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C89.5 Program Director Ron Chatman inside the radio studio
Credit: Ron Chatman (https://www.c895.org/)

Interviews

The art of listening to the listener at C89.5: A conversation with Program Director Ron Chatman

In Seattle’s dance music market, changes come as naturally as the seasons do. As the whole nightlife industry continues to grapple with a post-pandemic economic world and how to create a safe haven amid threats and committed gendered violence in nightclubs, it feels like there are more questions than answers. But, there are pockets of hope everywhere if you look closely enough, and local dance music radio station C89.5 is dedicated to the cause.

Ron Chatman, Program Director for C89.5, may have recently received the hand-off from J.B. McDaniels who previously served C89.5 in the same role for over thirty years, but there’s no question that Chatman is the man to continue the station’s growth.

Listening for the audience is priority #1

Over its 50-year legacy, C89.5 was built on and still is, a station built for the Seattle audience. Chatman echoes this, saying, “The audience is always the number one consideration, being able to enjoy time with listeners and get a feel for what they need from us. We make sure the station meets those needs: to be entertained, to be informed, and to foster a sense of community.”

Although taking the time to speak with average listeners and community members about the station seems like it could be tedious for a director, Chatman recounts that it’s one of his favorite duties of the job. In addition to spoken feedback and social media buzz, the station regularly encourages and receives web-based surveys that Chatman tracks. It allows listeners to provide feedback about the station from top to bottom, both about the station generally and as detailed as the specific tracks they play and shows they host.

That can feel like a lot of data to crunch regularly, but Chatman emphasizes that it is invaluable feedback that directly shapes the future of the station: “I want people to understand that it’s their voice we want to hear, not ours.”

Creating an international community while supporting close to home

Beyond feedback from listeners, the station is especially interested in calling upon the talent of the Pacific Northwest to give a platform to local artists and creators.

“I would love to see the community grow. Seattle has already birthed so many great artists. Wouldn’t it be great if the Pacific Northwest in general became the next Amsterdam? It just would be great to nurture that community and see something explode here. The soil is ripe for it and the time is now,” says Chatman.

Broadcasting beyond the Pacific Northwest, C89.5 is also one of the only existing radio stations in its format that runs 24/7 to both local and international audiences. The station views this platform philosophically as a way to be as inclusive of all communities of people as possible. Says Chatman:

The people that look for this station to be a warm and inviting presence in their lives no longer have to live in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, or the United States. It’s not a secret that this station, partially because of the music and partially because of the area of the country we’re in, are LGBTQIA+ friendly. We are allies, brothers and sisters, a community.

In the same way that dance music has always been a shelter for queer, BIPOC, and disenfranchised communities in general, we want to continue that. Our doors are open and welcoming, and I spend a lot more time thinking about how we can do good and reflect that stance than I do thinking about how we play a song a certain number of times.

Creating opportunities in music for students

Education and paving opportunity through access is another fundamental tenant of the station. The Seattle Public School district owns C89.5, and gives the team a space within Nathan Hale High School just east of Northgate in Seattle. Students learn skills of storytelling, podcasting, programming, and more.

The station is planting the seeds to open a new skills center next year, where they can offer this education to all students within the district.

“We are looking to engage students. If we find someone who loves EDM and hasn’t found a home for that, come on in. If you’re a person of color or queer or non-binary and haven’t been able to find a safe space, we have that here as well,” emphasizes Chatman.

 

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Closing the financial gap to keep growing

As a nonprofit organization, receiving funding from Seattle Public Schools is a huge security for the station. But it isn’t enough to cover the extensive programming that C89.5 offers. Throughout the year, the station will run a campaign to ask for financial support from listeners who are able to give. It can be difficult to convey how important charitable giving is to the ongoing operations and sustainability of the organization; donating can also give listeners a sense of ownership in the station.

C89.5’s vision: bringing people together, growing into the future

The future is bright for organizations who remain steadfast in their mission: uniting people through music. C89.5 is an exemplary story of this value, and Program Director Ron Chatman recognizes this. Throughout his radio career spanning over three decades, he knows that C89.5 is something special.

The station had a great leader who had been part of the station for thirty plus years, and when he retired he left behind an incredible team. The energy here is amazing. I’ve worked in radio jobs where it’s like, let me throw myself out of bed and get stuff done at the station. But here, it’s ‘what can I do, who can I reach out to, what good can I do in the world through the vehicle of this station?’ There’s so much to do, and everybody here loves what we do and it makes it so fun and so easy.

When asked if Chatman had anything he wished to tell listeners and members of the community, he summed up the essence of C89.5 best, saying,

I want people to think about coming together. There are so many things in a world that are divisive, the energy is bad, and politics are a nightmare, but we are about all of the positive things. Relationships with people that matter. Music that makes you move your body and lifts your soul. It’s a huge positive energy charge for everyone that listens and wants to be a part. You can be a part of it. You can give us your ideas, your energy, your music, and your dollars if you have that ability. More than anything we just want you to enjoy what we have to offer and to share it with a friend.

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