Monday, October 18, 2010

New Study Shows I Was Wrong

A new study from the Peyou Research Center overwhelming shows that I was wrong in everything I believed about public radio. The study, conducted among 2,426 public radio listeners around the country, shows that everything I thought I knew about pledge drives, programming, and audience response was, in fact, wrong. The margin of error is four percent.

For decades, everything I’ve blogged about and presented at conferences – wrong. Every single recommendation as NPR Research Director and as a station consultant – you might as well just believe the opposite. Some highlights from the study:

Pledge Drives

Listeners actually love pledge drives. Foremost, they treasure the break from regular programming, especially when the news is hard to take. Survey comments show that nothing relieves the tension of ongoing wars and economic woes more than hearing about a new stainless steel travel mug. As one 44 year old female respondent put it, “I often turn the radio up during the pledge break because the announcers are so entertaining as they debate the hue of the station logo. You need that after hearing the tragic stories of tiny children in war-torn countries.” The study also shows that 98% of donors do believe the sweatshirt alone is worth the $150 they spent on it.


Contradictory to everything I thought I knew, listeners, including most young listeners, love opera and any other broadcast aimed at the highest common denominator. In fact, they value and commend public radio for raising the common denominator to record levels. It keeps the low-lifes out of the audience. This point was especially strong among listeners with at least 3 post-graduate degrees whose parents forced them to take singing lessons through high school.


Listeners also like self-indulgent correspondents and hosts who talk in the first person, inject personal references into their stories and use the phrase “If you’re like me.” The study shows that most listeners (83%) really do want to be just like the person they are listening to at that exact moment, even though they’ve never seen them. And that bring us to the most stunning finding of all, the one where I was most wrong.

There are way more Black and Hispanics listening to public radio than I ever thought. Tons more. It turns out that listening to public radio’s elite and highbrow announcers make minority listeners feel “just like them” – White! So when Arbitron asks about their ethnicity...

Who knew?

Not me. I was wrong.



Looking ahead to future posts -- why trying to attract more public radio listeners using first person reporting and satire might be a bad idea.


Blogger CTmediamagr said...

There's a Margaret Peyou. She's involved in animal research.
BTW...public radio people have no sense of humor.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe instead of trying to change the content of public radio pledge drives you should try harder to convince stations to get rid of them altogether.

Yes, we know, we know, that mugs, t shirts, and sloppy pledge programming don't turn on listeners. We know that stuffy announcers and the BBC/Opera etc., don't draw in 18-26 year olds.

It seems to me that the single best idea that has hit public radio stations has been the growth of 'sustainer' programs where people give automatically every month. It seems to be shaving off days of pledging in stations that use it. How about more good ideas along that route? But I guess that would put you out of business, eh?

1:06 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

We have tried to get rid of pledge drives. The reality is that the trend in public radio is for stations to do more fundraising, not less. That's because spending is increasing faster than fundraising efficiencies.

Increases in increases in web spending and increases in local news spending -- neither of which are paying for themselves -- will keep pledge drives around for as long as public radio is in business. Increases in the costs of network programs further compounds the problem.

The Sustainer route is a great way to reduce drives but it won't eliminate them. Minnesota Public Radio leveraged its Sustainer program to cut pledge drives from 29 to 21 days. That's a tremendous success story. Still, MPR went from an above average number of pledge days to around the industry average.

Sustainer programs will help some stations cut back on pledge days. For stations still doing two weeks of pledge per year, or less, Sustainer programs will stave off having to add more days. But even if Sustainer programs could eliminate drives pledge today, some new spending will come along and station managers would go back on the air to subsidize it with pledges from listeners to the core service.

Always been that way, always will.

7:54 AM  

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