public radio

Now this is insight.

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Merlin Mann ("hotdogsladies") wrote earlier today on twitter:

"NPR : Sports Coverage as Barney Fife : Law Enforcement"

That's called INSIGHT people!

What's the problem with NPR?

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NPR has doubled its audience in less than ten years, and yet it's in crisis -- crisis enough to fire CEO Ken Stern last week.

What's the problem?

In (very) brief, NPR is largely a member organization -- its board, in large part, is composed of member station representatives. These member stations are freaking out as the national organization distributes more and more content directly to listeners via the web, satellite and podcasting. Ken Stern was a (relatively) aggressive advocate of this direct distribution, and so he got canned. (They said he left by "mutual agreement.")

The question for NPR is pretty simple: how do they satisfy listeners and stations?

Here's how I see it...

Public media's first responsibility is to serve the public. That's absolutely A#1. So both stations and national organizations should most certainly pursue any technology that makes their content more useful or convenient to the public. Making things harder for listeners is a terrible, terrible idea. So that means podcast every fucking thing, and think of any and all other things you can do to serve the public better.

If I was a station right now, I'd do a couple things. One is accept that radio use will decline slowly over the next 10-20 years. That's just reality. One is create programming that sustains itself, whether it's hyper-local, national or niche-oriented, then put that out into the world. The last is the one that I don't hear from NPR, which is that if NPR is making money from podcasts of their shows, and stations are making less from the radio broadcasts, stations should pay less.

I'm not really a public radio insider, so I can't suggest equations. And obviously, stations are a HUGE part of my own strategy for TSOYA for the forseeable future. But it feels like this whole debate is built upon a bizarro-world disconnect. Yes, the situation is tough. So be entrepreneurial.

Podcast: TSOYA Classic: The Gift of Gab

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We continue our journey into The Sound of Young America's vast audio archive with this program from The Sound of Young America Clasics.

On this week’s show, we’ve got This American Life contributor and writer David Rakoff, as well as California hip-hop duo Blackalicious.

David Rakoff contributes humorous essays to PRI’s This American Life and is also the author of the collection “Don’t Get Too Comfortable.”

Blackalicious, made up of Chief Xcel (DJ/producer) and Gift of Gab (MC), is a mainstay of the alternative hip-hop scene. Their most recent album is “The Craft.”

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CSUMB: Get it together.

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People are often suprised to hear from me that The Sound of Young America was on college radio just two years or so ago. The station that brought the show in from the cold was KUSP in Santa Cruz. KUSP is a vibrant local station with a commitment to the Monterey Bay Area, with great national and local programming -- and exciting new stuff like The Sound of Young America. Basically, it's the kind of station you'd love to have where you live (and maybe you do) -- high-quality, with lots of great programming that reflects both high quality standards and local tastes.

Until a few years ago, KUSP was the sole NPR news outlet in the Monterey Bay Area. Its main competition on the left hand side of the dial (besides my old college station, KZSC) was a community station called KAZU. KAZU was exactly the kind of fun, crazy community radio station you'd expect to find in Santa Cruz, but its craziness got the best of it and it ended up in a tough financial spot. In order to keep the station local, the license was sold to California State University Monterey Bay, a brand new CSU school which promised to maintain the station's commitment to localism.

They didn't. The new GM swept through the station and switched the format to what amounted to an NPR satellite repeater, broadcasting almost exclusively network content with only the barest of local staffs to keep the lights on. There was much protest in Santa Cruz, not least from KUSP, who correctly pointed out that there was no public benefit to KAZU running the same NPR news shows as KUSP had been running for 20 years, at exactly the same times. Suddenly KUSP and KAZU were splitting the NPR listeners of the Monterey Bay down the middle, which slammed revenues for both stations.

Over the past three or four years, KUSP (and increasingly station folks at KAZU) have worked tirelessly to fix the situation, with the goal of having stations that complimented each other, rather than competing. KUSP has also worked hard at improving their commitment to being distinctively Santa Cruz -- picking up The Sound of Young America from college radio a couple years ago was an example of their efforts in that regard.

Over the past year, KUSP and General Manager Terry Green put together two offers for KAZU, which has lost money consistently through the years CSUMB has owned it. KUSP offered either to buy KAZU from the university, or enter into a joint operation agreement with the school. Both of these solutions would make it possible for the stations to program cooperatively and
not competitively. For listeners, it would have meant that they would have more choices in programming, rather than the same network choices at the same time on different stations.

Yesterday, CSUMB rejected both plans. I see this as a huge setback for public radio on the Central Coast, and since that's still the spiritual home of The Sound of Young America, it feels like a kick in the gut to me.

