Thursday, August 20, 2015


We have been reporting for several months about the competition between WBUR and WGBH for news listeners in Boston. According to folks at both stations, this is a situation that matters on many levels.

Nielsen Audio and Radio Research Corporation (RRC), the distributor of noncom Nielsen Audio data, does not allow subscribing stations to provide hour-by-hour data for publication by news outlets.  But they do allow data to be reviewed for background and general observation, which I have done.
What I saw in the most recent data is that WBUR clearly leads listening during Morning Edition. Then the listening pattern changes fairly dramatically. Boston Public Radio – a three-hour local news and talk magazine on WGBH – has substantially more listening than WBUR until 2pm. The two stations are close in listening until 4pm when WBUR regains its edge during ATC.

During the hours when Boston Public Radio airs, WGBH has more Boston listeners in the Boston metro than WBUR’s national flagship programs On Point and Here and Now (a coproduction with NPR News). Charlie Kavetz acknowledges WGBH’s gains:


The success of WGBH is undeniable and that is good for them.  They brought in a new audience of people, many of whom where listening to commercial radio. I am impressed by what they’ve done.

Phil Redo, GM of WGBH, said in an email that WGBH’s success is not necessarily at the expense of WBUR:


[The Nielsen data] clearly shows how WGBH's commitment to local information and journalism has lifted the total shares of public radio listening in Boston without seriously injuring WBUR…we think our efforts will only be additive to the market. This is not a zero-sum situation.

To me, the winners are the listeners! The competition between WBUR and WGBH is positive for public media because it encourages innovation and better public service.

To put the ratings data in context, here are the schedules for both stations Monday – Friday from 6am – 7pm, the hours when the most people hear radio:
6am – 7am
Morning Edition
Morning Edition
7am – 8am
Morning Edition
Morning Edition
8am – 9am
Morning Edition
Morning Edition
9am – 10am
BBC Newshour
Morning Edition
10am – 11am
On Point
The Takeaway
11am – Noon
On Point
Boston Public Radio
Noon – 1pm
Here & Now
Boston Public Radio
1pm – 2pm
Here & Now
Boston Public Radio
2pm – 3pm
Fresh Air
The Takeaway
3pm – 4pm
Radio Boston
The World
4pm – 5pm
5pm – 6pm
6pm – 7pm
6:00 ATC
6:30 Marketplace
6:00 Marketplace
6:30 ATC
Source: Station websites


Public radio has not previously seen a battle quite like the one now going on in Boston. Both organizations are excellent public media organizations with deep pockets and historic legacies. This situation is different than other two-station markets such as KCRW and KPCC in LA or KPLU and KUOW in Seattle.  In those situations both stations air Morning Edition and ATC but go their own way for most of the rest of the schedule.

Charlie Kravetz, GM of WBUR said in a telephone interview that the competition involves the sustainability of both stations:

There is no question that this is a very competitive relationship. When you are competing on very fundamental levels around the sustainable nature of organizations – there is a lot at stake.

The ratings are only part of the picture.  WBUR and WGBH compete for members, donors, underwriting revenue and pride.

Both Kravetz and Phil Redo at WGBH agree the competition has increased public radio listening in Boston and elsewhere. Kravetz commented:

There are times of the day when the competition between WBUR and WGBH likely have increased listening. In the middays our [national] audience has grown as we’ve transitioned Here & Now into a national program with NPR.

Redo says the competition has generated interest in public radio across the country:

…we are proud to have placed Boston, as a market, in the top tier of stations with largest share of public radio listening.
Again, the listeners are the winners!

1 comment:

  1. Very good article and I wished that I lived in Boston so that I could listen to both BUR and WGBH locally. I live in LA and would prefer to have two public radio stations that focus on news, and national news at that. I tune into BUR on a daily basis here in LA because I find that KPCC focuses on the local news to much for me, even in their live talk show and news magazine.