Saturday, March 18, 2006

Our Commerical Future?

This is an edited excerpt from one of my postings on the PUBRADIO listserv. It is in response to a discussion about corporate sponsorships and other potentially commercial practices in public radio.

We go on the air at fundraising time and tell listeners we treat them like citizens, not consumers. In the Wall Street Journal they read, "Listeners 'are very resistant to being sold anything,' says Kevin Klose, president and chief executive of National Public Radio Inc. 'That's not what they come to public radio for.'"

Then they hear announcements inviting them to buy merchandise for "dads and grads" at the NPR shop. We tell them we're not trying to sell them something and then we try to sell them something.

NPR isn't in this alone. It happens with acquired programs. It happens at stations. It happens during pledge drives. Add all of our "public radio" selling to all the underwriting credits touting the brand new products and services now available to our listeners and we are left with one, inescapable conclusion.

We are deep into the business of selling stuff to listeners.

That's going to bother some of them. Perhaps a lot of them. Listening might drop. It might not. We don't know.

What we do know is that public radio is too dependent on that money to walk away from it. NPR isn't going to stop promoting the NPR Shop. As hard as we've tried, stations aren't going to stop selling listeners on the cars, vacations, and restaurant gift certificates they offer as pledge drive incentives. If anything, our commercial activities will increase as public radio spends more money on all the local programs that are supposed to save it from "new competition on multiple-delivery platforms."

The issue before us is not whether we are becoming more commercial. We are. Keeping our programs on the air depends on our listeners buying the stuff promoted on our air. The issue going forward is how we plan to manage our increasing commercialism.

Trying to convince listeners that it isn't happening, when it really is, is a bad place to start.


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