On Tuesday we reported about On Being’s change of national distribution from American Public Media (APM) to PRX. Today comes news of another major distribution switch: Snap Judgment is moving from PRX to WNYC as of July 1, 2016. On Being’s decision makes sense but the benefit of Snap Judgment’s move to WNYC is not so clear.
About ten years ago, Host & Executive Producer Glynn Washington won the CPB-sponsored Public Radio Talent Quest. Since then he has assembled a talented production crew. The show is carried on approximately 365 stations.
Snap Judgment [link] is a popular weekly one-hour program, in part because of the “halo” of the NPR brand. Saying “We are from NPR” opened carriage and funding possibilities. Washington benefited from NPR’s credibility and clout.
Snap Judgment became one of the first national shows to be distributed by PRX, another wise association. The show brought in respected carriage consultant Steve Martin. By most accounts, things have been doing very, very well.
According to person close to the program, who spoke off the record, internal costs kept rising above revenue. Washington needed to save on production costs. He began working with WNYC in the summer of 2015. Now it appears that WNYC has a stake in Snap Judgment.
Then WNYC became a co-producer of Snap Judgment in August 2015. Dean Cappello, chief content officer at WNYC described the process that led to WNYC’s distribution:
“It is the final step in a transition process that began last summer when co-production of the Snap Judgment weekly radio show and podcast shifted from NPR to WNYC Studios.”
Snap Judgment will become the fifth nationl show distributed by WNYC. Last October, WNYC began self-distributing its own programs: On the Media, Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour and Freakonomics Radio.
LOOSING THE NPR “HALO”
I believe in the philosophy “If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.” Snap Judgment wasn’t “broken” and benefited from NPR’s “halo.” “NPR” is the best-known brand name in noncommercial radio. NPR News has valuable credibility with underwriters and grant makers. Loosing the “N-P-R” sheen may cost Snap Judgment in the long run.
JOIN A COLLABERATION TO BUILD A STATE-WIDE NEWS IN TEXAS
KERA, Dallas is now searching for a Statewide Coordinating Editor to lead the Texas Station Collaborative, an ambitious news partnership of NPR News stations across Texas. KERA is the fiduciary and organizer of the collaboration. The Statewide Coordinating Editor will be based in Dallas and will work with reporters across the state on the statewide newsmagazine Texas Standard. The Editor will serve as the primary liaison with participating stations and national news programs.
The successful candidate must be a proven public radio editor who’s equally comfortable on digital and social media platforms, a leader who can confidently and smoothly work at a distance with reporters, producers and editors scattered across the state, as well as leaders of national shows and networks. Project-management and communications skills are key. This editor will embrace and propagate best practices in editing, ethics and diversity.
Livingston Associates is handling the search. More information is at [link].
MORE ABOUT COLLEGE RADIO’S “SMALLNESS”
Recently I was taken to task for my opinionated reporting [link] about the state of College Radio and what I believe are continuing threats to its future. Some of the most vocal criticism came from the folks at Radio Survivor. If you haven’t visited the Radio Survivor blog, please check them out at [link].
Radio Survivor asked me to participate in their weekly podcast, which I did. I very much enjoyed being on the program. There were several points on which the folks from Radio Survivor and I agreed to disagree but I felt the show provided a good overview of the situation. You can hear the podcast at [link].
Last week Matthew Lasar, one of the founders of Radio Survivor, wrote an op-ed about our College Radio “debate.” Lasar did an excellent job summarizing the agreements and disagreements. Here are Lasar’s thoughts about my analysis:
The usual excellent suspects associated with our Radio Survivor podcast produced an interesting debate program about the “self-imposed smallness” of college radio last week. Popular radio blogger Ken Mills served as the show’s guest critic. He’s a very smart articulate guy with a lot of experience in radio.
“I come from a management background,” Mills told Jennifer Waits, Paul Riismandel, and Eric Klein. “I come from a background where, in the commercial world, if you don’t make your budget you’re out. And in the non-comm world you may get another chance but at some point you’re out. I look at things through that lens.”
So here’s Mills’ bottom line on college radio:
“I think that college radio’s self-imposed smallness is a threat to its future. The key to long term success in any non-profit, non-commercial media in particular, is independent long term sustainability. And I don’t hear anybody in college radio talking about that. It’s kind of the same as it was in the 1970s.
The reason I talk about threats is, they’re coming from all directions, first, universities are cutting, second student fees are getting are getting out of control, and third, the price and cost of getting into the FM spectrum continues to rise, and so the big public radio companies, and particularly the big religious broadcasters such as the Educational Media Foundation are on the hunt for stations that they can sweep up . . . “
At this point Jennifer waits came in with a good question, what do you mean by self-imposed smallness?
“The view more often than not is inward,” Mills replied. “In other words they really don’t broadcast to the larger community, they’re really more concerned with their peer group, people right around them, and if it’s educational sometimes it’s solely training. But there isn’t a lot of thought about audience . . . and there is a direct correlation between audience size and the ability to generate revenue from listeners, whether that be pledging or underwriting or events or whatever.”
As the conversation continued, Mills acknowledged Waits’ observation in an earlier podcast that a whole slew of college sponsored Low Power FM radio stations are coming down the bend. This obviously challenges some perceived specter of a generalized abandonment of radio by universities. At some point the discussion moved onto the lack of ratings for college radio stations. “Why are ratings important?” Paul Riismandel asked.
Mills: “Because the size of an audience is directly correlated to the ability to have more diverse funding, particularly listener funding, and my belief is that college radio has been too dependent for too long on student fees and the largesse of the university’s involved.”
Riismandel pointed out that many college stations can’t afford to subscribe to Nielsen Portable People Meter ratings (not to mention accessing the encoding system needed to participate). “I don’t disagree with you that having a larger more diverse audience means you can bring in more fundraising,” he added, “but not subscribing to ratings doesn’t indicate that a station doesn’t care.”
I’m not going to transcribe the whole show, because I want you to listen to it. But the conversation definitely struck me as one in which everyone was right at least part of the time. I would add to Mills’ list of worries the accelerated abandonment of the humanities at many universities. And I’d also add that too many college and community radio stations spend too much time constructing fictional narratives about “communities,” rather than trying to figure out how to reach broad groups of people who don’t necessarily have much immediate involvement with each other but live in the same place (aka “audiences”).
But ultimately I think that college radio’s problems are political rather than managerial. Colleges aren’t supposed to provide services solely for sale; they’re supposed to teach and offer at least some things that we need but aren’t necessarily willing to buy as individuals. Not a few of the college radio programs I cherish around these San Francisco Bay Area parts are anything but marketable. The question of how to support that sort of fare is a question for everybody, not just for radio station managers, blogger consultants, and us podcasters.
--- Matthew Lasar