I will admit that I have never been an avid radio listener. For the most part, the reason for this lack of interest has been the radio “personalities.” I have never found one that “clicks” with me. Unfortunately, I think that local radio has to cater to the lowest common denominator of public taste in order to make the money they need to make to stay on the air. But, let’s be honest: all media outlets are trying to figure out how to stay in business right now with the free online media onslaught.
Enter NPR. NPR is growing. The April issue of Fast Company has an article on NPR:
“In one of the great under-told media success stories of the past decade, NPR has emerged not as the bespectacled schoolmarm of our imagination but as a massive news machine poised for what Dick Meyer, editorial director for digital media, half-jokingly calls ‘world domination.’ NPR’s listenership has nearly doubled since 1999, even as newspaper circulation dropped off a cliff. Its programming now reaches 26.4 million listeners weekly — far more than USA Today‘s 2.3 million daily circ or Fox News’ 2.8 million prime-time audience. When newspapers were closing bureaus, NPR was opening them, and now runs 38 around the world, better than CNN. It has 860 member stations — ‘boots on the ground in every town’ that no newspaper or TV network can claim. It has moved boldly into new media as well: 14 million monthly podcast downloads, 8 million Web visitors, NPR Mobile, an open platform, a social network, even crowdsourcing. And although the nonprofit has been hit by the downturn like everyone else, its multiple revenue streams look far healthier long term than the ad-driven model of commercial media.”
NPR attributes this growth, and now sustainability, to its multiplatform distribution outlets: it has capitalized on the technology trends. “It was the first mainstream-media organization to enter podcasting and often has several programs in the iTunes top 10….Traffic on NPR.org grew 78% from 2007 to 2008.”
This weekend, during a conversation with Blake’s Think Tank, the discussion veered to the importance of offering content to consumers in a format in which they want to receive it: no longer can the media expect consumers to come to them for the content. We had this conversation in the context of literature, news and the Amazon Kindle. However as it turns out, this is very relevant when it comes to radio too, evident by NPR’s success. Radio is a convenience media outlet: “‘People don’t have 15 minutes to sit at home and read the newspaper, but you can get accurate, in-depth reporting as you sit in traffic,’ or make dinner, or clean out the garage. It’s a screen-free complement to online browsing.” And, people will get access to this information live by tuning in to the radio, or by downloading and listening on their iPods, or by streaming it from their computers. NPR has given them the freedom to decide how to consume the information. And that is making them a winner in this new distribution competition.
While it helps that NPR does not depend on advertising dollars for sustainability, it is dealing with the down economy too: “All sources of funding, from corporate underwriting to foundation grants, dipped last year, causing a projected $23 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2009.” This news delivery battle will come down to the survival of the fittest. Will it be radio?
Little Rock’s NPR station can be found on 89.1 and at kuar.org. Tune in now: according to Fast Company, “…someday soon we may be looking at a world where public radio emerges as the main local-news source in many communities coast to coast.”
UPDATE: Blake’s Think Tank reports on NPR audience increases:
“Washington-based NPR will release new figures to its stations today showing that the cumulative audience for its daily news programs hit 20.9 million a week, a 9 percent increase over the previous year,” reports The Washington Post.”