public radio

Broadcast + pureplay: A venerable radio brand goes both ways

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 12:40pm

WQXR-FM in New York has been a pure classical-music station since starting in 1939. It’s harder to find classical music on the dial than it used to be, but after decades of decline the public radio sector is grabbing an opportunity to plug the gap. Arbitron (now Nielsen Audio) reported that in 2012, classical was the number-two public radio format, and a mix of news-plus-classical was third.

WQXR joined the migration movement from commercial to public in 2009 when former parent The New York Times sold the station to New York Public Radio (which also operates WNYC-FM).

That same year, WQXR started an experiment, launching an Internet-only offshoot called Q2 Music. The Q2 Music pureplay, which concentrates on less mainstream and more modern classical, averages over 82,000 stream sessions per month. RAIN spoke with Graham Parker, general manager of WQXR, about Q2 Music’s mission, programming, audience makeup, and affiliation with flagship WQXR and cousin WNYC.

RAIN: Congratulations on the station’s long-standing success, and more recently, Q2. Can you describe how Q2 developed?

GP: Q2 Music started as a fantastic way to offer a different music selection [from WQXR] that was more focused on contemporary music. At that time, it also played old music -- the tagline was “500 years of new music.” So it would play everything from Palestrina to John Cage. It was a broad range. Over the last three years we’ve gotten Q2 more focused, and grown the audience. Q2 Music is [now] exclusively focused on contemporary composers. It’s more like 100 years of new music, or even 50 years.

RAIN: How is Q2 Music connected with WQXR?

GP: We’ve worked carefully and deliberately to find the connections between WQXR and Q2, because the audience does so. There is quite an audience overlap. People will listen to WQXR, then drift over to Q2, or start with Q2 and realize that it’s attached to WQXR, and shift over there. There is a lot of brand interchange, so we work to be sure that it’s reflected in programming choices and promotion choices. It has become a 360 degree approach to programming, rather than two stations that have nothing to do with each other.

RAIN: You mentioned audience overlap. Do you measure that as streaming-only overlap?

GP: Streaming and uniques. We did a piece of research, where we did a WQXR survey with a Q2 piece tacked on. That’s where we discovered that people expressed an interest in both brands. We also discovered overlap with WNYC.

RAIN: Do you have a promotional arrangement with Soundcheck [a long-running new-music program on WNYC]?

GP: Sometimes. It is content specific. It is not ongoing. We pitch them ideas; they pitch us ideas. We try to find connections. We have an incredible audio archive [across WQXR and WNYC], so we can find those connections. For example, yesterday when [composer] John Taverner unfortunately died, we were able to quickly pull up an interview that [Soundcheck host] John Schaefer had done with John Taverner -- it was immediately on our website and on the air.

RAIN: You mentioned the music archive. The WQXR library must be immense.

GP: It is big! We add to it all the time. But we have to be careful what we add. We ask ourselves whether we need the nineteenth version of a piece. Q2 went through an important purge, deemphasizing and sometimes deleting a significant chunk of material that wasn’t making it into the playlist. That was part of our focusing effort in the last year in Q2 Music. We tried to be clearer about what the audio brand is for that station -- a clearer equation with our audience.

RAIN: What is the programming mandate for Q2 Music?

GP: The focus is living composers. We try to find music that is wonderful to listen to, challenges the ears, encourages you to discover things you don’t know. We put the discovery objective quite high up. We play challenging music but must balance that with our desire for people to keep listening.

We try to frame it up with hosts who can explain it and put the music into interesting context. For example, Phil Kline, who’s a well-respected composer, is one of most frequent hosts. The composers he plays might be friends of his, or he might be associated with the music in another way . He can tell a story about the music.

We also highlight dead composers when we feel there is a need to do so. For example, we have a marathon series. It started on the hundredth anniversary of [Stravinsky’s] “The Rite of Spring” in Paris. It was a 24-hour “Rite of Spring” marathon. We don’t play a lot of Stravinsky on Q2, but we thought this was a good experiment. It turned out amazingly -- we actually played the same piece over and over for 24 hours, and tripled our audience. We did some cool online content to go along with it. People love themes, and they love programming that ties into a calendar day that makes sense. We do it on both stations.

RAIN: How much of your audience crosses over from WQXR, and how much is new audience that comes to Q2 because they are already interested in the music?

GP: We see crossover, which helps membership dollars -- important to a public station. We work on promotional relationship also. For WQXR that might be Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. For Q2 Music we work more closely with composer collectives, or smaller concert halls. Such external partnerships are important for driving new audiences to Q2 Music. We hope our audience growth comes both from communicating with existing listeners, and all the external work we’re doing.

RAIN: Is there any staff overlap between the two stations?

GP: We have two people directly and solely responsible for Q2 Music. One of them is on the senior staff, and attends WQXR meetings, too. It’s important for each station to know what both are doing. It helps when driving [audience] in and out of each other’s brand.

RAIN: What about WQXR’s approach to streaming? Extending into the online realm can be a challenge for any broadcast station. Can you share your strategy or success metrics?

GP: We’ve seen great success in the digital realm. We have without doubt the largest digital audience of any classical radio station. We are seeing a national and global audience. We think excellence is what sets us apart.

When I arrived I hired a new head of digital who came from VH1. The big strategy is that we want the biggest audience possible for our brands. We don’t think of it as just radio -- we are a classical music media company, which includes, audio, video, writing, editorial, social, feedback loops, live concerts, the whole thing.

