Dyson show, Here and Now among beneficiaries

Filling midday vacancies

The African American Public Radio Consortium unveiled a new talk show last week to replace News and Notes, one of two midday NPR programs that succumbed to the recession last month.

The Michael Eric Dyson Show premiered April 6, hosted by the prominent sociologist, author and social commentator who previously made a yearlong run at a national talk show through the commercial-radio syndication arm of Radio One.

Consortium Executive Director Loretta Rucker, who got the show up and running in five weeks with producing station WEAA in Baltimore, said 18 consortium stations are airing the pilot program while she seeks funding and recruits a small producing team.

Dyson’s talk show began just as the dust started settling on a recession-driven shakeup of public radio’s midday programming. Cancellations of NPR’s Day to Day and News and Notes, which were announced in December and took effect March 20, opened up midday and evening timeslots on 180 and 64 stations, respectively. 

By launching the Dyson program so quickly, the consortium stations were able to place it in timeslots that had been occupied by News and Notes, Rucker said.

Although no producers were eager to crow about gains made at the expense of Day to Day and News and Notes and the talented journalists associated with them, some established programs got the broader airplay they had long been angling for.

Here and Now, a newsmag produced by Boston’s WBUR and syndicated by Public Radio International, stands to add audience in a big way. Its carriage has more than doubled from 54 outlets last fall to 118, according to Michael Arnold, director of content development and strategy at PRI. “This is a really good show and had been gaining carriage on its own before” the NPR cancellations, he said.

“There’s a sad element to this,” said Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming at WBUR. “Day to Day was just starting to come into its own when it went away for economic reasons, and Here and Now has benefited by that happening. That means we have a responsibility to get better and try to provide the service they were trying for at Day to Day.”

American Public Media’s The Story, produced by North Carolina’s WUNC and hosted by Dick Gordon, was added by 21 stations, boosting its number of outlets to 103. The show picked up several major markets such as Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore and Cincinnati, according to Chris Kohtz, APM director of distribution, who said many of the new stations are airing The Story in evening timeslots. 

KERA in Dallas is one of them. Given the way The Story unfolds each evening with a personal narrative, it’s “better in the evening when listeners have time to follow the program,” said Jeff Ramirez, director of radio programming. In January, Ramirez assigned The Story to the 9 p.m. timeslot previously occupied by News and Notes. In Las Vegas, KNPR gave The Story two evening slots — one following Marketplace at 6 p.m., and the other at 11, leading into a broadcast of the BBC World Service overnight feed.

Ramirez chose Tell Me More, an NPR show hosted by Michel Martin, to succeed Day to Day at 2 p.m. That show, which NPR developed in 2007 in collaboration with the African American Public Radio Consortium, has gained airtime on 23 stations since last fall, boosting its carriage to 70 outlets.

NPR reported that Talk of the Nation, with the second-broadest daytime carriage after Fresh Air, added five more outlets to the 302 carrying it last fall. Some stations that were already airing one hour of TOTN, such as WBUR and Minnesota Public Radio’s KNOW, opted to pick up the show’s second hour, according to spokeswoman Anna Christopher.

“Rock star” Dyson gets green light

The Michael Eric Dyson Show is a surprise entry in the ongoing contest for pubradio air slots. “I knew that the African-American stations were going to have a void when News and Notes went off the air, and the plan was to develop a show over time,” Rucker said.

NPR had worked with Rucker and the African-American consortium to launch three weekday shows largely aimed at minority listeners—The Tavis Smiley Show in 2002, News and Notes in 2005, and Tell Me More in 2007. But, in its weakened fiscal condition, the network wasn’t likely to start a new show.

After NPR cancelled News and Notes, Rucker concentrated on programs that could be started on a lower budget. Late in February, when Dyson was recruited for the project, she put it on a fast track.

The recruiter was LaFontaine Oliver, who helped develop Dyson’s syndicated show for commercial radio in 2006 and had since signed on as g.m. of WEAA, the consortium’s member station in Baltimore.

“I think he’s better suited for the public-radio style than for the commercial model,” Oliver said.

Dyson said he was “immensely interested” when Oliver called from public radio. “This is an opportunity for me to get back on air with the ideal audience. The public radio audience is great, literate, curious, open to new ideas and likes stimulation,” he said. He wants to “reward the listening habits of people of color who like NPR” while also engaging white listeners in NPR’s core audience.

