A few years ago I was at the PRPD conference and I attended the annual meeting of the News/Talk Group. Jeff Hansen, then PD at KUOW, Seattle and Dave Kanzeg, then PD at WCPN, Cleveland started the News/Talk meeting around 2000.
|George Baily, Walrus Research|
The News/Talk Group brings together the best minds from NPR News stations, representatives of NPR, APM, PRX and PRI and consultants with valuable data and perspective. That year, as usual, the session was packed. Researcher George Baily made a big impression when he said [paraphrasing]:
“Talk shows don’t work. Get rid of them.”
George Baily’s research has helped shape public radio. But, I think Baily is wrong this time.
Public radio needs more Talk/Interview programming because, done correctly, Talk/Interview programming enhances the value, depth and urgency of public radio news. It is time to look at what is working and replicate it on the local, regional and national levels.
THE DECLINE OF LOCAL TALK/INTERVIEW PROGRAMS
When NPR cancelled Talk of the Nation in 2013, the signal it sent to stations was that Talk/Interview programming didn’t work. Despite questions from some observers about Talk of the Nation’s performance, it provided a model and standard for similar station-based shows.
The rap on Talk/Interview shows is that they are too expensive and don't please listeners as much as national news magazines. In many cases this is true. But, not always.
The number of News/Interview programs has dropped dramatically in the past decade. In February, 2015, when reported [link] on a then just-released study that found the number of local News/Interview shows declined 37% between 3007 and 2015.
In 2007, there were 99 local talk and interview programs between Morning Edition and All Things Considered. In 2015, using the same criteria, there were 62 programs remaining, a decline of 37.4% in eight years.
Where did these programs go? In most cases they were replaced by syndicated programming, particularly WBUR/NPR’s Here and Now or WNYC/PRI’s The Takeaway.
The loss of “local service” is obvious. Beyond that, stations have lost an opportunity for in-the-moment live programming. The ability to be “live” instantly is one of radio’s best assets. It is also an essential part of the news mix because what happens on these programs can become news itself.
The good news is that some NPR News stations see the value of live and local talk and interview programs. Examples of the new generation of station-based Talk/Interview programs include Where We Live from Connecticut Public Radio [link], On Second Thought from Georgia Public Broadcasting [link] and Texas Standard from KUT, Austin, which is now heard statewide.
We will be reporting on these and other programs this week – how they work, whether they are sustainable and best practices others can use.