PRX shifts from intermediary to primary distributor with Remix app

Monday, September 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, is a nonprofit open market for public radio programming. Open to any producer, the PRX catalog represents any length, production value, and nearly any topicality. Stations can license programs and series for use, with the PRX clearinghouse acting as a commission-based agent.

As such, PRX has fulfilled a secondary distribution role, helping producers gain programming slots in radio schedules. For most listeners, exposure to public radio content is skewed similarly to the music star system -- they enjoy the hits (e.g. Radiolab, WaitWait Don’t Tell Me, Fresh Air) are are unaware of the longer tail. PRX is moving to change both those issues, increasing attention to its own role as a publishing platform while giving listeners are better sense of available options. The vehicle for accomplishing this is PRX Remix, a straight-to-consumer app featuring PRX shows that you probably haven’t heard on your local NPR station.

Unmodestly, PRX Remix calls itself, “The greatest radio station of all time.” Hyperbole aside, the emulation of radio playing is the app’s drawback. There is no interactivity or searching. There is a play button … that’s it. (Testing for this write-up transpired in the Android version.) the playlist is curated, not arbitrary, with short introductions of each programming piece. As such, PRX Remix proves to be a passable discovery environment, but the hope here is to evolve the app into a directory of PRX programs. Letting users create their own playlists would probably increase time spent with the app, and certainly would expose more long-tail productions.

(First seen in Paul Kamp's Backbone Newsletter.)

Public radio listeners continue to lead in digital media use, Jacobs learns

Friday, August 23, 2013 - 2:25pm

Jacobs Media has revealed what it found when it studied the digital media habits of public radio listeners earlier this year. Here are some of the quick takeaways:

  • 16% of weekly public radio consumption is on digital (Internet and mobile) channels.
  • Public radio listeners of all ages are becoming more reliant on mobile (phones, tablets, and even connected dashboards) technology. Half have a tablet, nearly two-thirds text, and nearly all have a mobile phone.
  • Listeners' use of social media, texting, mobile devices, and streaming all continute to grow.
  • More than half can now connect their iPod or phone to their car.

See the full size graphs of Jacobs' findings here.

The Media Audit report shows public radio websites power stations' metro reach

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 7:00am

Adding the unique visitors of public radio KQED-FM's website over the past 30 days to the station's listening audience over the past seven days, says The Media Audit, "results in a 28.6% total unduplicated reach for the combined radio and website audiences -- the highest of any public radio station measured."

The figures come from The Media Audit's latest National Radio Format Report.

KOBP-FM has the second highest unduplicated radio/web reach, 27.4% of the Portland, OR metro. Its website alone, says The Media Audit, reaches nearly 22% of the Portland metro population monthly. This makes it tops among public radio websites. KQED's site reaches 18.5% of San Jose's metro population every month, and nearly 19% of San Francisco's.

With 19.9% of the Salt Lake City metro area's population having visited its site in the past 30 days is KBYU-FM. Adding the station's past 7-day listening audience gives KBYU a nearly 24% total unduplicated reach for the combined radio and website audiences.

See more from The Media Audit here.

TuneIn reformats its web presentation and announces new public media alliances

Friday, February 8, 2013 - 11:00am

Internet radio tuning service TuneIn has redesigned its website with the idea to "replicate the experience people used to have in a record store." As TechCrunch reports, "the old, text-heavy design that emphasized station names has been replaced with large album cover-like images that indicate what’s currently playing on a given station."

Director of product Kristin George said the new site gives visitors "a better idea of our depth of content." While the earlier design "presented the TuneIn content offering as more of a directory of stations," she said, "we’re hoping this new layout does a better job of showing people just how exciting it is to have the world’s audio at their fingertips." Read more in TechCrunch here.

TuneIn has also announced strategic alliances with four major public broadcast organizations: KQED/San Francisco (the most listened to public radio station in the U.S.), KCRW/Santa Monica, KEXP/Seattle, and American Public Media. APM includes Southern California Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Classical South Florida, and nationally distributed programs. These alliances represent over 100 stations plus podcasts and digital streams of popular programming. As part of these alliances, TuneIn will provide each broadcaster access to analytics through TuneIn Amplifier and the audio service’s ad platform.

RAIN Summits announced today (here) TuneIn VP/Sales & Business Development Carl Rohling will speak at RAIN Summit West as part of the "Dashboard Discussions" panel.

Economist: Public radio "taking notice" of successful Kickstarter campaigns

Monday, August 13, 2012 - 1:50pm

KickstarterRAIN readers may recall an article in July about public radio stations and program producers alike raising funds via crowdsourcing services like Kickstarter (RAIN coverage here). One of the examples was the program "99% Invisible," which had an already-successful Kickstarter campaign on-going at the time of publication.

That campaign is now over with 99% Invisible raising over $170,000. As you might expect, "other public-radio types are taking notice," repots the Economist.

While popular public radio programs like "This American Life" often "have no shortage of cash," less well-known and more independent programs struggle with "barely enough to keep the wheels turning."

Kickstarter and similar services have proven for some a valuable tool to reverse that situation. Not only do such successful campaigns fund upcoming seasons or projects, but bring new attention. The Economist reports of 99% Invisible: "Since the show will have proved its viability and popularity [on Kickstarter], underwriters should be knocking on [producer and host Roman] Mars' door."

You can find the Economist's article here.

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