social impact on HumanFM.
  5. Propose strategies for Human FM to strengthen engagement with their community.To identify the available resources for the growth of Human FM’s community, our team

conducted an initial site assessment of the Ramsey House and interviews with dedicated Human FM staff and invested chaplaincy members to better understand their perspectives on the Ramsey House’s current status. We surveyed 88 summer students and university staff to learn about their radio preferences and exposure to Human FM. We investigated several music- and social justice- based communities as potential contributors to enhance Human FM’s music programming and live events. We performed a café feasibility analysis in order to better understand the value of the Ramsey House café. We wanted to understand its financial capability to continue to bring a high volume of students to the Ramsey House and potentially engage with Human FM. We examined the strengths and weaknesses of the Ramsey House café and its competitors, and examined the operating costs and consumer demand to keep the café open.

To compile and analyze this information, the team developed strategies for Human FM to better engage its community using its resources and surroundings. To compare possible outcomes of each strategy, we performed a SWOT analysis of Human FM as it stands today to organize our understanding of its current position. Using this analysis as a guide, we then generated strategies to emphasize the strengths, minimize weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities, and neutralize threats facing the station.

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Findings and Analysis

Identifying Human FM’s Resources

The lounge, shown in Figure 1 below, serves Human FM, the café, and AngChap by broadcasting the station, hosting patrons, and displaying many religious artifacts. Mark Johnson, who runs the Ramsey House, is open to new directions for the space. He envisions the lounge as more of a “student-owned” space with less religious influence.

Figure 1 2013 Project 4

Figure 1: The Ramsey House Lounge

It was confirmed by Human FM staff that lack of volunteer commitment is the station’s greatest challenge. Many students sign up for the student organization each year, but the retention rate of committed club members is low. We also discovered that the organization’s connections are weak. Very few volunteers show up to meetings or help at Human FM events. Creating a larger, stronger group of volunteer students is the main goal of the current station manager, Nat Newton.

Listenership and Community Ties

Through the 88 VUW surveys our team conducted, we confirmed that the majority of students, 67% of our survey respondents, listen to radio. Although 44% of survey respondents have been inside the Ramsey House, only a small percentage have claimed to have ever listened to Human FM. This shows there is little association between the Ramsey House and Human FM.

Our team took a closer look at the ten respondents that have ever listened to Human FM to find trends in the types of people who tune in. Four of these ten respondents had never heard of the Ramsey House, confirming that there is little association between Human FM and the Ramsey House, even among listeners. Only one respondent listens to Human FM regularly. After analyzing the “Describe yourself” and other open ended questions, we found there was no clear unifying quality between Human FM listeners. Out of all 39 respondents who have been inside the Ramsey House, 85% claim to have never listened to Human FM. This is represented in Figure 2 below.Figure 2 2013 Project 4

Figure 2: Ramsey House Visitors and Human FM

Through interviews with representatives from Thistle Hall, a Wellington community building, and the Mighty Mighty, a well-known local bar and music venue, our team learned how other communities in the Wellington area functioned internally and with other groups. We identified communities in Wellington that share Human FM’s potential audience, such as We Are the University, the Social Justice Commission of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa and Polynesia, and Greenpeace. The National Federation for Community Broadcasters’ (NFCB) 5 x 5 plan identifies working with other community organizations is one of the first steps in growing a successful station.

Café Feasibility

Our student surveys identified the most important features a café must have, according to the VUW respondents. These include good coffee and food, pleasant and spacious ambiance, comfort, friendly staff, and low prices, all of which are strengths of the Ramsey House café. The only weakness is its distance to the center of campus, confirmed through survey respondents and the competing café assessment.

The café was deemed financially viable with AngChap’s direct ownership. With the only major cost being an initial investment in coffee machinery, and inventory, the café owner will no longer have to pay monthly rent or support a full-time salary, challenges for the previous owners.

Thirty eight percent of student survey respondents would improve food and café options on campus as the highest priority, and an additional 13% of respondents requested better social spaces on campus, demonstrating a major need for the Ramsey House café and lounge. The most significant competition for the Ramsey House café is the on-campus café vicBooks. When asked where coffee drinkers purchased their coffee, 34% of respondents indicated vicBooks, making it the most popular spot on campus. However, the Ramsey House was mentioned as the second most popular on- campus spot, indicating that of the six on-campus café options, the Ramsey House is well recognized for their consistent quality.

With cheaper and high quality coffee, verified possible financial viability, an identified need for better café options on campus , and a competitive position in the market, the Ramsey House café is not only feasible but a highly encouraged tool to bring visitors to the Ramsey House and Human FM.

