Thursday, September 29, 2011

Under the Hood: PRPD 2011

Over 500 public radio program directors, producers, and managers recently convened in Baltimore, Maryland, for the annual Public Radio Program Director’s conference and workshop. Each year, there are lively discussions about best practices for stations, and about public radio’s future.

This year, there was a noticeable push-and-pull between the feeling that public radio needs to push itself into the 21st century, versus a recent study that shows the core audience has never been more loyal to the stations they love.

Jad Abumrad from Radio Lab opened the conference on an upbeat, inquisitive note, exploring the idea of change, asking: Why don’t we change? Maybe we talk about it too much. Psychologists have found that talking about change or talking about actions can create the illusion of progress. Speaking of illusions, maybe things are changing already, and we just don’t realize it. Sometimes you can only recognize change after it’s already happened.

There were breakout sessions on fundraising, offering stations tips on how long or short their on-air breaks should be, and what kind of messages resonate with listeners. A session on music digitization offered more than you could ever want to know about bitrates, and later a gentleman from Colorado Public Radio spoke about classical music and community engagement. One particularly good session on building better on-air breaks was very well written, and presented by Scott Williams of KJZZ/KBAQ in Phoenix. I look forward to sharing it with the KPAC and KSTX staff soon.

Other sessions focused on the tech side of radio, or rather public media. Increasingly, listeners are interacting with their stations in more ways than just on-air. Whether online, or through social media, clearly stations need to be where their audience is. There were presentations on utilizing Facebook and Twitter better to engage the audience, and Skip Pizzi of the National Association of Broadcasters deflated some of the sky-is-falling rhetoric about Internet radio killing the broadcast towers. Even at the clip Internet radio is growing, it will take many, many years for it to catch up to the number of persons that use traditional (terrestrial) radio.

The biggest information dump came during a presentation by Jacobs Media, detailing the findings of their 2011 Programming Survey. Over 40 News/Talk stations took part in the survey, the results of which which Paul Jacobs characterized in one sentence: “In general, the faithful are quite satisfied.” However, the average age of the survey respondents (the overwhelming percentage of which are already station supporters) is 54, and 87% of them are white.

The last session I attended on Friday before I had to head to my connecting train featured Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of the rock talk show, Sound Opinions. It’s a program I like. Although the talk was mostly about Triple-A stations, they did have some words of wisdom that apply to classical music: If you’re not bringing something special and meaningful to your on-air presentation, listeners would be just as well-off with a stack of their favorite CDs. Wise words.

What do you think? What are your hopes for the future of KPAC and Texas Public Radio? Leave your comments here on the blog, or send me some email. I’d love to hear from you.

--Nathan Cone, Director of Classical Programming

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