It means increased costs for both stations, increased competition for donors and volunteers, and reduced program choice for listeners. It is a lose-lose. Public comment at the hearing was universally in favor of the merger, including supporters of both KUSP and KAZU.

This situation, not just in the Central Coast, but across the country, is completely untenable. There is no public service value in running the same program on two stations at the same time. It's long been the case in San Francisco, where I grew up, and it's often the case here in Los Angeles, where I now live.

For a public radio insider, I'm about as much of a public radio outsider as I could possibly be. I still think of myself first and foremost as a listener. And this situation, around the country, is bullshit.

Luckily, there is some hope. Both PRI and NPR have launched new morning news programs ("The Bryant Park Project" and "The Takeaway") which have bright futures. Podcasting and HD channels mean that there is new programming and talent on the way. But only if local stations are willing to accept the burden of a little bit of risk. If they follow the model they've followed for the last 20 years -- rely blindly on Morning Edition and All Things Considered -- they're not going to be long for this media landscape.

Podcast: RadioLab's Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich

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Show: 
Bullseye



Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are the host/producer and co-host (respectively) of the brilliant public radio program RadioLab. The show is a long-form investigation of life's Big Ideas, through the lens of science. It has won plaudits not only for its insightful and utterly comprehensible explanations of scientific principles, but also for its emotionally engaging narratives and bold production style. This American Life producer Ira Glass has said that when he heard RadioLab, he know immediately that "there's a new sheriff in town."

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If you enjoyed this show, try these ones:
Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster
Ira Glass
Paul F. Tompkins

Podcast: Seven Second Delay with Ken Freedman and Andy Breckman

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Show: 
Bullseye


Ken Freedman and Andy Breckman are the hosts of Seven Second Delay on WFMU, the legendary freeform radio station in Jersey City, New Jersey. For the past fifteen years, they've picked a "radio stunt" each week, then tried to execute it in just one hour of live airtime. They've chain-translated a Village Voice S&M personal add through 15 languages, then back into English, written the ultimate New York Times "Metropolitan Diary" column entry, then gotten it published, and failed more times than they can count.

When they're not on-air, Freedman serves as the station's manager. Breckman is a noted comedy writer, having written for David Letterman and Saturday Night Live (he penned the classic "White Like Me" sketch), and he is creator and showrunner of USA network's Monk.

The folks behind the Seven Second Delay blog have put together this guide to the show for listeners of TSOYA, including links to the various programs referenced during our interview. Thanks!

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If you enjoyed this show, try these ones:
Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster
Ira Glass
Paul F. Tompkins

Podcast: TSOYA Classic: People Helping People

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We continue our journey into The Sound of Young America's vast audio archive with this program from The Sound of Young America Clasics.

On this week’s show, People Helping People, we’re joined by public radio broadcaster Bob Edwards. We also help a listener impress his girlfriend, and Jesse's little brother tells a joke.

Bob Edwards spent almost twenty-five years as the host NPR’s Morning Edition, and is now the host of The Bob Edwards Show on XM Satellite Radio. He is a member of the National Radio Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2004, and is noted for his skills as an interviewer. He is also the author of two books: Fridays With Red: A Radio Friendship, about his weekly interviews with sportscaster Red Barber, and Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism, a biography of the legendary broadcast journalist.

Please share your thoughts on the show in the comments section!

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Oh shit! Swamp Dogg on Fresh Air!!

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The always-great Fresh Air rock historian Ed Ward has a piece on Swamp Dogg on Fresh Air today. Swamp is one of the Great Heroes of The New Sincerity, a brilliant musician and a really wonderful guy. When Nick Hornby was over there, he saw my autographed picture of Swamp and we fell into a convo about soul's most outrageous man.

Previously on TSOYA:
Jesse and Jordan interview Swamp
An introduction to Swamp
Swamp Dogg Live in Europe Video

Ira Glass of This American Life: Interview on The Sound of Young America

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Show: 
Bullseye
Guests: 
Ira Glass


Ira Glass is the host of Public Radio International's This American Life, as well as the television version of the program, which airs on Showtime. He also edited the book "The New Kings of Nonfiction," which collects some of the best magazine-style reportage of the last fifteen years or so.

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And here's a special bonus:
This American Life parodies from the Kasper Hauser Comedy Podcast.
Episode One:


Episode Two:





You might also enjoy these past interview programs:
Put-Ons with Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere
This American Life producer Julie Snyder
Jonathans with Jonathan Katz and former TAL producer Jonathan Goldstein

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