Managers of African-American consortium stations, including many at historically black colleges, were also enthusiastic about bringing Dyson to their airwaves, Rucker said. “Their students know who Michael Eric Dyson is, and he has rock-star status. For them this may be a way to create a bridge between the students and the radio stations.” 

Dyson, a prolific author and Georgetown University sociologist, has appeared frequently on venues such as CNN, NPR and HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and was named one of the most influential black Americans by Ebony magazine. He is an ordained Baptist minister who holds a Princeton University doctorate in religion and is a leading scholar on hip-hop music and culture.

“What attracts me to Dyson as a host is that he’s an intellectual who does critical thinking and analysis on the issues of race, class and gender, and we’re looking for him to have those types of discussions and dialogues on the show,” Rucker said. He is adept at bridging gaps between African-Americans from the civil rights and hip-hop generations and at making connections between intellectual concepts and popular culture, she said.

Dyson’s one-hour program, which originates from WEAA at 1 p.m. on weekday afternoons, is starting on a “low-maintenance budget,” Rucker said. The show will hire a small production team, and Rucker will fundraise for the next few months before pushing for carriage on more pubradio stations.

“Dyson has shown a just wonderful ability to get on the air from the first day—you can hear the sensibilities of the show already,” she said after production wrapped on the third broadcast.

At launch, the show had booked an impressive slate of guests for its first two weeks—from Oprah Winfrey to Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Spike Lee, Hill Harper and Donna Brazile. Although NPR is not involved in the production, it has provided technical and other support to the show, Rucker said. 

“We want this show to be able to serve African-American stations and African-American listeners but, in the same way that many of our shows that we did with NPR have done, we want it to have appeal to the general audience as well,” Rucker said. “The way we intend to do that is to have critical discussion about social issues.”

Clock change for Here and Now

For station programmers looking for replacements for Day to Day, Here and Now gained consideration when producers moved quickly to change the show clock, offering stations more flexibility in local cutaways, according to Dave Becker, p.d. of KNPR in Las Vegas. Here and Now is “in a growing phase and doesn’t have the massive financial backing that Day to Day had,” he said. “But we’re perfectly happy with the way it sounds.” 

Last month, Here and Now formalized an editorial partnership with the BBC World Service, which, after a trial run, now contributes a daily segment to the show.

Day to Day had given the Vegas station a consistent ratings boost when it aired at noon, and Becker was sorry to lose it. “We really liked it, because it did look west,” he said, referring to the left-coast orientation of the newsmag, which was produced at the NPR West outpost in Culver City, Calif. Becker holds out hope that a regional collaboration can develop another program in the West.

“It’s not like the audience out here wouldn’t be able to sustain it,” he said. “Some of the strongest stations in the system are on the West Coast.” 

The Western audience may be ready, but the production money doesn’t seem to be. Days before Day to Day faded out, the Los Angeles Times reported that American Public Media’s KPCC was trying to raise money to produce a “daughter” of Day to Day. KPCC chief Bill Davis didn’t respond to interview requests from Current, but several sources said the proposed show’s reported two-year, $500,000 budget falls short of what NPR spent on Day to Day.

Midday fall '08, before the talkscape shifted

National news/talk shows Stations Weekly cume
National Public Radio    
Fresh Air (includes Weekend) 512 5,075,600
Talk of the Nation 302 3,429,900
Day to Day 180 2,036,400
The Diane Rehm Show 137 2,224,800
On Point 110 1,154,600
News and Notes 64 451,900
Tell Me More 47 362,700
Public Radio International
Here and Now 54 614,000
To the Point 41 476,500
The World 230 2,600,900
BBC World 13 150,400
BBC Newshour 172 1,270,600
American Public Media
The Story 82 566,300
Some figures above include substantial drivetime carriage. Source: ACT 1 based on Arbitron Nationwide for fall 2008, ages 12 and older. Ratings and carriage data from NPR, PRI and APM.


Web page posted April 29, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC

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Michael Eric Dyson

Dyson tried Radio One, but Oliver says he's "better suited for public radio."


Tavis Smiley quits NPR show, faults the network on its commitment to diversity, 2004.

NPR announced the cancellation of Day to Day and News and Notes in December, along with plans to lay off 64 employees, 2008.


Dyson show's website.

Website of Here and Now with Robin Young at WBUR, Boston.

The Los Angeles Times covers the closing of NPR West's biggest production, Day to Day.

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