Thursday, August 13, 2015


Last Tuesday POLITICO published a must-read article [link] about the tension within the organization and member stations about broadcasting versus digital platforms. It seems to be a disagreement between folks who see no future for broadcast media and those folks like Jarl Mohn who sees broadcasting as an important part of the media menu.


I am with Mohn. I hope he can convince people that his broader view is reality. He knows broadcast stations have unique and powerful ways to engage listeners.  Listening to broadcast radio has been declining a reported 1% - 2% per year since 2008.  Still over 90% of American adults hear radio each week, more and more often online or on a mobile device.  They listen because they value what they are hearing.

The tension within the NPR family is illustrated by an incident, reported by POLITICO that happened earlier this year when Mohn was visiting NPR’s office in New York:

At first the back and forth was tense but respectful. Then, as Mohn parried with "Planet Money" reporter Zoe Chace, according to four sources who were either present for the meeting or familiar with how it went down, the heat started to rise.

Chace invoked a shift in the music industry in which more young people started becoming exposed to new music digitally than over the air. Mohn asked Chace if she knew how many young people had listened to radio the previous week. No, she didn't, she said, but that wasn't the point she was trying to make and—well, that's pretty much when things went south.

Zoe Chance is a gifted reporter with a brash – and some say caustic – reporting style.  In the case above she just doesn’t see the big picture. If she took the time to look at the data she would see that a lot of younger folks do hear radio.  That doesn’t mean digital isn’t important. No matter the platform, content it king and multi-versioning makes it bigger and more consequential.


Many who dismiss the value radio are projecting a future when broadcasting will be DOA.  But, that isn’t what is happening right now.  Right now broadcasting reaches large audiences.  This American Life demonstrated the power of radio by launching Serial on its radio program heard by several million people.  Would Serial have been so successful it hadn’t had the radio boost?

We reported on what some folks see as a podcast bubble in July: BATTLE FOR THE EAR: SO MUCH AUDIO, SO LITTLE TIME [link]

In the article we quoted consultant Paul Marszalek:

With so much buzz and so much money being thrown around, the podcasting space is starting to feel a little like a tech bubble. How big can it get? Will it burst and when?

With so much good stuff – This American Life, WTF, Invisibilia, Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Freakonomics, Planet Money, The Moth, Startup, and The Nerdist — just to name 10, how much can we consume – especially when almost all are long-form?

Most of the programs mentioned owe their visibility, in part, to exposure via radio.  Podcasts and radio work well together but radio clearly has advantages:

• Broadcast radio is in the here and now – new with every tick of the clock.

• Broadcast radio is simple, free and ubiquitous.

• Broadcast radio listeners cannot be tracked and monitored.  Online and mobile usage leaves footprints; broadcast radio avoids such surveillance and detection.

Mohn was right when he said in an early interview:

Broadcast radio is the cockroach of media.

Radio will survive and prosper if we continue to create value for listeners.


I worry that there is too little content in the public radio pipeline.  Paul Marszalek also pointed this out:

In television, we simultaneously develop tens of shows in hopes of 
finding a single hit. There are occasional exceptions. In radio, especially public radio, it tends to be more of a “all our eggs in one basket” approach, with very few programs in development and stakes riding high on the few that are. That’s a monster red flag – an approach that will not work in the current podcasting environment.

Question for Jarl Mohn: What is the NPR pipeline for stations?

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