Thursday, May 24, 2007

One Reason We Listen Less

It's always dangerous for those of us in the radio business to project our own listening preferences and patterns on the audience but here I go anyway.

We spend less time listening to public radio now because we're trying to protect our children, ages 6 and 3, from hearing all the stories about people dying from bombs, shootings, and the occasional beheading.

Those stories have to be on the radio. That's the part of the public radio's public service obligation. As an adult citizen it is important to know the full impact of events in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is important to know what's happening in Darfur. I just don't want my children having to hear about this stuff quite yet. So we find ourselves getting our news in other, family-safer ways.

We saw the impact of the news on children during Katrina. It was impossible to not have the TV on at that time. It scared the heck out of our four year old. We did use the opportunity as a teaching moment, but kids don't need those kind of teaching moments every day.

Protecting kids from the media isn't limited to the news either. It is standard practice at our house to flip the TV channel to PBS, the Food Network, or something else safe during commercial breaks on NFL broadcasts. The commercials aren't the biggest concern here either. The promos for "24," "CSI," and whatever new scare show is in the fall line-up aren't kid appropriate. Maybe it's just me, but I don't want my children to have fond memories of Sunday's with Dad looking at video of people being blown-up or lying in a pool of blood.

Perhaps I'm a focus group of one on this matter. But maybe not. At least it is something to consider as public radio seeks to attract new, younger listeners. Many of those potential listeners will be the parents of young children. Their child-rearing instincts might just be more powerful than the need to get their public radio fix.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is the Audience Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

There was a time when almost all of the audience news about public radio was good news. The industry was growing in the face of declining radio usage. Public radio was not only attracting listeners, but also turning those new listeners into loyal listeners and, eventually, donors.

Two items published this week demonstrate how times have changed. First, an article in the Sacramento Bee touts the success of Morning Edition since the departure of Bob Edwards. The article states that the Morning Edition audience has jumped from "more than 10 million weekly listeners" to 13 million weekly listeners under the hosting of Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep.

Well, not really. Here are the actual numbers from NPR's official audience estimates. All audience numbers are in millions:

Fall 2001: 13.0 Cume, 1.9 AQH, 567 stations
Fall 2002: 12.7 Cume, 1.8 AQH, 603 stations
Fall 2003: 12.5 Cume, 1.8 AQH, 616 stations

------ Bob Edwards departs in Spring 2004 ------

Fall 2004: 13.3 Cume, 1.9 AQH, 627 stations
Fall 2005: 12.8 Cume, 1.8 AQH, 635 stations
Fall 2006: 13.2 Cume, 1.8 AQH, 645 stations

First, and most obvious, is that the weekly audience (Cume) for Morning Edition was 12.5 million or higher while Bob was still there. That's a much bigger audience for Bob Edwards than the "more than 10 million" listeners cited in the Sacramento Bee article.

Second, the weekly Cume is up. This is probably a real increase in audience even when you take into account that NPR's audience estimate software inappropriately counts some listeners twice (related article).

The national Cume for Morning Edition is up. The glass is half full.

The AQH, however, has not changed despite the increase in Cume and the increase in the number of stations carrying the program.

AQH is the Average-Quarter Hour audience. It's the average number of people who are listening to Morning Edition at any given moment. Think of it as the average number of people who hear any single story, feature, or national underwriting announcement. That number hasn't grown.

The weekly Cume is up and the AQH is unchanged, which means the average Morning Edition listener is spending less time with the program each week. What's causing this drop in time spent listening (TSL)?

The Radio Research Consortium just released overall Loyalty trends for public radio over the past seven Fall Arbitron surveys and the news isn't so good.

Some of the TSL drop is due to public radio listeners using less radio overall. But there also is an overall drop in Loyalty to public radio stations. That is, our listeners are still using the radio but they are spending a little less of that radio time with public radio and a little more of it with our commercial competition. That glass is half empty.

There's not a lot public radio can do about declining radio usage. Fixing the Loyalty problem is not only possible, it is essential to fill the audience glass again. On average public radio listeners spend two-thirds of their radio listening time with commercial stations. Capturing a few percentage points of that listening would do wonders for public radio's overall audience and donor growth.

To NPR's credit, it is sponsoring workshops (Morning Edition Grad School) to help stations make their local presentations of Morning Edition stronger. That's a start.

Stations, however, have to take a long hard look at the times of low audience Loyalty on their program schedules and find ways to improve. Audiences are too fragile to waste any daypart on under performing programming.

