Monthly Archives: March 2010

What should public radio sound like?

Jon Sandmaier & Rich Lee - the Little Brothers

Well,  I guess that depends on which segment of the public you ask.  Everybody certainly has an opinion and that’s exactly as it should be.

Way back, public radio sounded like all sorts of things.  Niche radio, if you will, playing things that you didn’t hear anywhere else.  And a lot of it was, in many communities, classical music.  Often it was classical music mixed with whatever else the community wanted, sort of public access radio up a notch. But there’s no doubt that public radio has strong roots in the broadcasting of classical music. 

If you follow radio station news (you do, don’t you?) you know there’s been a lot of classical stations making a move to something else and that happens because the audience for classical is dwindling . . . and because underwriters aren’t so very interested in investing in partnerships with classical stations.  Not true everywhere – there are still some very strong, vibrant classical stations in communities that continue to support those stations enthusiastically.

But sometimes it’s easy to think that public radio has to be classical or jazz or whatever.  Truth is, public radio doesn’t have to sound like music at all.  Many stations are dropping their “dual” format (news/info combined with music) and going to straight news.  Ratings improve, underwriting improves, and the news crowd is happier when every time they tune in, it’s information.

Even stations that are choosing to have primarily a music format are rethinking what that music should sound like.  The AAA format (alternative adult album) is gaining popularity across the country both as a single format offering (all music) and as a supplement for primarily news stations.  We dabble in something similar with Burnt ToastLittle Brother Radio, and Saturday Fade — and those programs are the spots in our music menu that are gaining audience.

Last Thursday night, during pledge week on Little Brother Radio, Dark Room played live in our Harriet Parrish Performance Studio, and it was awesome.  This is what AAA sounds like and I think we might like more of it. 

It’s not

Dark Room and our performance engineer, Paul DeMond.

everybody’s cup of tea (Little Brother Radio, Burnt Toast, and Saturday Fade aren’t necessarily what people expect when they tune into a public radio station, but make no mistake, people are tuning in.) but public radio never has been an entity that could claim universal acceptance across every demographic of a community.

 
Public radio should sound like what the public wants to listen to and can’t find in a million other places and it has to have some value. And since we can’t be everything to everybody, figuring that out is kind of tricky sometimes.  We’re working on it.

Keep the feedback coming.  You are, after all, the public in public radio.  Thanks for listening.

Joan

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And the good news . . .

At 50 minutes past the end of the pledge drive, it’s actually all good news from where I sit. 

Joan, Phil, Kevin - Yep, every day felt a little the same.

I can’t tell you everything about the post-drive celebration, but it involved the reenactment of the totally inspiring romp through the field that you’ve seen a million times at the beginning of “Little House on the Prairie.” Don’t ask, cause we won’t tell, but the laughter, camaraderie, and just pure pleasure of working through a gruelling week with people of character and passion just shone out everywhere. 

We fell short of our goal, but we set it high.  That’s me, thinking that if you set the goals low and always make them, your constituencies believe that you have no need.  If we really set our two pledge drive goals at the point that provided all the funds we need from members, we’d need to set them at $250,000 twice a year.  So falling short of the original $150,000 wasn’t any big surprise.  We were almost more surprised – and grateful – that we were able to break $100,000 mark, considering the unprecedented slow start we got earlier in the week.

With a 1 pm total of something over $106,000 and knowing that more will continue to come in all week-end and next week, I’m not at all discouraged.

In fact, from a manger’s standpoint, this has been one pretty awesome week.  We knew we had a big problem early in the week, and in a late night meeting on Tuesday, Dave Hunter and I looked at what was happening and strategized a way out.  And it worked – from the first break on Wednesday morning, things were different and the connection with our listeners was so much stronger.  What manager doesn’t love it when things get better because people figured it out?

Celebration point #2 was that every single member of this staff was fully invested in this work this week.  Every single one.  You could feel it in this place.  Visitors and volunteers commented about how much fun people were having and what positive energy was flowing.  And even better from my standpoint, staff members were telling me that they were glad to be part of this.  (What? We’re way below goal and you all are feeling that good about this place?) And their work ethic and their commitment to quality proves it.

And the third reason that this feels like success to me is that all week, listeners told us, over and over again, that their lives would not be as well-informed, as enriched, as complete, if they didn’t have this resource. And they backed it up with funding, over and over again.  It’s worth working this hard to keep this station healthy and here.  It is, really.

