Is public media changing fast enough?

November 12, 2012
Presented in connection with the Public Radio Super Regional Meeting
Hosted at the Downtown Development Center with support from WWNO
New Orleans, LA

The first “Public Radio Super-Regional” meeting, which brought together members of all four regional public radio organizations that represent stations’ interests to NPR and CPB, was the most important event in the first year of the Futures Forums.

The session audience was, by our standards, large and influential, with more than 200 station general managers/CEOs in attendance.  The topic — the pace of change within public media — was selected in partnership with the four public radio regional organizations.*

Interest generated by our presentation was stronger than anything we had experienced: Powerpoint slides from this session were downloaded more than 350 times in the first month after the meeting.

Our research was based on 30 interviews conducted with station executives and supplemented by a survey of another 70 stations. The results confirmed several widely held and strategically important views about the emergence of public radio in the last decade, such as:

  • The growing importance of news and information stations;
  • The strong and growing interest in “going local,” that is, in investing in greater local content production;
  • The continued weakness of online service at the vast majority of stations;
  • The growing “capacity gap” between the set of stations known as “system leaders” and most of the other stations in public radio.

Our research found that the cohort of stations known as “system leaders” share the following characteristics:

  • Concentrating on news and information or developing a strong news and information stream within a multi-signal portfolio of local service;
  • Increasing annual gross revenue by at least $200,000 per year over the last decade;
  • Fielding a development staff of at least four full-time employees; and
  • Shifting the station CEO’s job from broadcast operations into a new role, somewhat like  that of a small college president.

Stations that exhibited this set of characteristics often entered a virtuous cycle of accelerated financial growth fueled, in part, by expanding major gifts and foundation revenues which were invested in local news and digital service expansion.

*Public Radio’s Regional Organizations are: Eastern Regional Public Media (ERPM), Public Radio in Mid-America (PRIMA), Western States Public Radio (WSPR), and California Public Radio

Presentation material

Powerpoint Slides for New Orleans Session PART 1 of 3

Powerpoint Slides for New Orleans Session PART 2 of 3

Powerpoint Slides for New Orleans Session PART 3 of 3

Annual Total Direct Revenue Growth Rates for 314 Public Radio Licensees (Handout)

Background material

Size and Scale (Draft paper for discussion on the impact of radio station revenue volume on stations’ ability to take on current-era challenges)
by Mark Fuerst
Unpublished  | August 2012

Analysis and follow-up

Radio g.m.’s adapt business models for newsgathering
Analysis by Mark Fuerst
Published in Current | December 4, 2012

Forum participants

In alphabetical order

  • Al Bartholet, Executive Director and General Manager, WKSU- FM, Kent, OH
  • Donovan Reynolds, President, Louisville Public Media, Louisville, KY
  • Capella Tucker, Director of Content, Houston Public Media, Houston, TX
  • Debra Fraser, Director of Operations and Station Manager, Houston Public Media, Houston, TX
  • Robin Turnau, President and CEO, Vermont Public Radio, Burlington, VT
  • Frank Lanzone, General Manager, KCBX, San Luis Obisbo, CA
  • Christina Kuzmych, General Manager, Wyoming Public Media, Laramie, WY
  • Ellen Rocco, Station Manager, WSLU-FM and North Country Public Radio, Canton, NY
  • Scott Hanley, General Manager, WBHM-FM, Birmingham, AL
  • Terry Green, General Manager, KUSP-FM, Santa Cruz, CA
  • Ed Subkis, General Manager, KHSU-FM, Arcata, CA
  • Beth Courtney, President and CEO, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Baton Rouge, LA
  • Glenn Gleixner, Station Manager, WVTF-FM, Roanoke, VA
  • Paul Maassen, General Manager, WWNO-FM, New Orleans, LA

Forum Director
Mark Fuerst, Director of Public Media Futures Forums, Current

Richard Tait, RH Tait Associates