Since the dawn of broadcasting, making radio has been like sending a message in a bottle — you hope someone will receive it, but you’re ultimately acting on faith and little else.
But now we have NPR One, “the Pandora of public radio,” as Sara Sarasohn describes it. She’s in charge of content for the app, which serves up a semi-randomized, semi-curated stream of NPR and member station segments that listeners can skip when they get bored and want to move on to the next story.
As a result, Sarasohn now has data about how long people listen to each segment, what they skip and what they share or like. She knows exactly who got the message in the bottle and who threw it back in the ocean without even reading it.
“When I first started looking at this data, I showed sort of a prototype of it to Robert Smith at Planet Money,” Sarasohn told me on The Pub. “And he called me up and he said, ‘Sara, you’re like the first doctor who ever saw an X-ray.’ And I said, ‘I know, right!’”
“For us, as people who make the craft of radio, getting this kind of information about how people listen to it is brand new and a little scary, but also priceless,” she said.
On this week’s episode of The Pub, recorded live in an actual pub (Lost & Found in Washington, D.C.), Sarasohn shows us the X-ray, and it’s not pretty. Basically, it proves that the audience doesn’t care about you, what you think or how well you write. They want you to get to the point and fast. Or else, skip.
Also on the show:
- Current’s editors and reporters answer the public media questions you’ve always been afraid to ask, like “What do the hosts make?” and “I’m an intern, will I get a job?”
- I contemplate NPR’s past use of “the R-word” (the racist name of Washington’s NFL team), and what other words we’re saying on the air that our children will be embarrassed to learn we ever said out loud.
- Live music buttons from Current’s Mike Janssen on banjo and Tyler Falk on shaker egg!
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Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.