Today we are traveling to Delmarva, a peninsula on the East Coast that includes the state of Delaware and small portions of Maryland and Virginia. It is a beautiful place popular with tourists, sports enthusiasts, environmentalists and beach bums like me.
In recent years portions of Delmarva have become exurbs of Washington, DC and Baltimore, an hour west of the peninsula. Big city folks bring big city media preferences. This fact of life has made it a tough place for local media.
Delmarva Public Radio (DPR) is located in Salisbury, a small city with around 50,000 residents. DPR [link] operates two stations WSCL (NPR News & Classical) and WSDL (NPR News and soon-to-be Triple A music).
We decided to feature DPR today because we received a press release saying WSDL is changing its format as of February 1st to Triple A. We are big fans of noncom Triple A and we welcome DPR to the party. However, we want to point out that there are problems ahead for DPR.
DELMARVA PUBLIC RADIO OVERVIEW
It was almost impossible to find basic operating information about DPR because they don't make put their audited financial report available on their website. This disclosure is required by CPB [link]. I know folks from CPB read this blog, so DPR will likely get a call from them soon.
One of DPR’s attributes immediately got our attention: There is almost NO local programming on the two stations.
Most of the information we could find comes from a 2012 report authored by Dennis Hamilton from then Public Radio Capital, now called the Public Media Company. Hamilton, who retired last year, is one of the best media consultants in the nation.
The reason Hamilton was involved was a existential change that happened in 2011. WAMU put a full-time repeater signal into the market. It immediately zapped the audience for NPR on WSCL and WSDL. Hamilton provided DPR with a couple of options: Sell the licenses or establish a local marketing agreement with a bigger station. DPR did neither. They kept things the same and it hasn’t and isn’t working.
A quick look at coverage maps shows DPR’s dilemma. On the right is the map for WSCL FM 89.5 FM.
This is a decent coverage area. WSCL has a dual format of NPR News magazines and Classical music.
The next map on the right is the coverage map for WSDL 90.7 FM, a dual format station featuring the NPR News magazines and, soon, Triple A music.
It barely puts a local-grade signal into Salisbury.
Now look at the coverage area WAMU’s repeater WRAU 88.3 FM.
This is the “killer” signal that changed how people in central Delmarva list to NPR News/Talk programming.
The chart on the left shows the impact on listening caused by the entry of WRAU/WAMU into the market.
The estimated weekly listeners to Classical WSCL has remained fairly steady over the years. But WSDL barely shows a pulse.
WAMU, via WRAU, typically has 20,000 to 30,000 weekly listeners. They now own the “NPR News brand” in central Delmarva.
DELMARVA PUBLIC RADIO PROGRAMMING
The chart on the left exposes the heart of the problem. DPR’s announcement about “changing the format” is the addition of WKSU’s Folk Alley between the tent poles. Folk Alley [link] is a fine production that has evolved into a streaming music service. Though quite a few stations air Folk Alley as a weekly specialty program, the service was not developed to be a wall-to-wall radio format.
Folk Alley is produced in Kent, Ohio. During key hours – when the most people listen to the radio – WSDL has NO LOCAL PROGRAMMING during weekdays. On WSDL, after the upcoming format change, you won’t hear all of thethe things that have made “music discovery” so popular these days: NO local music. NO tie to area’s music scene. NO local, live hosts curating and playing the music they love. By not changing to local, live, 24/7 music programming, WSDL will likely remain a dithering compromise.
During Saturday’s key hours, thing are actually worse. The entire daypart has NO local programming.
Everything is beamed in from somewhere else.
DPR violates my Prime Directive, the reason I am doing this blog: Terrestrial radio will succeed only if it gives listeners the hottest, highest quality programming.
Stations have to provide content that listeners will passionately value for noncommercial radio to stay competitive.