It's all well and good to put on a positive public face when discussing the audience. Public Relations is a fact of business life and public radio's audience success story is a strong one, even with the recent decline in the overall audience and the flattening of the Morning Edition AQH.

That PR story shouldn't be confused with the one that shows public radio needs to take more aggressive action to keep the audience it has. Otherwise, the glass will continue to empty.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

A Big Membership Goal for Public Radio

This hasn't received a lot of press yet (can we still say "press?") but it is worth getting on your radar.

DEI, the organization for public radio fundraising professionals, is working on an industry-wide initiative to increase the total number of public radio donors to 3 million per year. by 2011.

The project is called M3M -- for Membership 3 Million -- and its goal is to add about a half million donors to the membership roles of public radio stations. There's already been some good collaboration on a national level and I think stations will benefit from lots of new resources designed to renew current givers, recover lapsed donors, and acquire new donors.

There's a short item about this on page A4 of the May 14, 2007 print edition of Current. I'll have more on it here in a few days.

There will also be more at this year's Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference, which makes it a must-attend meeting for any station concerned about growing its membership base during these changing times. That would be... every station.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

... And Associates

Just a quick note to let you know John Sutton & Associates (JSA) is expanding its Membership fundraising services offerings in a couple of ways. As one colleague put it, "John Sutton & Associates finally has real associates."

For the past several years, Jay Clayton and I have been helping stations develop and implement strategic plans to grow net membership revenue and their number of annual givers. We also help stations implement those plans through direct mail, web, and pledge drive support.

I'm pleased to announce that Jay is available on a limited basis to help produce and pitch pledge drives. If you've never heard Jay's on-air work, he's quite good. He's about the only person the Car Guys would work with on-air when they pitched directly for WBUR. I've heard many times when Jay got people to the phones while making Tom and Ray laugh.

I'm also pleased to announce that Sonja Lee, most recently Program Director of KBBI in Homer, Alaska is also available for pledge drive producing and pitching support. She is now working out of Nashville, TN. Sonja brings more than a decade of experience to her pledge drive work. She's versed in traditional pledge drive production and Power Hours

Sonja is available through JSA to provide any station, small or large, with on-site pledge drive support, beginning in June. Her work is supported by JSA's full set of on-air fundraising planning and implementation resources. So if you need some help in the next few weeks, let us know.

We are also developing specially-priced services for small market stations. One of those services is The One-Day Drive, pioneered by Carol Young and the folks at WSKG in Binghamton, NY and replicated elsewhere, including at KBBI.

Sonja teamed up with KBBI Development Director Jonathan Coke to successfully implement the One-Day Pledge Drive concept -- raising a whole pledge drive's worth of money in just one day -- on three separate occasions. She's available to help stations interested in implementing One-Day Drives. We'll also put some One-Day Drive resources on later this month.

If you're looking for help with a June fund drive or looking to improve your results this fall, shoot me an e-mail at or call (240) 432-1885.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Crusty News Veterans

Here's an interesting slice of radio news from Washington, DC. All news WTOP sold the naming rights to its main studio to Ledo's, a local pizza chain. Industry observers are wondering how the competition is going to top this move.

WTOP already had a unique way of talking about its studio. It's often referred to on-air as "the glass-enclosed nerve center" of the station. Now it's "The Ledo Pizza Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center." Read more at Scroll down to the WTOP blurb. You can also hear an MP3 of what it sounds like on-air.

This reminds me of a fundraising spot I wrote for the Car Guys a few years ago. It never made it to national distribution but the hook was that "everything is for sale" these days. In the spot, one of the Car Guys had the bright idea to send a bill to the Ann Taylor clothing company every time NPR newscaster Ann Taylor said her name. After all, why let them have free publicity?

Then they take naming rights to the extreme. Carl "White Castle" hamburgers. Robert Spiegel catalogs. Cory Lintoff could front for one of those sticky-roller companies. The obvious Nina Totenberg joke was included too.

It was a good gag at the time. One that looks less and less funny these days. Just about everything really is for sale.

Commercial broadcasters continue to lower their standards to make money. The temptation in public radio will be to follow suit. Rather than setting high standards and maintaining them, many will want to take the money as long as public radio looks good by comparison.

I really hope we'll avoid that trap. Last time I checked, "we're not as bad a commercial radio" wasn't one of public radio's Core Values.

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