Strategic Planning Analysis

Our strategic planning exercise rested on a multitude of findings from our entire study. Each strategy was designed keeping in mind our goal of enhancing Human FM’s community. Through our SWOT of Human FM’s current situation and with support from the rest of our findings, we established the major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, summarized in Table 1.

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Table 1: Initial SWOT Analysis of Human FM

Strategy One: “A Social Space for Students”

This strategy looks to capitalize on the popularity of the Ramsey House by having stronger relations between Human FM and the café and lounge, as well as expand the offerings of the building to provide a social space with Human FM flavor. It does not propose changes to the target audience, programming, or events of the station. The first step is to improve visual association of the station in the lounge by updating the décor in the Ramsey House to feature the station, and increase interaction between café visitors and the station. This also includes subtle changes to establish a more “student-owned” atmosphere, and extending the hours of operation. One such example of these modifications is incorporating a “radio jukebox,” a system that allows visitors to choose the songs that will be played on air, which increases interaction and builds a dynamic listener profile. In our SWOT analysis of Human FM after implementing this strategy, we found that the association with the Ramsey House had been successfully used, and eliminated the low exposure problem in the process.

Strategy Two: “A Station for the Students”

The second strategy we proposed involved directly growing Human FM’s community by targeting the nearby student community of VUW. This strategy places emphasis on transforming Human FM and the Ramsey House into a station dedicated to the students and a key feature of the VUW campus by stressing further specialization of their programming. Similar to the first strategy, the first step is updating the décor of the Ramsey House to promote Human FM while emphasizing its purpose as a place for students. To help build a larger base of student volunteers, we suggested organizing an executive board for Human FM, which would include a station manager, events manager, public relations chair, VUW relations chair, and grant writers. These are all student positions, and help increase volunteer participation, influence, and commitment. Human FM will then expand their programming and events on campus by incorporating academic departments, featuring student bands, hosting student poetry and art, and providing announcement services for on-campus events. In the SWOT analysis, we found this strategy eliminated the low exposure of the station and low volunteer commitment, and used the opportunity of associating with the popular Ramsey House.

Strategy Three: “An Independent Station for Wellington”

The third strategy explored the potential for Human FM to develop into a fully-supported, independent station in Wellington. This is a gradual growth process that involves long-term investment in staff and resources. The first step is to hire a full time station manager, giving sufficient time to facilitate daily operations of the station and student organization, as well as make the changes listed below. Finding support from local venues and organizations through event or campaign partnerships will expose more people to the station and spread its ethos. Taking advantage of music subscription services allows the station’s library to steady grow with minimal human resources. Human FM can use Radio Audience Measurement Surveys facilitated by The Radio Bureau as an effective way of identifying listener trends and track programming. Since this strategy is based on investment, applying to community radio grants and hosting fundraising events is critical to continued support of the expanding budget. The final step is to expand the station’s aerial range to reach more of Wellington. In the SWOT analysis, we found that over time this strategy would eliminate many of the current weaknesses, but failed to support strengths like the Ramsey House. It also introduced a major weakness in that the station would require more donations to continue this high cost operation.

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By utilizing the most effective components of each strategy, we believe that Human FM has the best opportunity to enhance their community engagement. We recommend adopting several ideas from each strategy as the best way for the station move forward. These recommendations revolve around three topics: utilizing the Ramsey House lounge to best benefit Human FM, reenergizing the student organization around the station, and connecting with various communities in Wellington. These topics were reoccurring themes in our strategies and offer low-risk improvements the station.

We see the lounge as the biggest asset to the station and highly recommend capitalizing on the opportunity to redecorate it for self-promotion. Station iconography can be proudly displayed on the lounge walls, and student art can be featured in the building. We also propose a few key changes to the station’s organizational structure that may help club growth and volunteer commitment. A flatter organization tree with more leadership positions may lead to an increase in commitment by those already involved. Hosting regular meetings on a weekly schedule will help keep students connected to the organization. The strength of local stations lies in the understanding and interaction between them and their communities. We encourage Human FM to reach out and connect with community organizations in their area, both on and off the VUW campus.

We hope this strategic planning exercise is beneficial for the station as a way to step back and re-envision the station and to identify key changes that can positively benefit the station immediately.

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Community radio is inherently rooted in the progress of community-building and contributes to the strength and vitality of culture in our society. Human FM is a great example of one such community station that supports the development of intellectual thought and purposeful, values- based living with a strong social-justice conscience. The goal of our study was to strengthen Human FM’s engagement to their community. Human FM has a host of opportunities to connect people through music and intellectual discussion, and can make great strides to building a lively and informed community through its function as a hub for local interaction.

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