How KMUW Public Radio Uses Forums to Inspire Action and Learning

by J.W. Huttig


Wichita’s KMUW-FM launched the Engage ICT: Democracy on Tap initiative in 2016 to provide its south-central Kansas audience with monthly interactive forums delivering a) reliable information on community issues and b) resources for taking action and learning more. Experts were drawn from the ranks of area journalists, public officials, not-for-profits, academia, law and healthcare answer questions submitted by the audience via Facebook, Twitter, and email prior to and during the event. After each forum, KMUW delivers information for learning more and taking action. Forums began as live broadcasts/webcasts before an in-person audience but moved to an online-only format in response to COVID-19.


Project Goals: KMUW set out to provide its audience with reliable answers to important questions facing the community. A key objective is inspiring the audience to take action and learn more. After each forum, Engage ICT posts links for learning more and taking action. At in-person events, KMUW encouraged attendees to contact public officials by providing maps they could use to identify their city, county, state and federal representatives, addresses for reaching them, and postage-paid postcards. Additionally, panelists would stay and mingle with the audience, creating additional opportunities for engagement.

Tools & Technology: Along with on-air PSA’s and its Twitter account, Engage ICT uses the KMUW website and Facebook page to promote programs and solicit questions ahead of time from the public. Events are broadcast live on KMUW-FM and webcast (video and audio) live via a secure, private Zoom feed to both the Engage ICT webpage and Facebook Live.

Impact: In addition to its live on-air and internet audience, Engage ICT has 1,339 Twitter followers and each post is re-posted on KMUW-FM’s Twitter feed. In 2020, visitors to the Engage ICT webpage downloaded 23,491 videos. Programs dealing with COVID-19 generated the most downloads, led by a remarkably prophetic March 10 panel that has been downloaded 3,365 times to date. The second most downloaded program, the November 2020 episode “One Small Step: Courageous Political Conversations,” has been downloaded 2,620 times to date.

Organization Background: KMUW-FM is a public radio station licensed and operated by Wichita State University. It serves a south-central Kansas metro area with a population of 644,888. Along with local programming, content comes from NPR, American Public Media and other public media content producers.

Project Resources: KMUW operations are supported by a mix of public funding, grants and audience contributions. Engage ICT support has included several business sponsorships over the years, including a local real estate brokerage. Currently Engage ICT is sponsored by Moeder & Associates of Wichita.

Here’s What Worked

1. Choosing relevant topics

Topics have included Covid 19 vaccinations, social media disinformation, policing and race, “Women in Politics and the Kansas GOP,” urban redevelopment, climate change, local and federal elections, policing, and coping with social isolation during the pandemic. “Victory Gardens During COVID-19” proved so popular that KMUW followed up the next month with Part II. Topics are selected by a KMUW staff committee including the director of Community Engagement and director of Diversity, News and Engagement and director.

2. Inviting diverse voices

As with topics, panelists are selected in consultation with KMUW staff including the director of Diversity, News and Engagement. Not only does diversity and inclusion assure questions and answers address the concerns of the region’s increasingly diverse population, but it producers a broader, more interesting conversation for all audiences.

3. Curating questions for interest and pertinency

During events, the producer constantly monitors the Facebook Messenger and the Engage ICT email and relays them to the moderator via an open Google Doc. The procedure enables the moderator to identify the topics of greatest interest to the audience, consolidate similar questions into a single concise question, and keep the conversation relevant. When forums were held in front of a live audience, attendees wrote questions on comment cards which event staff relayed to a producer who, in turn, passed along questions to the forum moderator via an open Google Doc that she monitored from the stage. In addition, A handful of live audience members had an opportunity to ask questions aloud, giving events a greater sense of immediacy and engagement.

Here’s What Could Have Worked Better

1. Anticipating Zoom-bombing

Engage ICT originally offered a live, public Zoom feed, but had to discontinue using the public Zoom feed due to Zoombombing. Instead, it now utilizes a private Zoom connection to feed its Facebook and Engage ICT webcasts.

2. Hosting multi-platform conversations require different considerations

Although brief pauses in conversation pose no major issue for live streaming, producers need to keep in mind that lapses in audio (dead air) can mislead radio listeners to believe they’ve lost the signal. At the other end of the spectrum, events held in front of an audience require producers to give more ‘air’ between comments and transitions; room for applause is essential to hosting an event that feels as good as it sounds.

3. Learning to be a host is a process

Hosting requires the moderator to simultaneously listen to panelists, monitor the Google Doc, ask questions and interact with members of the audience. The moderator needs to strike a balance between keeping the conversation on a topic versus responding to new information and the interests of the audience. Depending on the topic and panel, the role of the fact-checker might need to be filled. It is possible to manage these various roles in many different ways. In some instances, having more than one event producer is recommended, in order for the event host to be able to fulfill that role in the best way.

Here’s What Else You Should Know

Production values of the webcast improved as a result of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic forums held before an in-person audience typically relied on a single camera for video casting, resulting in a wide-angle view to show all of the panelists. Moving to Zoom created a virtual multi-camera production with each panelists’ computer providing close-ups. Engage ICT intends to retain that improved production value when it resumes in-person events.

“ICT” is the Federal Aviation Administration three-character designation for Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport. It’s well-recognized within a com

Learn More

Contact Sarah Jane Crespo, KMUW Director of Community Engagement, at

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