Saturday, June 24, 2006

Setting a Baseline for Minority Audience Goals

Several posts ago I promised to propose industry-wide goals for station audience growth, station financial health, minority listening, and new delivery platforms. Two of the four areas have been covered. To review,

The audience growth goal: By the end of 2010, 75% of all public radio stations will have increased their AQH audiences by at least 10 percent over their calendar year 2005 average.

The financial health goal: By the end of 2010, 75% of all public radio stations will operate at the CPB-defined acceptable level of financial health (net revenue at least 2% of operating revenue).*

Today, growing minority audience.

Defining a growth goal for minority listening has proved somewhat tricky because none of public radio's national organizations actually publishes audience estimates for minority listeners. The numbers exist. They just aren't readily available to the public.

The Radio Research Consortium (RRC) publishes top-line audience estimates for public radio but does not publish ethnic breakdowns.

CPB and NPR, despite their public statements about growing Black and Hispanic audiences, don't publish Arbitron estimates for how many Blacks and Hispanics actually listen to public radio.

CPB's annual reports are remarkably void of any audience information for radio or television. NPR publishes its own audience estimates for NPR programs and its network of stations but, like the RRC, it provides no actual estimates for minority Cume or AQH.^

NPR's Profile 2005, and its previous qualitative reports on the audience, provide a percentage of the audience that is Black or Hispanic. But users of this data are discouraged from trending results from one year to the next due to the survey methodology.

The absence of hard data reminds me of the saying, "if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." In the case of trying to set a goal for minority listening, the public radio industry doesn't even know exactly where it stands and how listening by minorities has changed (or not) over the years.

Public radio has become quite good at publicizing its overall audience growth. Because of that, the public silence on the size of its minority audience, which public radio is trying to grow, speaks volumes about a lack of progress in that area.

There has been no shortage of big announcements about initiatives to increase minority listening. Some of them, especially CPB's research projects on African Amercian listening and growing Latino audiences in Los Angeles, hold promise.

But spending money and creating projects isn't the point. It's growing the audience that matters. It's time for public radio's national organizations to make a public commitment to that growth.

The commitment begins with establishing the baseline audience and a growth goal that all of public radio can get behind.

*From CPB’s Having It All report
^ Cume is the total number of different people who listen and AQH is the Average Quarter-Hour audience or the average number of people listening at any given moment

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New On-Line Training Service

I'm happy to announce that Jay Clayton and I are launching a new on-line training service in August. You can read more about it at

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Goal for Station Financial Health

The title of a 2004 CPB report on station financial health says it all.

Having It All: How Public Radio Stations Can Provide Great Service and Live Within Their Means

Just in case the reader missed the point, the following headline tops the summary of findings:

Stations Can Have It All: Superior Service and Financial Health

The report goes on to state, however, that “56% of licensees did not achieve an acceptable level of financial health (net revenue at least 2% of operating revenue).”

I think this CPB-definition of station financial health is a great place to start when setting industry-wide financial goals.

It is such a strong concept. CPB should include it in the criteria for the Community Service Grant (CSG) incentive program.

Interestingly, the current CSG incentives do not address station financial health, even though their purpose is to help build local institutional significance. Stations continue to be rewarded under the basic CSG formula for growing their Non-Federal Financial Support. But there is no reward for managing that money well.

As it stands, the new CSG financial incentives are very likely to go to a number of stations that CPB’s Having It All report says are operating at an unacceptable level of financial health.

This begs the question; can a public radio station be a strong and significant community institution and not operate at an acceptable level of financial health?

The answer has to be “no.”

So I propose the following goal: By the end of 2010, 75% of all public radio stations will operate at the CPB-defined acceptable level of financial health (net revenue at least 2% of operating revenue).

The basic roadmap for achieving this already exists in the Having It All report. With proper focus and appropriate incentives for stations, public radio’s national leadership could help stations successfully navigate those roads.