An Idea List
Collaborations and National Projects
Foundation support begins with good ideas. As part of The Foundation Project, SRG’s
Marc Hand contacted nearly all SRG members to talk about the kinds of projects they
would like foundations to consider. From the many pages of projects and
recommendations, this report consolidates the ideas into common themes and
Signal Expansion, Acquisitions, New Technologies
Development and Marketing
SRG Business Opportunities
Ideas for Programming
Public Radio new program incubator—The broad general issue faced in
programming is how to develop new programming for the public radio system. A few
managers mentioned the need for a coordinated effort among stations to plan and
develop new programming for the public radio system. Some described this as a "hot
house" for helping to cultivate new talent and programs in public radio. Many
stations who are national program producers expressed a frustration with the systems
inability to plan and produce new programs, and then to get stations committed to
carrying these programs. A SRG group of stations could cooperatively plan new
programs and commit, in advance, to carrying the programs once they are produced.
How or should this incubator concept also involve NPR and PRI?
Content—there are some common themes in content interest among stations.
These include health care series, environmental programs, increased business coverage
and programs which encourage an interest in elections and increased participation in
the civic life of local communities. There are a number of subsets of interest—a
group of stations who are working on childrens programs; an interest in establishing
a rural news network; and a number of stations who are in various stages of
developing statewide news programs or coverage of state politics (California, Texas,
Tennessee, the Northwest states and others), and specific series tied to other
institutions, such as a Country Music Foundation series, a literary series tied to a
national literary publication, an astronomy series, etc.
Educational outreach—groups of stations are working on programs which match
content they are producing with class teaching guides which are produced and
distributed through schools. There are five or six stations doing, or planning to
do this with classical music, some which have produced voter guides for schools and
the general public, and some which are producing science and environmental series
with teaching guides.
Classical music—As a distinct sub-group within SRG, the classical music
stations could create a foundation project which addresses a number of issues facing
this format. Overall the issue is what is the future of classical music in public
radio, and what should foundations who have historically supported classical music
institutions do to support public radio. A number of stations discussed to need to
explore a closer relationship with local symphonies, operas and chamber groups. Four
or five stations are involved in the classical music educational outreach project
described above. There seems to be a strong interest in revisiting the proposal
which Steve Robinson did for the Future Fund for a coordinated fundraising day for
Classical stations. There is an interest in expanding the experiment of coordinated
production currently underway with KCFR, WGUC and WKSU. WGBH is doing a new composer
series which is distributed to 42 countries around the world but which has no
national distribution. Could classical music planning, with a goal of major
coordinated objectives and programs, be undertaken as a subset of the hot house
concept? If local classical organizations feel public radio is essential to bringing
audiences to their performances, how can this be better supported and funded.
Lastly, is the issue of the threat of the SW classical format and the perception of
a growing potential commercial interest in this market niche with the rapid
consolidation of stations. How should public radio respond to this threat and
Jazz—much of the above could be said about jazz. There is an interest in
developing a 24 hour jazz service, improving coordination between stations, and
rallying in the face of increased competition from the smooth jazz commercial format
(SW also offers this format choice).
SRG member national productions—SRG member stations producing national
programs would like to see these programs supported. These include Fresh Air, To The
Best of Our Knowledge, This American Life and others.
Ideas for Signal Expansion, Acquisitions, New Technologies.
There is a very strong interest among almost all SRG members in exploring signal
expansion through acquisitions, building new stations or exploring LMAs with other
non-commercial operators. How can this be coordinated?
Station Acquisitions—There are a number of specific opportunities, primarily
non-commercial stations owned by school districts, local colleges or other public
institutions. In many cases there are two public radio stations in these markets,
so it could involve a collaborative effort to pursue a station to be operated by a
holding company jointly owned by two or more public radio stations. Can we
coordinate the planning, negotiation and financing of these—with loans from
foundations or other sources? Some stations are also interested in acquiring AM
stations, or in some cases commercial FM stations. Some groups, like Radio Bailing,
are interested in acquiring or starting stations in specific target states rather
than within their existing markets.
