• WNYC/New York Public Radio is receiving the largest grant ever given to a public radio station, it announced today. The pubcaster will use the $10 million from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation for digital innovation and to support its Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, keeping ticket prices low for events there. Also today, the station introduced a new Discover feature to its WNYC app, allowing listeners to create and download curated playlists with a function that “blends personal preferences with an element of surprise,” it said in the announcement. • POV’s new online documentary collaboration with the New York Times kicked off over the weekend with an in-depth look at a group of developmentally challenged men who survived decades of neglect in a small Iowa town. The Men of Atalissa, produced by the Times, was posted on both websites March 8.
Of all the complex and potentially fateful decisions faced by public radio program directors as they navigate the emergence of multiplatform distribution, one of the most significant is the drive to “go local” and produce more local programs, especially news and information. This push signals a strategic shift for public radio, with potentially enormous consequences for growth or decline. Audience 2010, one of a series of landmark research reports on programming trends published in the previous decade, reported that much of the credit for the growth of public radio listenership could be traced to a shift “away from local production toward network production, away from music-based content toward news, information and entertainment.” That shift was extraordinarily successful, representing two decades of impressive audience expansion and financial growth at a time when other parts of the radio industry struggled. Now, it appears that program decision-makers are changing course. But why would dozens of stations move off the path that worked so well and choose another approach that, viewed through the lens of audience research, would seem to be both more costly and less powerful in attracting listenership?
The Public Radio Program Directors Association will expand its training programs for stations this year and continue its Sense of Place studies of local audiences, with funding from NPR and the Millstream Fund. PRPD will offer three workshops based on the Morning Edition Grad School classes that it has offered in recent years. “New MEGS” will extend training to all newsmagazines, including All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, and is designed for hosts, news directors and program directors. The first workshop will be offered May 18 in Charlotte, N.C.
“JMEGS” (MEGS for Journalists) applies MEGS principles to journalism, focusing on selecting stories, interviewing, writing, planning newscasts and promoting news reports. JMEGS was piloted in 2009 but has not yet been implemented.
The funeral dirge has been played many times for the classical music radio format, but after decades of decline on both commercial and public broadcasting, the tune has changed to a major key, and the melody has sweetened.
The Public Radio Program Directors Association gave its 2012 Don Otto Award to audience researcher Peter Dominowski, who co-founded PRPD in 1987. PRPD bestowed the award Sept. 13 in Las Vegas, where it observed its 25th anniversary as an organization. Dominowski is president of Market Trends Research, a market-research company based in Matheson, Colo. In presenting the award, Jeff Hansen, p.d. at Seattle’s KUOW, cited Dominowski’s many focus groups and research studies, and his work with the Morning Edition Grad School training sessions for stations and as a member of the Strategic Programming Partners consultancy.
Audio from last week’s Public Radio Program Directors conference in Las Vegas is now available on PRPD’s website, including the keynote address by June Cohen, executive producer for TED Media; a Q&A with content chiefs Kinsey Wilson of NPR and David Kansas of American Public Media; and the closing address by NPR “founding mother” Linda Wertheimer. Not all of the recordings are freely available, however — only PRPD members can access recordings of the conference’s breakout sessions. PRPD’s David Hollis has also posted photos from PRPD on Flickr. I’m sifting through my notes from the conference and will have a wrap-up coming your way soon, plus additional coverage inspired by conference conversations in weeks to come. If you went to PRPD, what did you take away from the conference?
When Public Radio Program Directors Association was formed 25 years ago, the idea that programmers should do things for an audience “felt like a complete revolution,” says Marcia Alvar in a Q&A with three of the founders.
It was raining in Baltimore Sept. 23 when independent producer Jay Allison delivered his “benediction,” the traditional closing speech of the Public Radio Program Directors annual conference. The bleary, conferenced-out audience listened closely. Allison, who learned the nonfiction radio craft when NPR was a startup and went on to start up a few radio institutions himself, reminded attendees why perseverance matters. They gave Allison a standing ovation before dispersing under the dark sky.