This is the first of an ongoing series about the new generation of American community radio stations – stations that seek to connect with listeners rather than talk only to themselves.
In September, while I was in Portland for the Public Radio Programming Conference, I debuted my new programming and management workshop at at XRAY.fm in Portland, Oregon.
XRAY.fm (KRXY-FM) signed on in March 2014. The talk/music ratio on XRAY.fm is about 50/50 and the schedule includes progressive talk from Portland’s Thom Hartmann, lots of strains of groovy music and lifestyle programs that reflect the diversity of the city. XRAY.fm airs none of the typical community radio “war horses.”
Because this workshop was a beta-test, I decided to center my effort on critiques of air checks of three willing XRAY.fm hosts. I played audio clips to demonstrate strengths and weaknesses of the shows. I listened to lots of XRAY.fm programming and developed easy improvements that will help everyone involved with station.
XRAY.fm needs to build STATIONALITY – the sense that each program is part of a greater vessel – XRAY-FM. Enhanced value leads to increased support for the station. To do this every host needs to be talking periodically about XRAY.fm and the need for listener pledges.
One of the participating shows was Popaganda, a fascinating “girl power” weekly magazine that could be This American Life’s youngest cousin.
But, on XRAY.fm, you can listen to a half-hour Popaganda without hearing the phrase ‘XRAY FM." Popganda is produced as a podcast, not as a radio program. It is likely many noncommercial stations are experiencing this same situation.
There are many common traits between podcasting and broadcasting but there are also important differences. Podcast listening tends to be purposeful and linear; radio listening is most often occasional and random. On broadcast radio, you have to keep introducing yourself because listeners come and go. On average, people listen to less than ten minutes per tune in.
I also noticed that XRAY.fm hosts seldom cross promote other programs, an essential part of STATIONALITY.
PROVIDING A REALITY CHECK & SOLUTIONS
I had the feeling that none of the three hosts had ever experienced an air check critique session. There was a bit of embarrassment at first – the participants were “naked” (so to speak) in front of their peers. Because my approach is kind and my criticisms are specific, the conversations focused on common sense solutions.
A case in point was Thank You Democracy hosted by Jefferson Smith, one of the founders of XRAY.fm.
Jefferson Smith XRAY.fm
TYD is a free form talk and interview show that focuses on a wide range of local issues. Jefferson Smith does a solid job hosting the program but he seemed to forget about an essential component: the listeners.
On one of the clips, Smith was caught flat-footed on-air waiting for a late guest. I recommended that Smith and his producer (who also was in attendance) build an archive of evergreen segments for such situations. Key lesson: Always consider what listeners are hearing and ask “would I listen to that?”
I asked Smith for his thoughts about my critique of his work:
"Ken Mills ripped my show with little regard to human life. It was largely deserved, and I appreciated it."
Mission accomplished. Most of my advice at the XRAY.fm workshop remains proprietary. Thank you the staff and management at XRAY.fm.
I am looking for more stations for workshops. Please contact me at publicradio (at) hotmail dot com.