Monday, February 9, 2015


In 2007, I published THE PUBLIC RADIO TALK & INTERVIEW PROGRAM DIRECTORY, a comprehensive listing of station-based talk and interview programs on NPR Stations.  It provided detailed information about local talk programs airing between Morning Edition and All Things Considered  - “between the tent poles,” as they say.

I sold around 400 copies of the TALK & INTERVIEW DIRECTORY. It reflected a promising local investment in local programming by stations.

Recently a client commissioned me to update the TALK & INTERVIEW DIRECTORY with 2015 information.  The report and listings are confidential but my client authorized me to release top-line trends. 

Trend #1: The number of local talk and interview programs has declined 37% since 2007. 

In almost every case, local shows have been replaced by network shows.  The most frequent replacements are WBUR/NPR’s Here and Now or PRI’s The Takeaway.

In 2007, I was tracking 99 local talk and interview programs between ME and ATC.  In 2015, using the same criteria, I found 62 programs.  That is a drop of 37.4% in eight years.  I am not saying this is good or bad – it just is the current reality.

Does it reflect a decline in “localism” – one of terrestrial radio’s key selling points?  It certainly shows that stations have been exiting local talk and interview programs for various reasons:

• Local talk shows often cost stations more than syndicated programming.

• Cancellation of NPR’s Talk of the Nation caused some programmers to question the value of local talk.  Talk of the Nation provided a national model for local programs.

• The buzz from consultants is negative about talk programming. George Bailey of Walrus Research said at a recent PRPD: The worst part of call-in talk programs are the callers.

Trend #2: Stations who have the resources are moving to magazine shows that include interviews but very few listener call-ins.

• About 20 of the 62 programs I tracked in 2014 are well staffed, often there are more people working on digital components than on the broadcast program itself.

• Another 20 or so programs are doing the best they can with limited resources.  These programs have a staff of three or four people including one person doing online postings.

• The rest of the programs seem to exist by sheer will-power and a handful of staff – 3, 2 or even “one-person bands.”

Again, I am not saying this is good or bad – it just is the current reality: There is less local programming at a time when we say more “localism” is needed.

Cover of the 2007 Talk & Interview Program Directoty

1 comment:

  1. As a person who works in public radio, and as a listener, I'm glad for the decline in call-in talk programs. In theory, they are interesting, dynamic, timely, and democratic. In practice, they are boring, formulaic, only sometimes timely, and dependent on and dominated by an overly-opinionated minority of listeners who are willing and available to call. They are also inherently plagued by the awfulness that is phone and cell-phone audio. There are now a lot better ways to solicit and incorporate listener interaction than live calls.

    Why do so many people in public radio think that localism is one of terrestrial radio's selling points? Do any of these local shows draw anything near the audience that one of the national mid-day shows would on that station? If few people are listening, how much public service is being accomplished by these shows? Also, we should be talking about public radio as a type of media content. Terrestrial radio is a distribution channel that is slowly shrinking while public radio's overall audience is not.

    Listeners, voting with their ears, are not asking for more localism. People who work at local public radio stations want localism because it makes us feel relevant, but feeling relevant doesn't make us relevant. Sense of place is important to listeners, but it does not get measured by quantity but by quality. One well-reported and relevant feature, inserted in Morning Edition, is worth way more to listeners than an hour of call-in. I know it is both difficult and subjective to evaluate the quality of programming, especially on a national scale, but evaluating just the quantity of local programming is of very limited value.

    Thanks for providing this forum and for bringing up the issues.