Strengthening Our Public Service
Visions of Public Radio's Future

About Charting the Territory

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By Tom Thomas and Terry Clifford
co-Chief Executive Officers

The public radio future we envision reaches more people each week, on more channels, over more platforms, with more original and diverse content. Public radio as a whole plays a nationally appreciated and respected telecommunications role and is widely credited with contributing to and improving the civic and cultural life of our communities and the nation. Within the next ten years we anticipate:

  • A system that reaches 40 million people each week by taking full advantage of multiple delivery platforms and program service capacity.

Our industry as a whole should commit to a system-wide strategy of service differentiation to significantly increase and broaden public radio’s reach. This will require serving more people and a broader demographic through a combination of broadcast, satellite, and internet radio, and core-service supportive-services using such platforms as the internet and wireless text messaging. To be effective, this strategy must be embraced and supported by local licensees and public radio’s national leadership organizations, particularly policies and practices at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio.

  • Twenty to thirty public radio organizations will be nationally recognized as significant community institutions and major resource centers for the field as content creators and resource generators.

These organizations will attract and nurture both new talent and seasoned reporters drawn to public radio’s in-depth reporting on international, national and local issues, and the multiple music genres offered by public radio. These organizations will be governed by civic leadership with a personal investment in realizing public radio’s mission and ambitions and a commitment to provide stability and stewardship for the long-term.

We should encourage these “breakthrough” organizations, encourage and assist stations following this path to significance, and explore ways to leverage their capacities, content, and resources for widest use and benefit.

  • National Public Radio will transcend the broadcast radio platform, with an important and growing presence in television, satellite, and internet delivery of services. This path will be followed by Public Radio International, Minnesota Public Radio, and one or two other station-based organizations.

We must rethink our conceptualization of “the field” in ways that embrace these developments and evaluate them within an integrated public service framework. We must think through the cascade of ramifications these developments will have on the station-based organizations that have depended upon these organizations for their identity and core content.

  • The acquisition of some 50 additional broadcast channels for over-the-air broadcast services.

We should support organizations’ capacity to acquire channels through transfers or purchase of noncommercial and commercial broadcast spectrum.

  • The exit of some 20 to 30 organizations from the field as reassessments of organizational priorities lead institutions to divest or curtail their public radio operations and marketplace competition and fiscal realities force others out of business.

We should assist these organizations in their exit strategies and work to assure that their spectrum assets are preserved for public service.

  • Increasing media activity from organizations outside the traditional public radio framework that will compete within public radio’s traditional public service franchises on the basis of sharper focus and/or greater depth.

We must strengthen public radio’s content-creating capacities within its core franchises. We must strengthen public radio’s abilities and positioning as an integrator of content from diverse sources and a trusted context setter for news and culture. We must explore partnership positions with other public-service-oriented content creators.

  • A “center of the system” that is much as it is today – with many of the same organizations, and many of the same individual players, delivering the same kinds of service to the same audiences and listeners.

For all the change that will occur, there is great inertia, stability, and real power in broadcast radio as a medium and public radio’s current position in the media landscape.

We must pay attention to continuing reinforcement and renewal of the basic capacities of the system, to avoiding the inefficiencies and complacency that can creep into successful and secure public service enterprises, and to encouraging higher performance throughout our field.

As we reflect on these and other possible developments, and the paths through which public radio might address them, we see a broad outline within which to organize our thinking and our work.

    More Channels
    Service Differentiation
    Better Programming
    Content Investments
    Increase productivity of fundraising
    Entrepreneurial income and partnerships
    Secure continuing public sector support
    Digital deployment and second channel
    Governance aligned with public service
    Content partnerships
    Positioning and branding
Taken together, this is an ambitious but achievable agenda for a public radio system moving toward an ever stronger position on the media landscape and an ever more significant role in our communities and our nation.

This report was developed as part of Charting the Territory, SRG's national planning initiative for public radio that is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SRG member stations.

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