Usually the only speakers in the “public comment” period after an NPR Board meeting are several regional reps of stations, but they were joined Feb. 25 by Sue Schardt, executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR). Schardt spoke extemporaneously to the board and NPR execs about how public radio could address criticism that has undercut its case for continued federal aid. This is an edited transcript. I speak as someone who has 23 years of experience in the industry.
While our audience stereotypes may be better informed than they were 40 years ago, they can blind us to our potential for growth and change, with equally dangerous consequences. Today there are many indicators that we have room for audience growth on radio if only we expand our view of the potential.
CPB and PBS are completing an agreement that may lead to the agency’s first annual grants for the PBS National Program Service based on measures of diversity and innovation in programming and related projects. Sources tell Current that this funding method would be one of the strongest attempts to encourage diversity and innovation in pubcasting so far, influencing the allocation of $14 million or more over the two-year contract. [Update: The final amount, CPB announced May 13, will be $20 million over two years. PBS request for proposals.]
CPB President Pat Harrison announced to the Board at its January meeting that the two had “reached a signed agreement,” but since then CPB has declined to provide specifics. “Yes, CPB and PBS have a signed agreement that commits funding to projects that emphasize diversity and innovation,” CPB spokesperson Louise Filkins told Current in an e-mail.
The masterminds of efforts such as NPR’s Bryant Park Project and Chicago Public Radio’s Vocalo know well the difficulties of cultivating new, younger and more diverse audiences for public radio. Now imagine giving it a go in one of the country’s most competitive media markets, Los Angeles. That is the assignment from CPB accepted by L.A. Public Media, a multiplatform service managed by Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe and tailored for younger listeners of color. Imagine further, eight months after taking the assignment and a $2 million grant, there’s still no FM channel to use. LAPM is preparing to launch in July, but probably online instead of on the air.
Loni Ding, 78, a filmmaker who brought issues of Asian American identity to the surface, and to PBS, and helped win legislation backing independent producers, died Feb. 20 in a hospital in Oakland, Calif.
Chicago Public Radio’s board, staff and executives didn’t mince words in their latest strategic plan about their bold experiment known as Vocalo. “As a website Vocalo must be seen as unsuccessful so far.”
Modeled on programs like Americorps and Teach for America, the Public Media Corps will hire local residents as “fellows” for yearlong residencies at public broadcasting institutions. Their job there will be to identify local issues and use multiple media platforms to spark vigorous community engagement on the issues.
Two daily public radio programs for African American audiences have risen from the ashes of News and Notes, a talk show that NPR cancelled in March. But acrimony over plans, funding and personalities involved in the midday programs has split the African American Public Radio Consortium, a key station constituency for any broadcast aimed at black listeners.