Now Cough

Sunday, February 25, 2007

You Shoulda Been There

Like a lot of other people in public radio and TV I spent this Sunday recovering from two back-to-back conferences:

The Integrated Media Association and the Beyond Broadcast 2007 gatherings.

The IMA confab covered a lot of ground in five days: disturbing reports from the newspaper side about how it withered and failed to compete as digital moved faster than publishers did; examples of how the BBC is doing a lot of things public radio in the states is not; some excellent technical sessions and calls to action masked in 'do-it-our-way' marketing.

The really powerful moments, at least for me, happened over dinner and drinks. I wish everyone in public radio could have joined some of my colleagues from the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) board for a fascinating discussion about music, music programming and the forthcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin. Bruce Warren of WXPN in Philadelphia, Hawk Mendenhall of Austin's KUT and Todd Mundt of Iowa Public Radio were among those who talked most about the challenges, thrill and satisfaction of music programming. And what you missed was the passion combined with experience and taste offered in a remarkable atmosphere of sharing.

No deals. No quid pro quo. No politics. No strategy. No budgets and five year plans. Just a table full of public radio veterans talking about what we love most and offering to share the wealth.

That open source spirit is what's missing from a lot of public broadcasting, but it sure was there that night. And, if you listen to those stations you can hear the open passion that comes from such a spirit.

The other meal I had was again with Todd (his excellent blog hits the high and low points of the IMA very well) and Graham Griffith, a producer working on a new national program. Graham has a superb record running NPR's and WBUR's On Point. We talked deeply and in detail about news, news on public radio, the challenges of launching new programs, and how to broaden the reach, the sound and the immediacy of what we SHOULD hear at the left end of the dial but too often don't. This was a valuable, memorable lunch full of laughter and wrinkled brows. It made me hopeful. But we all agreed public broadcasting is not changing quickly enough, not picking up the pace while the audience races forward. Or away.

And finally, I had enough extended coffee breaks and white wines with people from the big three...NPR, APM and PRI...and stations to remain convinced of a few observations:

  • Bigger is not better

  • Organizations more often than not kill creativity by burying it in process and 'being responsible'

  • No one owns 'good' or 'quality'

  • Paranoia, fear of change and internal competition are going to kill public broadcasting

  • Talk is cheap

  • It's clear that as a business we don't trust the audience enough...its tastes, its passions, and its quirkiness. We ask the audience to listen to US (and pledge dollars), but we don't listen to our listeners nearly enough. Nor are we paying attention to what they are doing.

    Over the next year, I hope we sit down with a lot of listeners and just listen to them. They're the experts.


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