We’re coming back tonight for a live “house party” version of Folk Tales with the group Cluster Folk (I know. I’ve begged everyone to not introduce them any more than we have to — and FCC police, we’re saying “cluster folk”, not, well, you know.)  It’s always a fun way to wrap this week up.

So the good news is . . . it was, I think, exactly what it needed to be.

And, thanks.

Joan

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Thinking about Diane.

I talk to myself all the time, so sitting in a radio studio, talking to pretend people, with nobody there but the board operator, shouldn’t seem like such a stretch, but it’s way different than having a conversation with someone else.  It’s a more thoughtful process, the monologue, and I’m probably not the best at it, but in a pinch, sometimes I’m all we’ve got.  Yesterday was like that, when we decided to go live during the breaks in the Diane Rehm show.  So in preparing, I thought about Diane Rehm, and how indicative she is of all that makes public radio so unique.

People who listen to Diane always comment first about her voice – if you’ve listened for any time at all you know that sometimes it’s better than others (she has spasmodic dysphonia – that’s why her voice sounds as it does and no, she’s not a hundred years old) and that sometimes she’s away getting voice treatments and then it’s really better for awhile.  And people either love her or hate her. The people who love her are fiercely loyal and count on Diane to bring them the world.

Whatever you think about her, she has a very human voice.  And that human voice is one of the things that positions public radio apart from every  other form of news and information dissemination.

A uniquely human voice.

We’ve heard it recently in the reporting of Corey Flintoff and Jason Beaubien in Haiti, particularly Jason’s report of the injured child left outside a hotel. The real human emotion we could hear in his breaking voice reminded us, as listeners, that we are connected to our world best when we learn through human eyes, human ears, human voices on the ground in real time.

We recently heard something similar, though less dramatic, on Midday Matters when Phil Shaull and Deb Romary talked with two guests who were dealing – personally – with unemployment and how that experience was changing their worlds right to the core. I sat at my desk and listened and felt so touched by the raw honesty in their comments and was moved to, at the very least, be thankful for the ability and the opportunity to work.

Up close, in person – our community, our country, our world brought to us through the radio and through uniquely human voices, like Diane Rehm’s. I don’t really think, as some prophets say, that radio is going away any time soon.  I don’t know who will replace Diane when that human voice finally gives out, or who will take Garrison Keillor’s place, or who might be the next Ira Glass (there will not, I’m aware, BE a next Ira Glass but somebody new and different), but somebody will, no doubt, and the uniquely human voices that come to us – when we punch the button on the left side of the spectrum – will continue to paint the world like nothing else. 

Hang in there, Diane.

Joan

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Lighting the match.

Two full days and a half a day on Saturday is what’s left in the drive.  Yesterday was a really good day with the phones ringing all day, and ringing wildly during Morning Edition and All Things Considered (thanks Catherine Lee of Cinema Center and Andy Welfle of Fort Wayne Dance Collective).  That’s how it’s supposed to go and it felt very good!  Thanks, too, to the scurrying people answering those phones!

I think pledge drives are a pretty weird model for fundraising, if I’m being honest, but it’s the model public media has been working from ever since the government stopped providing the lion’s share of support for public radio and television stations.  And sometimes development people from other organizations think it looks pretty great to be able to just talk to the constituency all at once, with a real voice, and that part is great, I admit.  But how about the part where people can take advantage of the service you provide and never identify themselves, never buy a ticket, never walk through your door in person, never shake your hand or speak their name.  We don’t know who’s listening unless they choose to tell us.  It does make it pretty easy for a listener to never, ever give.

Pledge drives are about finding just the right words at just the right time – the words that make someone realize we are talking to them – the words that make them say, “Oh, man, I should give something!”

And it’s about offering a match.  It still amazes me, and really, it is a very good thing, how people will pick up the phone if we have a match available.  Who doesn’t like having their gift doubled, or an extra $25 added to it?  I am so grateful that we have corporate partners who value what we do enough to put up some cold hard cash to encourage the rest of the community to partner with us, too. And yesterday, it was pretty awesome.  We had challenges from Indiana Michigan Power. Sweetwater. NIPSCO the day before and Midwest Quality and every time we introduce their sweet deals, the phones start ringing. 

Match magic.

So those corporate partners provide a bit of lighter fluid for the fire.  Oh, I kind of like that picture.  The fire’s smoldering all the time (people do give, I firmly believe, because of the message) and then once in a while (because we couldn’t possibly offer matches every minute of the drive) we squirt a little lighter fluid on the coals and whoooosh!  it blazes wildly for a while.  And the fire burns brighter for a long time afterward.

