Sunday, September 30, 2007

PRPD Reflections

Some thoughts on the recently completed Public Radio Program Director’s Conference.

· David Isay’s acceptance of the Murrow Award was a true celebration of what public radio does best. Instead of giving a speech, he delivered a driveway moment. Listen to the audio on the PRPD web site when it becomes available.

· Public Insight Journalism (PIJ), in my opinion, is by far the best use of new technology in public radio. While everyone else is talking about delivery platforms or fundraising, PIJ is creating new content that embodies public radio’s Core Values. It’s like adding thousands of people, their knowledge, and their ideas to the daily editorial meeting.

· The vast majority of people who make public radio are white and getting older. This is especially true of public radio’s leadership. When was the last time NPR, PRI, APM, or CPB hired an African American or Hispanic in a senior executive position that directly touches programming?

· George Bailey of Walrus Research showed some interesting graphs where listener response to public radio programming turns sharply negative when underwriting credits come on the air. It seems to verify NPR’s underwriting research that the “halo effect” for underwriters is eroding, at least a little.

· NPR’s research consultant Paul Jacobs was truly surprised that listeners offered unsolicited and strong negative reaction to pledge drives during the underwriting research. As I told him, I don’t see anything new here. Listeners have been doing that in focus groups for decades. But it’s a good thing if NPR responds by increasing its efforts to help stations raise more money off air and improve the efficiency and sound of on-air drives.

· There is one catch. NPR shouldn’t let its renewed interest in pledge drive annoyance distract it from fixing its own underwriting problems.

There’s more to say about the negative effects of on-air fundraising and underwriting in a future blog. But as I write this I hear NPR’s Frank Tavares reminding me that I could have had a V-8… and it’s making me thirsty.

Before I go, I will echo a comment by Paul Jacobs, who said public radio is well positioned to grow and provide even greater public service in the future. I would add that all you have to do is listen to David Isay to know it is true.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Every Solution Has Its Own Problems

The data are clear. On a national level, "new technology" has not helped public radio grow its radio audience or donor base.

We email listeners, stream audio, offer multiple programming channels, podcast, blog, twitter, take contributions online, and more. Yet the public radio donor base is shrinking. A bounce in the most recent audience estimates comes after a few years of audience decline.

Certainly, some stations have figured out how to make new technology work for them. There are also lots of new problems caused by technology that public radio as a whole is not handling well.

Automation seems to be among them. I hear more dead air, double audio sources on the air, and dated material than I ever heard five years ago. One of public radio Core Values is Quality of Craft. Broadcasting is a craft. I think we've slipped in this area.

Most stations haven't figured out online communications either. I get fundraising emails that are oblivious to my membership status at a station. It's clear that the email fundraising effort is independent of the direct mail effort. The stations either don't know how to make the email database talk to the membership database, or they don't care to try.

Almost every time I give money to a joint licensee during a radio pledge drive, the first direct mail solicitation I receive asks me to give again because public television is so great. Again, either the station can't figure out why I gave the first time, or it chooses to ignore that I want to support radio. Either way, the station is clearly sending the message that it doesn't understand me as a listener and donor. That's not a great way to get me to give again.

This blog is not immune to the problems of technology. My desire to get material out quickly while multitasking has resulted in way too many typos. In some ways, I feel like it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in public radio.

We try to do more because technology allows it and we press on even when we know our output isn’t up to our high standards of excellence. That has to change.

Perhaps the reason public radio isn’t getting better results is because our misplaced faith in technology has caused us to confuse “more” with “good.”

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

For APM: DC Must Wait

Looks like APM won't be setting up shop in Washington, DC quite yet. From the always on top of things website

WGTS Sale Deferred - 9/20 - DCRTV hears that the trustees of Takoma Park's Columbia Union College voted today to defer selling Christian contemporary WGTS (91.9 FM). For now, anyway. The station was expected to be sold to Minnesota Public Radio parent American Public Media to become a news talker. WGTS will continue "as is" for foreseeable future, we're told. We also hear that WGTS made a like announcement on its airwaves on Thursday afternoon.....

And at the WGTS website:

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Deploying Pledge Drive Incentives

Fall fundraising season is around the corner. For those of you planning a pledge drive, I've posted a Windows Media File of a presentation I gave at this year's PRDMC on the effective use of premiums, challenges, and sweepstakes. It might help you shorten that drive or get more givers.

You can find the presentation here. It's the first link on the page.

Good luck.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Budgets Reflect Priorities

According to Current, NPR's on-line budget is going up 43% this year to more than $13,000,000.

That's probably a wise investment. It takes significant money to cultivate new audiences. It's entirely possible that $13 million a year isn't enough to do the job.

Which brings us to the main point of this post. Budgets reflect priorities.

NPR is leading the way by showing how to make growth a priority. From here on out, any national entity -- NPR, CPB, PRI, or APM -- that doesn't back its talk of diversifying the audience with an ongoing, annual budget in the tens of millions of dollars is just blowing smoke.

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