Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Advertising Age recently trumpeted the news about an appearance by Ira Glass and others at an event called Hearing Is Believing. It was held April 29 in New York at WNYC.

Hearing Is Believing, sponsored by NPR, WNYC and WBEZ, was a show-and-tell gathering to demonstrate to advertisers the significant reach and influence of public radio podcasts.

This type of event is known in the ad biz as an “Upfront.” For decades broadcast TV networks have sponsored Upfront events to promote new fall schedules.  At an Upfront event, ad execs and media buyers are wined and dined while they hang out with the program’s stars.  Typically introductory advertising deals are offered.

Ira Glass was joined on stage by Serial senior producer Julie Snyder, Glynn Washington from Snap Judgment, Jad Abumrad from Radiolab, and Guy Raz from TED Radio Hour. These folks are heavy hitters in the podcast biz space.

Ad Age said this was the key takeaway from the event: HEY BRANDS – RUBLIC RADIO IS READY TO PARTNER WITH YOU!


A major reason for the success of public radio is the power of market forces. Capitalsim spurs creativity and innovation.  There are real winners and losers. Excellence is rewarded, sometimes handsomely.

It was the public side of the partnership that built the NPR System.  Public radio is based on the premise of public space – we are not for sale to highest bidder. Bill Siemering said it best [paraphrasing]: People have to know that the water you provide is pure before they will support you. If you loose that trust, you’ve lost it all.

The best example of the power of the partnership is Ira Glass.  When he started This American Life he was the truest believer in public radio. I remember dubbing the customized pitches that turned pledge drives into driveway moments.  I still have Ira’s cartoon guide for making radio programming. I know his aim is true.

Ira’s work has brought acclaim and golden visibility to public radio.  As a fellow public radio capitalist I salute his moxie and celebrate his success.

But, please Ira, don’t forget the stations. They brought you here and each week they give you a powerful platform.


A couple of months ago [LINK] we posted portions of an essay by consultant Mark Ramsey. He described how This American Life entices public radio station listeners to move away from the stations, to their own (often monetized) podcast platform.

Let me be clear: I am not saying there is anything wrong with this practice.  It is not GOOD or BAD, it just IS.

Let me also be clear: By airing embedded spot announcements during TAL for Serial podcasts, stations encourage listeners to tune away from the station.  Want proof?  Consider this tweet from a Hearing Is Believing attendee:

These are market forces at work. Perhaps the stations should be competitive also: Consider charging for the now freebie podcast announcements.


What follows is a hypothetical scenario. It is for demonstration purposes only. 

Let’s say you are at public radio organization that operates NPR News stations in a large Midwest market and in a major west coast market.

These stations have a combined audience of more than a million weekly listeners.  Both also carry This American Life several times each week. The stations might bring 250,000 weekly listeners to TAL.

What is wrong with a station asking TAL for a cut of the proceeds? Be like Ira: Leverage your assets for your benefit also.

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