JOB BLOG // ALUMNI PROFILE: JO CURTIN
Jo Curtin has over 20 years’ experience in community broadcasting. It all started for her here at SYN, where she became Station Manager after completing her media degree. She later worked as Assistant Manager at 3ZZZ, and was also a Board member of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Jo also volunteers on grant assessment panels at both her local council and federal MP community grants programs, and has had articles published in Pro Bono, Third Sector Magazine and The Age.
Jo became the CEO of the Community Broadcasting Foundation in June 2020, turning her passion for social justice into empowering community broadcasters across the country. This blog looks at how Jo has made a career in community media.
When did you first join SYN? How did you get your start?
I joined SYN when it was first incorporated. I’d been involved in the RMIT student radio association (SRA FM) which merged with the high school-based 3TD to form SYN back in 2000.
I first got involved as a media student. My uni lecturers encouraged us to volunteer and get experience in community radio so my initial involvement was self-interested really, I wanted to be employable at the end of my degree. I’d done some radio shows with friends during the days when SRA was doing test broadcasts. We shared the 94.9FM frequency with other aspirant broadcasters and we’d do broadcasts for 4-6 weeks then hand over to another station. It was a great way to build up our skills and learn as an organisation. I got more involved by being elected by the members into a co-production manager role, then the sponsorship manager role, and finally as the Station Manager of SYN. Believe it or not, it was an elected role in those days! Shortly after becoming Station Manager we were allocated our full time community broadcasting licence and it was a huge deal to get ourselves ready to get on air full time in my first year in that role.
What were some highlights from your time as Station Manager at SYN?
There are two key things that really stick out when I think about SYN memories. One is that SYN had (and still has) such a huge impact on the lives of the people involved – participating at SYN is utterly transformative and I can think of so many people across the years who have gained the skills, confidence and connections to follow their own path in life. For some, it saved their lives. That’s powerful stuff.
The other key thing is how wild it was that we were given this incredible opportunity to broadcast 24/7 across Melbourne. Putting young people behind the mic is a powerful political act, it’s a huge opportunity to speak truth to power. It’s a celebration of young people and the culture that matters to young people. It’s an embodiment of the possibilities of the future. If young people continue to be rebels and leaders of the revolution while creating mass media alongside the boomers and the media moguls, it gives me hope that everything is going to turn out okay.
How did your experience at SYN prepare you for further leadership roles in the community media sector?
It was learning by doing, by jumping in the deep end and following my instincts. I put radical trust in the team around me, a term I’ve only recently learnt that describes the culture that I helped to build at SYN. At SYN you take on big responsibility before you’re ready and you figure it out as you go. I learnt about the importance of inducting and supporting staff while on the job. I didn’t have experience supervising anyone, let alone managing a radio station that quickly began experimenting in TV, print and other media. It was an exercise in building skills in facilitating people’s personal and professional development. I learnt about the power of investing in people, and how each interaction with leaders encourages people along in their journey. My mum taught me to build people up, and that’s what I try to do in all aspects of my life.
How did working as the Assistant Manager at 3ZZZ shape your understanding of the community media sector beyond SYN?
Working at 3ZZZ broadened my horizons about what community media is all about. 3ZZZ broadcasts in over 60 languages and it’s like a mini United Nations. I was inspired by the dedication of volunteers who had broadcast to their communities for decades. Working there was like soaking in the deep and rich history of community broadcasting in this country. I learnt about how a station can remain connected to and serve its community after decades on air but must also build new connections to keep the station relevant as communities evolve.
What did you gain (professionally and/or personally) from your time on the CBAA Board?
It’s good to stretch yourself and take on things that build your skills and develop you professionally. I learnt about governance and the duties of a Board. I met people who continue to be friends and mentors to me now. I also connected with broadcasters from across the country, broadcasting in very different circumstances.
What are your tips for young people looking to participate in governance in the media industry or community sector/s?
I would say don’t wait until you feel ready. Jump in and get involved in a community group or local organisation. There is likely to be a local community suburban station near you – get in touch with them and see what opportunities there are to contribute at a governance level. I would also encourage you to engage with The Observership Program which provides training and amazing practical experience in not-for-profit board leadership.
What has it meant to you to see SYN’s growth, and remaining a part of the alumni community?
It makes me very proud. I feel a bit like a SYN grandma, sending birthday cards with cash inside each year and keenly encouraging each new General Manager, while not wanting to meddle or say “back in my day…”. People at SYN need the space to make the organisation what it needs to be for the current generation of young media makers – and sometimes that means making mistakes and learning from them. I love watching the organisation develop and I think the number of people positively impacted by it is incredible!
You’ve also worked in other community and media spaces – How do you avoid burning out while doing what you love?
That’s a tough one! I think having a variety of interests helps, as does having time away from screens generally. But when your relationships and friendship circles are built around your passion, you always end up talking about your work so I don’t have a great answer for that.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities as CEO of the CBF?
I implement the CBF’s strategic plan and oversee our grant programs that support hundreds of community broadcasters around the country. I also engage with key stakeholders to make sure the CBF’s grant programs are relevant and responsive to the needs of broadcasters.
Where do you hope to see the community broadcasting sector in the next five years? What role do you hope to play in any growth or change during this time?
We’ve been talking a lot recently about how we can best support community stations to be resilient – in the next five to ten years I’d like to be talking more about how we can best support community stations to thrive. It feels like we are doing more sand-bagging than castle building at the moment but so far 2020 has shown us that we need community broadcasting now more than ever.
What does it take to make a career in community media?
It takes determination, a willingness to learn and generosity of spirit.