Two years ago on September 29, 2014 I started this blog. I had no idea what to expect. Now, 512 posts later, I’ve got a better idea of what I am doing. Today I am going to lift the veil a bit and tell you the story of this blog.
Q: Why did you start this blog?
In September 2014 I was at the PRPD conference in Portland. It had become apparent to me that my vision had deteriorated to the point where business travel was going to be difficult. So, I was looking for tasks that I could do in addition to my home-based consulting work. (I wrote about my vision challenges in March 2015 [link].
At the PRPD I was talking with my friend Mark Ramsey, who I consider one of the best bloggers and strategists in the biz. I told Mark about my situation and I asked him for his advice. Mark told me: “You have had a lot of experience in both commercial and noncommercial broadcasting. Maybe you should share your knowledge and perspective.”
I decided a blog was the way to begin doing what Mark suggested. When I returned to Minneapolis, I start this blog on the following Monday with a story about consulting work I had done in Portland the week prior.
I’ve always loved journalism and writing. Over my years in public radio I have written articles and Op-Ed columns for Current, Radio & Records and other publications. I knew doing daily blog posts was more demanding than an occasional article. Within a month, I was hooked. Two years later I have made every deadline with a new post every business day.
Q: What is the purpose of this blog?
SPARK! is an independent, noncommercial voice focused on noncommercial media, particularly noncom radio. I report on news, trends, ideas and people who make noncom media happen. I try to find stories that other news sources, such as Current, either aren’t reporting or where I can provide a different perspective. My goals are to improve the quality and impact of our work, influence policy and shine a light on excellence and incompetence.
Q: What have you learned during the past two years?
The motto for my consulting work is Speak Truth to Power. But telling it like it is as a journalist is different than dealing with clients. I try to report the truth and be specific. I’ve learned that sometimes “the truth” is in the mind of the beholder. It is hard to quantify creative endeavors.
I’ve learned that words matter. When I said a respected former public radio producer had a “tim ear” it was a cheap shot and I regret it. Sometimes I have been clumsy while trying to find my writing voice.
As a truth-teller, I have learned that tone also matters. In my early posts sometimes what I wrote was too “snarky.” I think I’ve improved. I will continue to be opinionated and, hopefully, not mean or unfair.
Personally, I have learned that I am a good but not an excellent writer. My writing role model was the late New York Times media writer David Carr. I hear Carr’s words, pacing and style in my mind as I write.
Following Carr’s untimely death, the Times created the David Carr Fellowship and conducted a contest to find new Fellows. A year ago, on the first anniversary of SPARK!, I proudly described my intention to enter the competition [link]. Then I had a “reality check” moment.
While looking through my previous posts to find samples for my entry, I realized I am not David Carr. Though I aspire to the quality of his storytelling, I have much to learn.
Q: What is the future of radio?
The biggest danger to the future of radio comes from the people who now run it. Too many people, even folks in noncom, seem to have given up on radio. They are just hanging out cashing their paychecks until they retire. Instead of creating programming that is important to listeners, they are satisfied with dumbing radio programming down and making it a commodity. If the producers and providers of radio give up on radio, the listeners will give up on it also.
I am very concerned about the lack of new programming and creative folks entering the pipeline. Public radio is not investing enough resources on its on-air product. Podcasts are taking valuable new ideas out of the mix. While important, podcasts deliver only a small fraction of the number of listeners to radio.
The key to the future of radio is to keep stations healthy. Stations are content factories. Station programming works very well on companion platforms. When someone is listening to radio via streaming audio on a Smartphone, they are still listening to radio. Stations fill a unique role in local communities. Being a curator, convener and catalyst assures radio’s relevance and value. Indifference leads to stagnation.
As the number of media voices and platforms continue to grow, over-the-air radio’s share of the media pie will continue to decline a bit. But the transmission of broadcast signals is not going away. As long as there continues to be programing that people like, folks will keep listening. Compelling, urgent programming will continue to resonate.
Keep in mind radio’s innate attribute: Free and ubiquitous delivery that can reach large numbers of people over wide geographic areas. Unlike the 'net, more listeners make program delivery cheaper. Online and mobile platforms will continue to be gated shopping malls where your digital footprints are tracked and sold, usually without your knowledge.
Q: Do you listen to radio?
Yes, but I know I am not a typical listener. I periodically monitor many stations to hear what is happening. I once said Give me a quarter-hour and I can determine the health of a station.
When I do casual listening it is usually when I am in a car. My background is in rock n roll radio and news. Most often I listen to NPR News station KNOW and Triple A 89.3 The Current. My “guilty pleasure” is Classic Rock KQRS. In the more than 20 years I have lived in Minneapolis, I have never heard a song on KQ that I didn’t know. Sometimes “comfort food” tastes good.
Online I like to listen to stations originating from places where I have lived and
loved such as Los Angeles and Colorado. KCRW, KBCO and 105.5 The Colorado Sound are my current favorites.
Q: What is next for you and SPARK?
SPARK! will continue to report the news and trends that I feel matter. I am trying to put more humor into my blogging. Often our business seems too damn serious.
I am also in the process of starting a new blog based on my experiences with “low vision.” You can see the prototype of Welcome To Low Vision: Life Between Blindness and Normal Sight at [link].
I appreciate your story ideas, comments and questions. Thanks for reading my blog! Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.