Public radio hits the streets and transforms the community
Part food truck, part mobile radio studio, Soundbite isn’t what you normally think of when you hear the words “hybrid vehicle.”
“It’s 40 feet from bumper to bumper, almost twice as long as most food trucks, so it’s quite the rig,” says Brad Moore, owner of Short Leash Hotdogs and Best in Show Events, which partnered with Friends of Public Radio KJZZ on the innovative venture. In addition to a kitchen that measures about 9-by-12 feet, the vehicle incorporates a recording studio with a 12-channel production board, as well as a foldout performance stage.
During the 2017 spring festival season, Soundbite appeared at events such as the Scottsdale Arts Festival; Spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity; and the M7 Street Fair in Phoenix’s Melrose district. Moore and his wife and co-owner, Kat, handle the gourmet food service, while a professional production engineer plays music or manages the audio for stage performances.
“At the M7 Street Fair, we had a variety of acts such as junior high musicians, a choir, and a magician,” Moore says. “It’s just so interesting to see how people interact with the vehicle and what their response to it is.”
Although Soundbite launched in early 2017, the process was years in the making. Friends of Public Radio Arizona, a 501(c)(3) charity, was incorporated in 2001 by Valley leaders seeking to raise awareness and money for KJZZ (91.5) and KBAQ/KBACH (89.5).
“Our mission was not only to broaden the support, but also to look at strategic opportunities to increase impact of public radio and what we do in the community,” says Lou Stanley, director of strategic initiatives for KJZZ. “We’d done lots of reporting on high school dropouts, and our board and staff started talking about what more we could do.”
The result was the creation of Spot 127, a youth media center with afterschool programs for kids age 14 to 18, teaching them all aspects of multimedia production, distribution, storytelling and photography. The program, which launched in Maryvale in 2012, debuted a second program in Tempe earlier this year, the perfect place and timing for the grand opening of Soundbite.
“The concept for Soundbite was entrepreneurial,” Stanley says. “We asked ourselves how we could move within communities around Maricopa County, with music, storytelling and recording opportunities.”
After about 18 months of research, discussions and presentations, Friends of Public Radio board members voted to put the strategic plan into action. In alignment with the organization’s desire to be good financial stewards, funds were pulled from an investment pool created in the mid 2000s from proceeds of the Friends of Public Radio’s black-tie gala, rather than from listener donations.
Given the green light, Stanley was responsible for recruiting the right partner.
“We needed someone who would be courageous and innovative enough to jump on board,” he says. “Through networking and referrals, I found Brad and Kat. They were intrigued and loyal listeners to KJZZ, so they were a great fit.”
“We’ve only just scratched the surface on how we can use Soundbite,” Moore says. “KJZZ does interesting story-related programming and, as a food company, we do lots of special occasions like weddings, private parties, quinceañeras, and bar mitzvahs in addition to festivals and events.”
During such events, the studio can be used to record audio time capsules—say, Grandma and Grandpa at a wedding, telling about how they met. At a recent Valley Leadership alumni event, Soundbite recorded testimonials that can be used for recruiting new members.
“We wanted to make it a sustainable model, not just dependent on philanthropic dollars,” Stanley says. “Part of the thought process was to reach a younger demographic, which food trucks appeal to. The other aspect was that a lot of mobile production units spend five days a week parked in the lot, and we wanted ours out in the community.
“Soundbite isn’t just about creating broadcast content, but an engagement opportunity—whether it’s helping other organizations generate interest in what they’re doing or giving visibility to local musical groups.”
It’s a mission the Moores have gladly embraced. “Kat and I started as a little food truck seven years ago,” Moore says. “We’ve had great community support and been very fortunate, so we look at this as the next step along the ride.”
Story by Jake Poinier
Photography by Mark Lipczynski