25 October 2003
Revising public radio
Oklahoma City is served by two public-radio stations: KGOU handles NPR news programming, talk shows, and jazz in the evenings; KCSC runs classical music more or less 24/7. Culture-wise, this could be considered a boon, but there's an obvious downside to having two public-radio stations: four fundraisers every year. We're between two of them right now, and Doc Searls is contemplating what could, and should, happen in the future:
Though nonprofit in nature, Public TV and radio stations are still in the business of selling their programming to viewers and listeners. They buy that programming from PBS, NPR, PRI and other sources. In other words, PBS and NPR are producers and first tier wholesalers. They own no stations, though they sell programming to thousands of them.
In fact public radio stations are hugely advantaged in the new media market (the one fortified by the Internet). They no longer have to depend on boring and pathetic fundraising marathons to raise money. They can make it easy on the Net, with PayPal or any one of a number of direct-payment options.
Most of the stations have improved in this respect, but most sites remain woefully complicated affairs.
Anyway, I'm in favor of public broadcasting especially public radio doing exactly what [Bill] O'Reilly suggests. Get off the public dole completely. If you're down to just 2%, finish off the job. Turn to listeners and viewers. Operate in the real marketplace. You already have a huge advantage over commercial broadcasters, thanks to the fact that your listeners and viewers are customers and not just "consumers."
And let your listeners and viewers get involved in production. Embrace audio blogging. Embrace local video production. Wake up and smell the content, dudes. There's a huge pile of it out there. You don't have to get all of it from NPR and PRI. And I'll bet you can get a lot of it cheaper than from those bigtime sources, too.
Both our local stations originate some programming, but much of what they do is the same canned stuff you can get in Tampa or Tacoma. And the fundraisers aren't the long, arduous affairs they used to be: KGOU has trimmed its beg-a-thon from seven days to four with apparently no effect on the volume of donations, which I believe is due at least partly to the fact that no matter how long the scheduled event, there is always a last minute.
Ultimately, I think Congress will kill the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the right wing will present the death of CPB as an ideological triumph, of course, but CPB needs to go, not because it might offend a segment of the population, but because it's an anachronism, and one which adds (albeit only slightly) to the ongoing budget deficits at that. While public radio isn't exactly awash in money, they've learned how to turn a buck just like their rivals on the commercial side of things, and with most public-broadcasting frequencies reserved by long-established FCC rules (KGOU is one of very few public stations on a normally-commercial channel), it's highly unlikely that they're going to be swallowed up by the Clear Channel juggernaut.