Morning Stories at a Crossroads

For those of you who listen to the Morning Stories podcast from WGBH in Boston, you know that show has come to an end. The budget ran out for the program and it is no longer being produced under the aegis of WGBH. However, my friend Tony Kahn has not yet given up, and he has set up an alternative outpost for the Morning Stories body of work at his Hi Tony! site. I’m fortunate enough to be someone Tony calls for advice now and then (and the reverse as well because I am a lucky man). I gave a few suggestions on the project in general and the site in specific. Some of these have been done, some are still working.

I advised him to make the donate mechanism appear prominently on every single page. There is at this point no XML feed for new programs but that should be coming along shortly. My advice to Tony was to try to think in terms of the Doctorovian “macropayments” idea that I’ve been posting about. If you have 10,000 listeners, it would be great to get $5 or $10 a year from each of them, but it will be simpler with less wear and tear if you can find a way for 750 fans to give you $100/year, aka the Kevin Kelly “1000 true fans” thinking.

I’m glad to have any form of Morning Stories back in any fashion. Please listen and help support Tony and spread the word. He’s been a friend of podcasting since the absolute beginning, was the first public radio podcaster and used his influence at WGBH to help legitimize the intersection of radio and new media. The least we can do is help the brother out.

Public Radio and Podcasting

Via Michael Geoghegan comes this link to a Wired article about the effect of podcasting on public radio pledge drives. Note that I wrote up a suggestion 6 months ago about how this channel conflict between NPR and the affiliates could be avoided. I stand by that. NPR should not podcast at all but should permit any and all affiliates to do it. If you want to support your local station go for it or if you prefer to get it from the affiliate with the best feed, go for that.

There is also a fairly obvious insight that never gets addressed in the article. They discuss the gap between rich and poor stations, but what they really mean is “net programming exporters” and “net programming importers.” Your WNYCs and WGBHs and KCRWs are producing shows that get carried on other stations. This suggests that even smaller stations should be looking for programming they can be exporting to the world. The one that jumps out to me is my beloved KRVS in Lafayette LA, which is the station in the world with the best access to Cajun and Creole music. They have 20-odd hours of local music programming they air. Although they web stream (and I capture it for listening later), they should podcast and try to use those podcasts as revenue producers. How about encouraging listeners to do a several dollar a month recurring Paypal donation, something that doesn’t expire at the end of the year but requires effort to stop?

I also think these problems may be exacerbated by podcasting, but the as Jan Searls pointed out, they have deeper roots. As she pointed out:

PBS and NPR ask for “members” to support their programming by giving funds, but do they want to actually hear from their members or to be accountable to them? By giving them support, the assumption is made that we approve or have chosen their programming because it is what we want. Aren’t we really giving our support just to keep them alive, because even if their programming is not of our choice, we like it marginally more than the commercial offerings? Therefore, we are not really members, but simply financial supporters.

Public radio stations talk the language of us all being on a team together, but then tend to treat listeners like teats to be milked. As Jan points out, to be serious about “membership” and “community” requires more then sending out branded sweatshirts and coffee mugs and involves truly listening and engaging with the audience. That’s the aspect on which they are getting their butts beat by citizen media. The culture of public broadcasting is one of knowing better than their audience what is good for them. They have it in their power to be responsive to and engaged with their communities, and they need to get to it but fast.

As is the general practice with these articles on podcasting, there is one big factual whopper:

KCRW general manager Ruth Seymour disagrees. Seymour’s Santa Monica, California-based station was the first NPR affiliate to leap into podcasting a year ago with such programs as To the Point and Left, Right & Center. She says she’s seen few new donations from out-of-market listeners but that the expanded audience helps her sell larger underwriter sponsorships.

KCRW started podcasting on March 1, 2005. That puts them 5 months after WGBH, which started podcasting Morning Stories on October 7, 2004. That race isn’t even close. If KCRW is making that claim, they are way off. More likely it is original to our favorite Wired correspondent, Steve Friess. Check out his bibliography of Wired articles on the subject and you see plenty of attempts at being inflammatory without a lot of attempts at factual correctness. In fact, had I noticed he was the author before I started writing this post I probably would have bailed because I always get the sense from his stories that he’s trying to execute the Dvorak maneuver – write something controversial enough that it gets lots of traffic, whether or not it makes any sense. I guess by paying attention I played into his hands.