Joint Ventures—Some larger market stations are interested in exploring joint
planning, programming, or coordinated marketing and development. The Pew Charitable
Trust funded this coordinated planning in Philadelphia. WGUC and WVXU in Cleveland
are forming a joint company to own and operate new stations and to undertake other
joint ventures. Can we facilitate this in other markets (Washington DC, Boston, the
Northwest, etc.) or can we expand the scope of this to be national rather than local
(the Public Radio Company?)
Acquisition of stations to serve new audiences—some stations were specifically
interested in pursuing the acquisition of non-commercial frequencies to serve urban
ethnic minority audiences. Key cities to target for this effort could be Washington
DC, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Can this be done as a joint national
venture? Can this be done in a way that truly provides meaningful service and yet
avoids the extreme politicization of stations to which Pacifica fell victim? Are
there enough stations interested in this to support a long and difficult development
process? The Ford Foundation has funded both NPR and PRI to undertake outreach to
minority audiences, so there is clearly an interest in supporting the extension of
public radio to this market demographic. Commercial radio does this well—operating
stations which target minority audiences, without the ownership structure being
minority controlled. Can public radio accomplish the same?
Development of new technologies—there is currently no coordinated exploration
of new distribution systems and technology for public radio. Some stations (WKSU,
KUOW, KPBS) are undertaking individual efforts to build Internet sites. In
particular, WKSU has plans for five channels, including an Ohio audio version of
C-Span, which will provide Internet audio access to all state legislative hearings.
They have already generated memberships from people in other countries who are
tuning into their Internet audio channels. One issue also raised is how can stations
continue to attract talented Web site developers—who now command six figure salaries
in the general market. Can stations pool resources, coordinate this development, and
produce templates for local stations? Most stations want to explore this area, but
don’t have the time or expertise to invest in the development of this technology or
to hire the staff needed to develop a competitive service. How can we coordinate
this? In addition, how can we explore, on behalf of public radio stations, new
technologies such as @Home, Command Audio, Audible Words, or the Saunders Corporation
development of multiple digital channels on the FM band. There is a clear conflict
of interest between the national networks and local stations in this area, so how can
the interests of stations be represented in negotiating with these new companies to
preserve a station vs. national network role in new delivery systems? Station
interconnections—stations are very interested in being tied together on a regional or
statewide basis through ISDN, uplinks, or Internet technology. These links would
help to facilitate the exchange of programs between stations which share a common
news or other programming interests.
Ideas for Development and Marketing
Stations have the advantage now of working on a number of national development and
marketing projects that are collaborative efforts. These include the SRG Leaders
Partnership, the proposed Brilliant on the Basics membership project, the Foundation
Project and the PRI underwriting project. Some key coordinated projects which came
from my conversations include:
Coordination of the national development projects—each of the projects
mentioned above encourage national coordination of development efforts. Should these
all be coordinated through SRG or another national entity? Can SRG build support for
these projects, or expansion of the projects, through foundation support? Could we
attract national foundation challenge grants based upon increased revenues
generated? What will happen to these projects with the end of CPB funding? Can
stations support on-going assistance in these areas provided by SRG?
Foundation grant writers—In the foundation area, stations were interested in
having access to a skilled foundation grant writer. Most stations have had limited
success in finding development people who have skills in all of the membership,
underwriting and major donor areas and who are also experienced in researching
foundations and writing foundation grants. Can SRG offer this on a fee for service
basis, and also provide administrative support for foundation grants once they are
awarded to stations? Can SRG coordinate research of national and local foundations
to help stations identify targets for local or regional projects?
A public radio data base management company—Some stations were particularly
interested in a data based management service. It is increasingly difficult to hire,
train and keep staff with the skills needed to manage membership data bases. Could
SRG, with foundation support, initiate the prototype development of coordinated
membership data base management—an ADP type company for public radio? Stations are
interested in better management of membership data, the ability to be more
sophisticated in target direct mail and donor work (the neural networks concept) and
in the ability to retain members for public radio when they move. A national data
base could offer a transfer of memberships to new public radio stations when people
move (offer a new member welcome package), thereby increasing the chances of quickly
converting that listener to a new member in their new market. Again, this is an area
where pooled resources provide a significantly better product. Key issues are how to
build this coordinated data base management and still give stations rapid access and
control, and insure consistent quality standards.
