Thursday, June 7, 2018


Marcia Alvar
When Marcia Alvar was the Executive Direction of the Public Radio Program Directors association (PRPD) she said folks in the public radio biz should avoid overplaying the fact that their audience was much smarter than the “average Joe.” 

In other words, public radio listeners tend to have higher levels of education than general population, but there is no reason to get an attitude about it.

We thought of her “smarty pants radio” comment when we read the latest post from blogger/researcher/consultant Mark Ramsey [link]. 

Ramsey’s headline is Podcast Listeners are Too Smart. Ramsey's solution are podcasts that are tailored to more regular folks. In other words, he says don’t be “smarty pants” podcasters.

To prove his point, Ramsey provides a mash-up chart (on the right) comparing Edison Research’s podcast listener education level with the general population.

Mark Ramsey is the guy who urged us to start Spark News – we’ve been friends for years. 

However, Ramsey’s problem and solution are total bullshit.

It is no surprise that podcast listeners have a much higher level of education because the majority of them are public radio listeners. 

According to Podtrac’s April 2018 rankings (see chart on the left), five of the top ten podcast publishers have ties to public radio. NPR, WNYC Studios, PRX, The New York Times and the This American Life cluster – account for 67% of the chart’s total Unique Monthly Audience. For these five podcast publishers, the educated audiences they reach are not a problem.

Ramsey seems to pine for podcast content built for broad audiences – in other words, podcasts with familiar topics that will reach a mass audience. He sums up his theory this way:

The path to larger audiences is a path to more regular folks.

The truth is that podcasts are not a mass appeal platform, they are intended to reach niche audiences. Paid advertising is now the top source of revenue for podcast publishers. They are qualitative ad buys.  The top podcast publishers know this and cater to advertisers who want to reach a specialized audience.

If there is a problem, it lies within mainstream media companies. For example, based on the same Podtrac chart, mass appeal iHeartMedia has a smaller Unique Monthly Audience with 634 podcasts than This American Life has with three. NPR has almost four times the Unique Monthly Audience than iHeart. So who is under performing iHeart or NPR?

Mark Ramsey

To us, the worst part of Ramsey’s essay is the way he scolds podcasters for being out of touch with Mr. and Mrs. America:

Ramsey: [Podcasters are] so educated they are out of step with the rest of America, or as I like to call them/us: Regular people...average “mass” America.

Mark Ramsey is an educated, smart fellow who does fine work but this time he jumped the shark. I believe that is a mainstream phrase.


WAMU, Washington DC announced on Tuesday (6/5) that as of June 25th there will be quite a few changes in the stations program schedule.  In a lengthy press release [link] WAMU said the changes are designed to better reflect a news-and-information format.

Regular Spark News redears may recall on May 17 [link] we noted WAMU’s recent lagging performance in Nielsen Audio’s PPM ratings. We wrote, in part:

"It appears that WAMU’s audience peaked around 2016 election (see the chart on the left) and then began to slide.   

"This pattern is unique to WAMU. We haven't seen another NPR News/Talk station (in the four-year trends) with a drop in estimated weekly listeners and a drop in AQH share. 

"Since just after the 2016 election both metrics have dropped for WAMU."

We know JJ Yore and company at WAMU are aware of these trends and changes to the schedule reflect it.

On the right is a chart that WANU provided that provides a summary of programs that have been added or dropped.

WAMU is important to producers and national program syndicators because it is the only NPR-affiliated station in the nation’s capital. 

Program clearance in DC is sometimes a “make of break” factor.

We can summarize WAMU’s changes in two short sentences: Music is out. More news, information and talk programming is in. When the changes go into effect later this month, there will be one (1) music program left on WAMU: APM’s Live From Here.

We are pleased to see PRI’s Live Wire [link] added to WAMU’s schedule. The show, hosted by Luke Burbank, is a fast-paced variety show that includes stand up comedy, interviews, games and a bit of music. Kudos to PRI for hanging with Live Wire. It is a very entertaining program that fits well into a news/talk schedule.

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