A healthy amount of creativity will generate something from nothing.
There are those among us who create opportunity where there is none, asking nothing in return as they develop the partnerships required to coax the very most out of a simple idea. These exceptional volunteers—noble in their cause, and tireless in their dedication—work hard to build something out of nothing until that one little idea becomes something wonderful.
It doesn't matter to people in our aviation family like Dave Shallbetter that the idea might not be theirs. If it means the aviation community grows in some significant way, a volunteer like "Sun 'n Fun Radio Dave" will be the first to stand up, jump in, and make things happen for the greater good.
"I wasn't involved in the actual planning and creation of Sun 'n Fun Radio," says Shallbetter, a Hypoluxo, Fla. aviation enthusiast who attended his first the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-in and Expo in 1979 and hasn't missed one since.
"At the start of their 1995 show, I was told they were going to have a radio station, and they asked if I wanted to help. In the true volunteer spirit, I replied, 'Sure, what can I do?' They sat me down in front of a microphone and said, 'Start talking, and don't stop.'"
Since those very early days of SnFRadio, when Shallbetter broadcast from the 12-by-12 foot back room of a trailer behind the FAA Production Studios, he has not yet stopped talking. "Actually, I'm not a real radio personality; I just play one at Sun 'n Fun. I say I have five months of radio experience, since I've done it a week per year for 20 years," Shallbetter says jokingly.
Today when you walk down Clubhouse Row at Sun 'n Fun, you'll find the radio station just east of the Sunset Grill, on the edge of the show's core exhibit area. Out in front on the deck built by Sun 'n Fun volunteers will be a collection of avgeeks, company representatives, aviation social media royalty and a growing list of well-respected radio personalities conducting live interviews.
With a generous dose of ribbing and good humor, they broadcast the laid-back camaraderie that the Sun 'n Fun show is known for to those around the world who cannot attend. With live streaming, everyone can be part of the fun—and last year, the buzz about these "On the Deck" interviews exploded on Twitter, making this part of SnFRadio one of the most talked-about features of the show.
But it was not always a big, fun family of radio people having a blast at SnFRadio. Back in the early days, Shallbetter was working alone, using all means of creativity to build something awesome. "For the first two years, I was the only volunteer at the radio station," he says.
"That year, programming was hit-or-miss. Tune in and you might have heard something—or you might have heard a null carrier signal.
"The second year, I got an auto-reverse cassette tape player so I could air material when I didn't have an announcement or interview going, and also to play the overnight loop."
That first Walkman-style tape player was just one small example of how Shallbetter has developed creative ways to acquire the equipment needed to grow the station. "Being a not-for-profit organization, money is always a challenge, which leads to equipment purchasing challenges," he said.
"Most of our early equipment came from garage sales and thrift stores. What I couldn't get that way, I begged, borrowed and pleaded for. Over the years, I've provided everything in the studio, much of it purchased out of my pocket."
But while he was succeeding in growing the station, the cost of needed equipment escalated. Again, Shallbetter came up with a way to make it happen. "When I wanted to upgrade from portable cassette recorders to digital recorders and funds weren't available, I bought a bulk lot of 25 units on eBay, kept 10 and sold the rest. I used the same 'buy in bulk and sell what I don't need' procedure when I needed several sets of two-way radios for live production coordination."
One of the real keys to Shallbetter's success building up the radio stations at Sun 'n Fun and also at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Fla. is his ability to network with others to build unity and thus, build excitement.
"My greatest success for SnFRadio was the addition of live aviation podcasts to our evening programming lineup," Shallbetter explains. "Our first was in 2007, when Jack Hodgson, Dave Higdon and Jeb Burnside did a live episode of the Uncontrolled Airspace General Aviation Podcast (UCAP).
"Adding live podcasts was a huge milestone, but while planning for SnF '09, Jack Hodgson suggested I contact Dave Pascoe, owner of LiveATC.net. Dave wanted to stream Lakeland's ATC frequencies and I wanted to stream SnFRadio. This has turned into a mutually beneficial relationship. Hodgson also helped bring us a social networking presence when he created our Twitter account, @SnFRadio."
That same team of volunteers has begun to duplicate the success of SnFRadio at the Light Sport Expo in Sebring. "A couple years back," Shallbetter said, "I was contacted by Milford Shirley of Flight Time Radio about starting a radio station at the Sebring show. He asked me to help because I had run SnFRadio for 18 years. So we set up an internet station and even developed video streaming by bringing David Allen and his production crew from OtherPeoplesAirplanes.com on board.
"After early growing pains, things eventually went so well that Expo invited us back for 2014, giving us a new, more prominent location at the base of the tower in a bigger space, right on the display line."
The SnFRadio station is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014 by launching a capital campaign to update and replace equipment, furnishings and consumables that help keep the station and its dozens of volunteers running. There are numerous advertising opportunities and sponsorships available, and other ways to donate funds. Shallbetter urges all aviators to visit sun-n-fun.org/FlyIn/SnfRadio.aspx to consider helping with a donation or to combine with friends or coworkers to donate in honor of a friend, boss or customer.
Through a diligent effort at convincing people that the radio stations will improve the overall GA community, Shallbetter has developed a team of volunteers that grew from a couple of helpers 20 years ago to a 2013 staff of 36 volunteers on site and several more off-site editors.
This shows that any one of us can make a difference. All it takes is for someone who is passionate about aviation to dip into his or her skill set and grab the right-sized hammer needed to start pounding away on a good idea.
Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design (celestedaniels.com). He's an instrument-rated private pilot and has been writing the Airplanista Aviation Blog (airplanista.com) since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to .