If at Third You Don't Succeed…
Though CPB started investing in diversifying public radio's audience more than a decade ago, the composition of the audience hasn't really changed. None of the past efforts have been significant enough in scope to add a meaningful number of new listeners.
The new effort is multi-faceted. CPB's Talent Quest has identified and is now investing in several new programs hosted by African Americans. A service targeted at multi-lingual Latinos in Los Angeles is in the works. Audience diversification will be a key component of the new Grow the Audience project.
It will be quite some time before the success of this new initiative can be measured but it should be noted now that there isn't a single African American or Hispanic person from inside public radio on the Grow the Audience Task Force. All of the diverse voices are from outside the industry.
The composition of the Task Force, unfortunately, shines a light on the inability of public radio's national organizations to recruit, nurture, and promote African Americans and Hispanics to positions of power and influence.
When was the last time a high-level executive position that influences programming at CPB or one of the major networks was filled by a person of color who came from within the ranks? When was the last time the host chair of a major public radio program was filled by a person of color who came from within the ranks? How is it that a task force charged with growing and diversifying the public radio audience fails to include a single African American or Hispanic from the industry? It's not a very good track record.
The Grow the Audience Task Force presents an opportunity to change that record, even if it means slowing the project down a bit. There are many managers, programmers, producers, reporters, and music hosts of color already in public radio who could significantly contribute to the project on a strategic level.
The argument against this will be that these individuals can participate in "working groups" that will contribute to the Task Force's recommendations. That's not good enough because working groups ultimately have no strategic decision-making authority.
Now is the opportunity to bring diverse voices from within public radio to the highest levels of strategic thinking, planning, decision-making, and budgeting. It is a golden opportunity to diversify the industry's leadership. Hopefully, the opportunity won't be missed.