Jesse Thorn on the future of pubradio, and his place in it

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“My situation is that if I had to choose between losing my stations and losing my direct podcast fundraising, I’d pick the one that would allow me to continue to pay my rent and . . . lose the stations,” says Jesse Thorn, host of the The Sound of Young America, a comedy podcast and weekly public radio show from PRI, in a two-part interview with the Neiman Journalism Lab. Thorn describes how efforts to attract younger and more diverse audiences with shows such as Day to Day, News and Notes, Bryant Park Project and Fair Game failed because they were expensive to produce and didn’t gain the station carriage needed to cover their costs. TSOYA, by contrast, operates on a gross budget of $85,000 a year, with roughly $10,000 coming from the dozen or so pubradio stations that broadcast it. “You know, I don’t even have a studio–I do my show in my apartment. And like that is so much more sustainable.” In part one of the interview, Thorn says he’s “almost checked out of trying to get radio stations to pick up my show. . . . Maybe my time is better spent making my show better than it is convincing a 58-year-old guy in triple-pleated khakis that my show about interviewing comedians and what not is worth their airtime.” Thorn has lots of more provocative things to say about problems with public radio’s funding model and its struggle to reach beyond its core audience of “everyone who is old, white, and highly educated.” You can listen or read the transcripts of part one, in which Thorn describes the philosophy behind TSOYA, and part two, which gets into the politics and problems of pubradio.

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