Invisibilia launches, makes public radio history

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PrintNPR’s new radio show Invisibilia aired for the first time Friday and made public radio history.

The show is public radio’s biggest program launch ever, said Caitlin Sanders, NPR spokesperson. The number of stations carrying the pilot episode of NPR’s new radio show surpassed 260 stations Jan. 8.

“The show has received outstanding support from the stations,” Sanders said. “They were involved along the way as Invisibilia came together and there seems to be a real value in quality of the work being done here and appreciation for NPR’s efforts to reach new audiences with original content.”

The first episode was available for pubcasters to air and anyone to stream online at midnight Eastern time Friday. On Thursday evening, the Invisibilia podcast was No. 3 on the iTunes chart of top podcasts, with only the four-minute preview available, behind only Serial and This American Life. As of noon Friday, it beat out TAL to claim the No. 2 spot.

The carriage rate exceeds the expectations of Eric Nuzum, NPR v.p. of programming. Nuzum told Current last month that he would be “disappointed with less than 200 stations” picking up the show. TED Radio Hour had 250 stations when it first aired.

Nuzum also said that he recommends that programmers place the show in a weekend afternoon slot.

But, at least for this pilot series of six episodes, stations are airing the program at a variety of times:

  • WNYC in New York, 7 p.m. Saturdays;
  • KOPB, Portland, Ore., 9 p.m. Tuesdays;
  • WILL, Urbana, Ill., 10 a.m. Fridays; and
  • WESA, Pittsburgh, 2 p.m. Saturdays — one of the popular times as determined by a look at several station schedules.

Arvid Hokanson, assistant program director at KUOW in Seattle, said in an interview that he believes the new show has program affinity with Radiolab due to its science theme and two-host structure. That’s why KUOW chose to put the first three episodes in its usual Radiolab timeslot instead of airing repeats of that program. After three episodes the slot will revert back to Radiolab and Invisibilia will move into another slot for the last three episodes.

Invisibilia is part of a new model at NPR for airing new shows. Instead of creating a radio show, piloting it in secret, spending money on advertising and hoping it does well, NPR is piloting the series and then evaluating what worked and what didn’t before deciding whether and how to re-launch. Hokanson is a fan of the new model.

Hokanson said this process is more transparent and less risky for stations. It gives stations the opportunity to get feedback from listeners. And if the show continues as a weekly program, stations have data and feedback to make a more informed decision about scheduling, instead of relying on an unproven program.

“It’s great that Eric [Nuzum] has adopted this more agile piloting method,” Hokanson said. “It’s a much better way to try out new ideas and see what sticks.”

Listen to the first episode of Invisibilia here.

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