So, thanks, corporate partners, for fanning the flames of this important effort this week. You make an enormous difference in the energy of each day, in the way people feel about making even a small gift, and in the final outcome of our drive.

Haven’t called yet with your gift?  You don’t have to wait for a match, but there will be some today. 

Just sayin’ . . .

Joan

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Have we ever done this before?

“Really, have we ever done this before?”

It was one of those mornings, as we launched into the first full day of live pledge driving.  With quite a few new people on staff and lots of moving parts, it was an interesting challenge, but we’re having fun. So if you thought maybe you heard a testimonial playing over the news, yep, you did. And if you thought there was a really awkward pause or something or other just before BBC, yep, there was. What you couldn’t see was the wild scurrying as the technical sorts here tried to figure out what was happening.  Anytime we mess with the “usual” we open ourselves up to interesting anomalies.  I’m grateful that the technical sorts here are just really good and that nobody depends on me to figure anything out when stuff starts to go haywire.  My role is to stay quiet, out of the way, and then say “Good job, everyone”, when we’re back on track.

 How great was it to have Jeanette Dillon with us, early in the morning, like old times, as we started Morning Edition at 6 am!  We made a good start, with about $10,000 raised and a $5000 challenge match from current members.  The phones have been busy and the pledge forms are piling up, so we’re on our way.  Other great friends will be in all during the week – Rachel Blakeman from the Mayor’s Office, a super supporter of public radio, will be in during ATC today and she’s always a treat.

Phil Shaull, Jackie Didier, Joan Brown, Kevin Kreigh, David Hunter, Ed Didier, Jennifer DePoy

We did celebrate the actual birthday of Midday Matters and had to look back sort of amazed at how far we’ve come in a year. I figure that we’ve had more than 500 guests during this year – and shared huge amounts of information, news, commentary, and opinion. Still a long way to go – lots to improve and tweak – but we love that this is part of our line-up.  We hope to hear from MM listeners all week.

So, even with the glitches, it’s been a good day so far and we’re looking forward to a memorable, successful week full of great conversations with listeners.  I hope you are one of those conversations.

Thanks,

Joan

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Fueling for launch.

Pledge drive phone lines are open and we are so ready! “Pledge lite” week-end gives week-end listeners an opportunity to get in on the action, without having the drive seem like it lasts for two weeks instead of five days.  So it’s a little more low-key on air, but not in the building.

Food is an important part of the drive and I think it’s so fun that everybody has their own favorite “pledge drive” favorite.  Jeanette Dillon is going to be back in the studio with us on Monday morning (gonna be so fun) so we stocked up on pub mix, knowing that she’ll be looking for it. We’ve got phone answerers that count on fresh popcorn.  I have to have cases of Diet Pepsi (that’s kind of everyday, but still).  And the freezer is stocked with frozen pizza and ice cream bars.  We do try to add fruit and cheese into the mix, but that junk food still gets the most votes.

All during the week, listeners here what goes on on-air and if you call, you get an idea of what phone answerers do.  But behind the scenes there’s a lot of activity.  We process each day’s pledges that very day, so Jackie and David are busy keeping things up to date.  This year we’re using a lot more pre-recorded spots and testimonials, and that will keep Kevin, Phil, and Matt busy making sure everything fires at the right time (we’re learning as we go so cut us some slack if you hear a miscue now and then!). And the building is buzzing with extra people (wonderful people) who come in to help, to bring us treats, and just to encourage us.  Lots of goings on.  And it is exciting. 

Our staff is as small as it’s been for a very long time, so everyone is really working double-time this spring. Nobody says “That’s not my job” and we just talked this morning about the great feeling that we’ve all got each other’s backs as we go into this important week. Keeping everybody fueled, rested, and encouraged (we worry when the phones get quiet) takes a little planning and a lot of chocolate.

So food is important!  Fueled up, ready to go.  Thanks for listening.

Joan

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Good people. Big visions.

I’m sitting at my desk listening to Charles Shepard of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and Kelly Updike of the Embassy Theater talk about their great visions – some that have already taken shape (cannot wait for the museum to reopen!) and some yet to come (upper floors of the Embassy – how exciting).  Community centered, artCentric conversation that is hopeful, creative, and forward thinking.

I love it that we can give broadcast voice to this great information about big dreams, big buildings, big plans for our community. And we know that our listeners do to.  Can’t hear this anyplace else — oh, I really love that.

Thanks for listening with us today.

Joan

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