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A Brief History of AIR

In fall 1988, a group of freelance producers gathered around a kitchen table in downtown New York City to talk shop. What emerged from their conversations—a blueprint of what was and was definitively not working in their audio careers—formed the foundation of AIR: the Association of Independents in Radio, which was officially recognized as a nonprofit that year.

AIR grew into a hub for independent producers and media makers to advocate for their needs as they navigated the industry together, without built-in institutional support or guaranteed job security. Tellingly, many of the same issues our community seeks support, resources, and advocacy around today formed the bedrock of AIR’s early organizing efforts, including negotiating for standardized pay rates and developing a code of fair practice.

AIR’s more recent history includes the growth of our signature programming slate, grounded in equipping the next generation of audio storytellers with essential tools and training; problem-solving for long-standing industry practices and biases in need of change; and making space for untold stories by independent and disproportionately underrepresented voices in media.

  • In 2010, AIR launched its community-based media project, Localore (now Localore Labs) with funding support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the Wyncote Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and AIR members worldwide. This collaborative series of experimental productions paired independent producers with public radio and television stations to explore unconventional ways of finding and telling stories in local communities large and small. Through this model, we aspired to drive innovation capacity for local stations that would live on long after our initial collaboration. Much of the work continues: Curious City, iSeeChange, and Sonic Trace are among those projects continuing to develop new models, create documentary films and radio features, and carry public broadcasting into the future.
  • In 2009, AIR launched New Voices, which annually convenes a cohort of underrepresented and early-career media makers to connect, reflect and engage on their creative journeys. Scholars receive a stipend, coaching and the opportunity to gain national exposure as they work with mentors and build their capacity as change-makers and emerging leaders in audio.
  • In 2019, AIR launched Localore Labs to support research, programs and development to deliver solutions and establish new infrastructure to address long-standing industry and institutional practices and limitations. Localore Lab’s current portfolio includes our ever-evolving Co-Productions, such as our 2020 partnership with KOSU and This Land Press to produce Imaginary Oklahoma, a podcast that translated written prose into audio stories. 
  • In March 2021, AIR launched SoundPath, a new digital training platform for the audio community, offering pre-recorded and real-time video classes in audio-making, skills, craft and ethics for both working audio professionals and newcomers to the craft. Classes are taught by industry peers who inspire, share and establish standards for making great work for public radio and podcasts. Soundpath also introduces a new marketplace for individuals to offer business, mentoring, editing and engineering services.
  • In addition to our expanded digital training offerings, we look forward to resuming AIR’s Full Spectrum Storytelling Intensives and live workshops once we can safely gather with our members again.

AIR’s network now includes 1,400+ independent audio producers, multimedia journalists, and public media stations and networks across 47 states and 30 countries. Our remote staff, led by CEO Ken Ikeda, and Board of Directors are committed to reimagining and building a more equitable, sustainable infrastructure in collaboration with our vibrant, ever-growing community of independent media makers. 

In 2021, AIR proudly celebrated its 33rd birthday. Here’s to the next 33 years. 

The table where it all began, c. 1988 in New York City.
The table where it all began in New York City, c. 1988