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Kling invests in social networking for the middle-aged

Originally published in Current, Sept. 19, 2005
By Mike Janssen

Minnesota Public Radio’s parent company is planning the launch of Gather, a website that aims to connect lovers of public radio.

In principle, Gather is similar to so-called social networking sites such as Friendster and Myspace, where users find and connect with each other based on profiles showcasing their interests and personalities. But unlike those sites, which appeal mostly to teens and twentysomethings, Gather will chase the older demographic encompassing public radio’s core audience.

An “About Gather” spiel at makes clear its boomer-friendly intentions. Whereas MySpace seeks to attract users by introducing them to up-and-coming rock bands, Gather tells its subscribers, “You can connect around a Supreme Court nominee, an Umbrian chicken recipe, a new album by Aimee Mann, or your child’s soccer game.”

“It’s a way to serve audiences beyond what we do in public radio,” says MPR President Bill Kling, who is board chairman of Gather Inc., the venture largely owned by American Public Media Group, MPR’s parent. (Kling likes Italian food and hiking in the mountains, according to his Gather profile). Gather’s co-founder, president and a co-owner is Tom Gerace, a Boston-based web entrepreneur who most recently handled marketing for an online travel company. (Among Gerace’s faves: Rufus Wainwright and Battlestar Galactica.)

Though social networking sites mostly ignore folks much over 30, Kling and Gerace believe public radio’s listeners are naturals for such a service. “We want engaged, knowledgeable, active individuals with a breadth of interests,” Gerace says. “The public radio audience is just that.”

The site will not be limited to public radio junkies. Kling hopes it will appeal to many beyond public radio’s reach and even bring them into the fold. But it will share strong ties with MPR and possibly other stations.

American Public Media programs including Marketplace, The Splendid Table and Speaking of Faith are already furnishing Gather with audio and text synopses, and other producers will be asked to follow suit. Stations will be encouraged to promote Gather on their websites. They could profit when their listeners click on Gather’s ads, Kling says.

Other content on Gather will come from its users, who are encouraged to write blog-like posts and share them with friends. Gather will reward frequent writers with points exchangeable for products from its partners. Especially prolific and popular commentators could even earn cash.
Advertising targeted to users’ interests will be the site’s primary source of income. As it gathers fans, it may profit by selling vacation packages such as cruises and ski tours, Kling says.

American Public Media Group has invested $900,000 in Gather and retains a controlling interest in the company, which raised $3 million in its first round of funding and is embarking on a second. Now in beta mode, Gather will begin seeking more members next month and go fully public by the end of the year.

Gather is for-profit because “it was going to take more capital than nonprofits either have or should take risks with,” Kling says.

But Kling and company have had some success in reaping the rewards of for-profit commerce. The Minnesota crew formerly ran Rivertown Trading, a catalog business that fetched $120 million when it was sold to Dayton Hudson in 1998.

Web page posted April 11, 2006
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2006


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