Yesterday’s column about weekly programs past and present, particularly Weekend America, got a lot of reader attention and several comments. One anonymous comment caught my attention because the person who sent it seems to know what he/she is talking about. [See the full comment at the end of yesterday’s post.]
BTW, I have no problem with anonymous comments. I know that some SPARK! readers are movers and shakers in public media and are not authorized to speak on certain issues. I have been in this situation myself. Confidential comments can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org -- I will always protect my sources. I am taking my new career as a journalist seriously.
To let readers know who is speaking, the anonymous comments below are in BLUE ITALICS.
SOME 2001 PROGRAMS ARE STILL AROUND
FYI Ken, some of those shows you list as not being in distribution anymore are, in fact, still available: I know TechNation, 51% and Inside Europe are, for example. But admittedly keeping track of all these shows could be exceedingly difficult.
KEN: Yesterday’s column included a list of weekly programs being carried on 100 sample public radio stations aurveyed in late 2000. I highlighted programs I knew were still in distribution in bold in the chart. I knew I’d miss some. I also heard from readers that New Dimensions, Alternative Radio and The Jefferson Hour are in current production. Some other programs listed on the chart exist today as podcasts. Please let me know if you see others that are now active. I will post an updated chart with corrections soon.
As I look at the list from 2001 I amazed how many worthy programs are gone, many by independent producers. MIA’s that I miss include The Savvy Traveller, Rewind, Schickele Mix, Sound & Spirit, Common Ground [a former consulting client] and Justice Talking [another former client].
BTW, is "Weekly Edition" representing WESAT/WESUN? Or was that "Weekend Radio"? Either way, I had no idea that carriage of those particular shows was so low. Certainly it seems like all the major stations in the top 100 markets carry WESAT/WESUN...
KEN: As I recall Weekly Edition was a weekly one-hour “best of NPR News” program. It is not to be confused with Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t include WESAT or WESUN in the chart because I addressed them separately in another parts the 2001 CARRIAGE METRICS report.
I wonder if, as valuable as this list is, it could stand to be weighted in favor of larger markets, and further weighted based on when it airs relative to more valuable dayparts? Annnnnnd before you know it, you're tumbling down a rabbit hole of statistical weighting! Oh well...
KEN: Exactly. I abandoned CARRIAGE METRICS because it was not sustainable. I had five paying clients who valued the info but I moved on to projects with great financial potential.
LOUSY TIMING OR THE FAILURE TO ADJUST TO NEW REALITIES?
FWIW, I think lousy timing is overlooked in how important a factor it was in these shows' demises. You can succeed quickly with a single-issue show. You can't do that with a generalist show. But you can ULTIMATELY succeed BETTER with a generalist show...it just takes a lot more time to build up an audience. And the Great Recession wasn't going to give those shows the time.
KEN: Maybe I am being a Monday Morning Quarterback, but prudent leadership should adjust program budgets to meet the economic realities of their customers. Weekend America was too big to succeed. APM’s decision-making process was cumbersome and out of touch. Weekend America was crushed by it’s own weight and the fact that few people actually cared about it.
I wonder if you introduced Weekend America again today if it wouldn't do a lot better than it did back then? Given the similarities between WA and Here & Now, I suppose you could divine some analysis from that...although H&N had the huge advantage of an established program (TOTN) being killed off and H&N explicitly being touted as a replacement.
KEN: I see very, very little in common between Weekend America and Here & Now. One of the keys to H&N’s success is that NPR leveraged OPM – Other People’s Money (in this case WBUR’s dough) – to offset production costs. Eric Nuzum wisely used this model when he was VP for Programming at NPR. This is a way to do sustainable programs.
LESSONS FROM THE LAUNCH OF THE TAKEAWAY
The Takeaway's first incarnation also comes to mind. [I]t was starting to get a decent toehold as a good morning outlet for the #2 public radio station in each town, as a good way to compete with the #1 station and them airing Morning Edition. But the market dropped out and the time needed to gradually convince affiliates to pick it up wasn't there anymore.
KEN: You touched a nerve by mentioning The Takeaway. It is my favorite daily public radio news program. To me, John Hockenberry is THE voice of middays. Hockenberry was the best host of Talk of the Nation and he excels on The Takeaway.
PRI’s plan to have The Takeaway be an alternative to Morning Edition was a stupid idea. Reason Number One: Very few #2 public radio news stations exist and most of those are bottom feeders. Because of format focusing, it was impossible for Classical, Jazz and Triple A stations to use The Takeaway. Few Community stations were interested because it didn’t meet their political correctness mantras.
Fortunately, the owners of The Takeaway changed the strategy from morning drive to middays and saved the program. As a fan of The Takeaway I am grateful this wise stewardship.