Yesterday's keynote speech at the Public Radio Super Regional meeting was by Paul Jacobs
. He's a radio researcher, radio web app developer, and the incoming Board Chair of Greater Public
-- the trade association for fundraising, development, and marketing professionals in public radio and public TV.
Early in his speech, Jacobs took exception to public radio's continued use of findings from a major industry research study published in the late 1990s -- Audience 98
Jacob's criticism was that the research was conducted in 1998. He accentuated that point with a pretty funny set of images of products and services from 1998 that are no longer with us... like Windows 98.
That was it. Audience 98 is old and therefore no longer of value. "Get over it," he said.
It made for a good laugh. But it also got me to revisit my thinking about Audience 98 and whether its findings could help public radio grow and thrive in this never-ending age of digital disruption. I think the answer is "yes." And, instead of getting over it, I'm thinking perhaps more people need to get into it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I worked on the Audience 98 research and I contributed to several Audience 98 reports. After careful consideration of any bias I might have towards my past work, I still think the answer is "yes."
That's because 16 years later, we continue to successfully apply the lessons learned from Audience 98 in our consulting work with public radio stations and producers. Audience 98 has become especially valuable as we work with people new to public radio who don't know much about the audience and the intersection of listening, values, and giving. It's amazing to see what they can accomplish in radio, in the digital space, and in fundraising once they have that understanding.
Why has Audience 98 endured?
I believe it is because Audience 98 wasn't really a radio research project. It was a research-based blue print for increasing public radio's public service and long-term financial self-sufficiency. Unlike commercial radio research, which is generally designed to help boost the immediate ratings and is expected to have a short shelf life, Audience 98 was designed to provide insights that would stand the test of time.
What do you think?
Below are a few of the essential insights from Audience 98. Each insight is backed by very specific, actionable research findings to help public radio get more listeners, more listening, and increased financial support from listeners.
I encourage you to spend some time with each of these insights. Ask yourself, "Are these lessons stuck in 1998?" "Are they limited to radio only or could they apply to listening via mobile devices and the desktop?" "Could they apply to public radio generated content that people might read on a mobile device or the desktop?" "What new information could make them even more valuable to the decisions public radio leaders face today?"
Public radio transcends simple demographics to speak to
listeners’ interests, values, and beliefs.
- People listen to public radio programming because
it resonates with their interests, values, and beliefs. This appeal generally cuts across age, sex and
- Appeal can also cut across program genres and
format types. Different programs and formats may appeal to the same kind of
listener as long as they stay focused on that listener’s interests, values, and
- Changes in the sound and sensibility of
programming can alter its appeal. When programming appeal changes, so does the
kind of listener it attracts.
Public service begets public support.
- Listeners send money to public radio when they rely upon its
service and consider it important in their lives.
- They are also more inclined to send money when they believe their
support is essential and government and institutional funding is minimal.
- Public support, like public service, is the product of two
factors: the value listeners place on the programming,
and the amount of listening done to the programming.