Marketing to diverse audiences—stations in large markets share a common need
to explore ways to attract a more diverse audience. How can this be done, what are
models that have been used? Is it realistic to believe that public radio will
attract a diverse audience when most radio listening is finely segmented by age,
race, and sex? Other areas mentioned include coordination of regional or national
underwriting, development of shared annual reports or other publications which can
be localized for individual stations, and research tied to programming and
Ideas for Capital Campaigns
A significant number of SRG stations are in various stages of capital campaigns.
Most of these focus on new studios, conversion to digital, addition of automation
equipment, or the building of new stations to cover new markets. Can we coordinate
capital campaigns in a joint approach, for example, to Kresge. What assistance can
we provide locally to stations? How can we share expertise from stations who have
been successful in capital campaigns (or, share information from the two or three
stations who have been successful in approaches to Kresge or other national
foundations)? How can SRG support the interconnection of stations through ISDN or
KU band uplinks?
Ideas for Other Projects
Research—Most stations were interested in a broad range of research projects.
Links between audience and fundraising, responses to on-air campaigns, effective
direct mail campaigns, etc. In addition, the issue of local programming vs. national
programming seems to be a big question for many stations. There is a considerable
investment in local programming, but no real sense that ultimately listeners make a
distinction between local and national, or that they are more inclined to become
members because local coverage. Is public radio really a national franchise (like
The Gap), which should bring a consistency of products matched with exceptional local
service an attention, but without local programming?
Institutional Licensees—Much of the future health of local public radio
stations is tied to the good will and effective management of public radio stations
by non-broadcast institutions. How can public radio coordinate and manage this
relationship? What should this relationship between public stations and their
licensees be to best serve the licensee and the functioning of the station as an
effective public radio station serving an audience much larger than that served by the
institutional licensee? Can foundations support an exploration of this relationship
and its impact on the future of public radio.
Should there be a public radio version of the National Arts Stabilization Fund?
This entity provides specific models and templates for the operation of local arts
organizations. Should SRG develop revenue and expense models which stations can use
to judge their local performance? Should these models extend to salary ranges,
governance and other local station operational issues?
Joint Ventures—how can SRG, with foundation support, play a role in the development
of joint ventures—ranging from local market cooperative ventures to the development
of statewide networks?
Board development—some stations were interested in support of board
development, or with institutional licensees the development of advisory boards,
fundraising boards, or other public governing bodies.
Ideas for SRG Business Opportunities
One consideration in exploring projects is to identify the businesses that would
be created by these projects. Which of these could or should SRG pursue, and how do
these fit with the development of SRG as a functioning company. The following are
some that I think are worth exploring:
Fundraising management—this would include major donor work, foundation grant
writing, membership development, and coordinated underwriting (local, regional and
national). The networks cannot and should not manage these for stations because of
the fundamental conflicts of interest. Should these be developed as a fee for
service to stations by SRG?
Membership database management—forming a public radio version of ADP or other
database management companies. Other national entities have similar models of
coordinating databases for local affiliates—the national YMCA, the Democratic and
Republican parties, and Bnai Brith.
Station acquisitions and financing—a number of stations are expressing the
need to work with brokers to help identify and negotiate acquisitions. My experience
tells me that public radio needs a specialized service that understands public radio.
Should SRG provide this service on a fee for service basis for acquisitions, LMAs or
joint sales agreements? Stations also need to explore commercial financing for
acquisitions. Should SRG serve as a financing agent for acquisitions and create a Public Radio
loan pool? Should SRG coordinate the development of a financing pool for acquisitions,
new technology ventures or the development of public radio businesses. SRG could
build capital from Foundation loans, public financing sources (SBA, MESBIC, etc.) or
from public markets.
Program marketing—Should SRG play a role in building a public radio version of
SW networks, ABC radio, Westwood One, Mutual, or other commercial networks. Can
public radio market to public and commercial stations? Will there be a market, with
local consolidation, for the classical, news, jazz, Spanish or other program streams
produced by public radio in the commercial radio world? This effort is currently
decentralized and is remarkably inefficient—but is SRG the best entity to coordinate