Friday, October 27, 2017


I still love commercial radio though now I look at it from a different perspective. The gap between what commercial radio is doing and what noncommercial public radio is doing has never been wider. Noncom is concerned about content innovation on multiple platforms; commercial radio is about shareholders, stock prices and debt. That is why is am calling this post “The Debtor’s Corner.”

Tom Taylor

Yesterday I was reading Tom Taylor’s NOW newsletter [link] and it occurred to me that I seldom hear commercial radio folks talking about programming. 

I consider Taylor to be best reporter on the “radio beat." He knows who his audience is what they are thinking about.

So I decided to do a Content Analysis of Taylor’s most recent newsletters to see what is on the mind of commercial radio’s owners and managers. The chart on the right shows the story count, by topic, for Taylor’s October 23, 24 and 25 newsletters.

Tom calls NOW Radio’s Daily Management Newsletter, so I assume that it reflects what is on the mind of the people who make commercial radio happen. Programming is way down on the list. 

But, isn't programming what listeners care about? 

Commercial radio’s lack of interest in the quality of their product is their biggest weakness and is a gift to public radio.

Commercial broadcasters are noticing public radio’s success, particularly the rise in listening to NPR News/Talk stations. According to a press release from NPR, public radio News/Talk programming now reaches 37.7 million people in a typical week.


The Takeout [link] is hosted CBS News White House Correspondent Major Garrett. It began as a podcast and now is a weekly one-hour syndicated radio program. 

The Takeout is an interview show, recorded live-to-tape, from a different restaurant each week. A recent edition of The Takeout featuring Energy Secretary Rick Perry was recorded at a Dunkin’ Donuts. Garrett and side-kick Steve Chaggaris, CBS News’ Political Director, talk about issues of the day while munching on donuts.

The conversation is newsy and friendly. The format allows Garrett to ask questions not heard at press conferences. There is none of the typical commercial radio talk show hyperbole.

Does The Takeout have public radio’s sensibility? It might if desire is considered. Garrett sounds joyful, like a man who has just been released from detention. He told a local reporter:

Major Garrett
“I open every show the same way: ‘Welcome to the very best part of my broadcast week.’ The Takeout’ is a dream come true for me. It’s a show Steve and I created so we could listen to, learn about and travel the ideological roads of American politics.”

Other recent guests include Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT); Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX); Sen. Al Franken (D-MN); Carly Fiorina; Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-MD); Corey Lewandowski; and comedian Samantha Bee.

The Takeout debuted as a national radio program on October 20, on KMOX, St. Louis; WCCO-AM, Minneapolis; KXNT, Las Vegas and WTMJ Milwaukee.


Speaking of CBS Radio, you may be aware that it is being split off from CBS TV. CBS Radio news and their owned and operated radio stations are being acquired (some call it a “merger”) by Entercom, a publicly traded commercial broadcaster. The deal will be finalized on November 17th.

One reason the CBS Radio/Entercom merger is of interest to public radio folks is that it involves several of the nation’s biggest commercial radio News/Talk stations, including WCBS, New York; KNX, Los Angeles; WCFS-FM & WBBM-AM, Chicago; KFRC-FM & KCBS-AM, San Francisco; KYW in Philadelphia; WCCO, Minneapolis. The new combined company will have a nationwide footprint of 235 stations, including stations in 22 of the top 25 U.S. markets.

Like many commercial chains, Entercom is dealing with debt payments but their obligations are not as large as iHeartMedia (whose debt is reportedly more than $1 billion) and Cumulus Media.

Entercom’s intentions for the big News/Talk stations are not known. A friend of mine who has worked many years for CBS Radio says they are very aware of the growing impact of NPR News and want to beef up local coverage to compete.


Frank Catalano, a contributor to GeekWire’s weekly tech show on KIRO, Seattle [link], recently commented on NPR’s success nationally and locally. 

You can hear and/or read Catalano’s complete commentary here.

Here are a few excerpts from Catalano’s commentary on KIRO:

HEADLINE: Public radio’s digital moment: Smartphones, streaming, and the future of listening

Frank Catalano
Public radio and digital tech are having a moment. Not only has National Public Radio listenership hit an all-time high, NPR podcasts and digital content have spiked in popularity. Meanwhile, Seattle-area public broadcasters focusing on classical, indie rock, jazz, and news are diving deeply into streams, podcasts, and video to reach new audiences in new ways.

Matt Martinez, director of content for news and jazz KNKX Tacoma/Seattle, told GeekWire that the definition of “radio” is expanding:

 ‘On my phone…I just put it on my speaker. [It is] streaming audio with well-crafted stories, solid news and information, well-curated music.”

KNKX…has done its share of turning new digital fields. Martinez points to its Jazz24 stream, which continues to grow after nearly a decade, he said, calling it “still one of the most listened to music streams in public media.

While the online audiences…pale in comparison to those for on-air broadcasts, digital listeners tend to be younger. “The average public radio age, and I think it’s true for our station, is right around 54,” Martinez said. “Sixty-five percent of the NPR podcast audience is between 24 and 44.”

1 comment:

  1. iHeart's debt is actually over $20 billion. Yes, "billion" with a "B". (!!!!) As Everett Dirksen famously said, "A billion here, a billion there...pretty soon you're talking about *real* money."

    (actually he didn't quite say that, but was apparently delighted that the misquote was attributed to him)