Saturday, March 31, 2007

Younger Listeners: Where's the Vision?

Serving more of the public is always a worthy goal. To date, no one has offered a public service vision unique to 25-44 year olds who aren't currently served by public radio. There is no 25-44 demo-focused equivalent to Bill Siemering's vision for NPR back in 1970 when he wrote:

"National Public Radio will serve the individual: it will promote personal growth; it will regard the individual differences among men with respect and joy rather than derision and hate; it will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied rather than vacuous and banal; it will encourage a sense of active constructive participation, rather than apathetic helplessness."

And, "Listeners should feel that the time spent with NPR was among their most rewarding in media contact. National Public Radio will not regard its audience as a "market" or in terms of its disposable income, but as curious, complex individuals who are looking for some understanding, meaning and joy in the human experience."

In the context of Siemering's writing, there are only two possible rationales for creating a new morning program targeted at 25-44 year olds.

1. The Siemering vision still applies, but the work of folks such as Steve Inskeep, Robert Siegel, Nina Totenberg, Scott Simon, Lisa Mullins, Terry Gross, Ann Garrels, Jamie Tarabay, Tom Gjelten, Joe Palca, Sylvia Poggioli, Kai Ryssdal, and others, isn’t relevant to enough people in the demographic.

2. The Siemering vision doesn't apply to enough 25-44 year olds.

It would be interesting to learn which rationale is being applied at NPR, WNYC, and PRI.

To read the complete Siemering document, click here. ( Public Broadcasting Policy Base)

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Blogger Aaron Read said...

My knee-jerk reaction is that the Siemering vision doesn't apply to enough 25-44 year olds. Obviously it applies to some, but I'm only 30...and as my age steadily creeps onward I'm continually reminded, through my own introspection, of how little I knew I just a year ago. And how much less I knew five years ago. And how I didn't know jack squat ten years ago, etc etc etc.

A certain degree of knowledge, both of the self and of the world around you, is a prerequisite for "understanding".

If the Siemering vision is about promoting "understanding"...which, in one word, I think that is its chief focus (not "knowledge")...then NPR will fall on deaf ears for those who don't have enough knowledge yet.

Knowledge can be acquired through other means besides age...which accounts for how some 25 year olds know (and understand) a helluva lot more than many 50 year olds. But certainly age is the greatest teacher of knowledge. Since radio markets/demographics are all about painting with broad brush strokes, it makes sense that NPR's audience would inherently skew older.

I fear that the problem here is that to truly target this younger demographic you must drastically shift your concept of "understanding" to something that would inherently feel "shallow" to older listeners with more knowledge and more understanding already under their belt. I'm not sure if there's a way around that and if there isn't, then the venture will fail because program directors across the country are not going to annoy their chief source of funds today to build audience for tomorrow.

11:49 AM  

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