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.



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