Give ’em what they want, or what they need?

I’m a little late to the party, but some smart folks, previously known and unknown, have started up a conversation about the mission of public media. Last week Jake Shapiro addressed Washington DC public station WETA’s shift (back) to an all-classical format.

Internet radio, on-demand audio, and the deepest offerings of new online music services are a better match for the classical fan than the rare asset of a big signal in our nation’s capital — even if the adoption rate for new platforms and devices hasn’t caught up to terrestrial’s reach’s high time for new approaches that broaden public radio’s reach to new audiences who are living in a far more diverse world and a convergent media than traditional public radio formats reflect.

Brendan Greeley at Open Source picks up the thread:

I still listen to Morning Edition on a plain old terrestrial FM signal when I eat breakfast. [I gather that Brendan’s breakfasts are serious.] Radio is easy, like a utility; you turn on the tap and out it comes. I don’t think you can overestimate the value of simplicity…Radio and the web complement each other in ways too important to ignore.

In a comment, Tom B, brings it back to what he appropriately terms “the Great Internet Question: How do we pay the bills for a ‘free site’?”

Meanwhile, Benjamen Walker at the WFMU blog quoted from Walrus Research’s 2004 report Core Values Of Classical Music Dual Format Stations:

We found that listeners who use commercial classical stations share the same values as classical listeners who access the format through public radio stations. They are the same kind of people.

Classical listeners use the station for gratification of their private, internal needs. Yet through the station they identify with a small community of enlightened others. Having a classical station in the market means that there is still some hope for civilization.

And Richard added in the comments:

As far as I’m concerned, all these comments are just more proof that we need more freeform stations like WFMU.

How many weeks to the annual fundraising marathon?

At last week’s On the Media [it originally aired locally on WBEZ] Downbeat‘s John McDonough “examines the question of whether public broadcasters should appeal to the masses or the fringes” by taking up WBEZ’s decision to drop jazz programming:

If such niche-friendly technologies as the iPod and satellite radio are replacing traditional radio as the dominant mass music platform, then no audience will be underserved. ..Who is underserved by radio? In a complicated world, recorded music is cheap and available. Smart and civil discourse on public policy and culture is what’s rare.

[Odd that OTM, which has built its reputation on calling for media transperancy, failed to mention that it is carried by WBEZ.]

Peter Margasak critiques McDonough’s piece at Post No Bills, the Chicago Reader’s blog. He points out something that’s oft lost in the midst of this TechMeme so many of us swim in: it’s not clear just how interactive audiences will choose to be.

I’ll admit that I don’t listen to the radio much either, but I’m not the average listener. Neither is Deutsch or Koransky. We get loads of CDs in the mail and earn a living listening to them. If I didn’t have such access, radio would be the ideal medium to hear new stuff…a good chunk of the story took pains to explain that public radio’s audience was best served by thoughtful news programming because it isn’t available elsewhere (cough, cough). But ultimately it was WBEZ patting WBEZ on the back for its own controversial decision.

The comments on Markasak’s post are worth a gander, several are from BEZ staffers. Here’s Lazaro Vega, Jazz director for Blue Lake Public Radio in Spring Lake, Michigan:

The trend towards talk radio is obliterating music programming on the dial, and as much as program directors say they’ll make it up on the internet or via new technologies the Digital Millenium Copyright Act will stop them in their tracks with over regulation of programming, especially music from the 78 rpm era. The best place, the most eglatarian place, for music in the mass media is on low tech FM radio. No bandwidth problems, no expensive computer and high speed connection to buy, no sitting in one room to hear music, you can take it with you and, unless you pledge, it’s free.
Music sounds better on FM, too, than in the wires…. The USA Today-ing of the media environtment does not do well by radio, the most local of media.

[and from a second Vega comment] Overall a mixed news and music format is a stronger proposition for the health of a station as it reaches a larger composite audience.


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