Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Diminished Expectations Still Go Unmet at Red River Radio

Red River Radio

It’s fundraising time at Red River Radio. Here’s my two cents.

First, they’ve made their goal the lowest I’ve seen in years: $200,000. And they’re still not meeting it.

Let’s do the math. With $200,000 to be raised over a pledge drive of 14 days, Red River Radio needs to get $14,285.71 in donations each day. After nine days, they had only raised $114,210, according to their website. That’s $12,690 a day. At that rate, and barring any large donations being held back for a contrived big finish, Red River Radio’s drive will end with around $177,660, about $22,340 short.

The past several pledge drives have also fallen short -- distressing news for the network which is undergoing digital modernization yet still needs massive infrastructure redevelopment. They need lots of money and they aren’t getting it.

What’s the cause? Simply put, people don’t listen as much as they once did and the general focus is shifting from reliance on public donations to corporate contributions.

Consider these quotes from publications by David Giovannoni’s Audience Research Analysis organization:

Reinvigorating Public Radio’s Public Service & Public Support: INTERIM REPORT 1 APPROACH.

Americans are listening less to public radio today than two years ago. Not coincidentally, their financial support of our industry shows signs of softening.

Reinvigorating Public Radio’s Public Service & Public Support: INTERIM REPORT 6 LOSING OUR GRIP.

Public radio is losing its grip on its own listeners.

Stations that generate almost half of all public radio listening have lost loyalty in the last year. MORNING EDITION, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and other programs generating 80 percent of all listening have lost their forward momentum or fallen back.

It doesn’t matter whether public radio has gotten weaker or commercial radio has gotten stronger. Either way, our listeners are listening less to us and more to them.

Reinvigorating Public Radio’s Public Service & Public Support: INTERIM REPORT 4 AN HISTORIC LOSS OF MOMENTUM.

After a 30 year run of virtually uninterrupted audience growth, public radio is no longer increasing its reach into American society or claiming larger shares of radio listening.

It’s not lost listening that portends ill for public radio. It’s the loss of upward momentum – the absence of growth on which we have traditionally relied – that threatens to ripple through our public service economy.

Public radio’s revenues have grown in lockstep with its audience for decades. Station managers could budget on the assumption of financial growth because their assumptions of audience growth typically proved true.

We can no longer assume we’ll have more resources tomorrow than we have today. At many stations, listener-sensitive revenues are poised to level or even decline; the projected gap between expectation and reality will approach or exceed the size of their Community Service Grants.

What’s the solution?

Red River Radio needs to change it’s programming to both increase ratings and boost audience loyalty. The program director should carefully analyze Arbitron data. Programs that perform well in similar markets should air here, replacing poorly performing ones here. That might mean grinding the sacred cows of opera, classical, Hearts Of Space and other programs into hamburger, but the network should find the courage to do it.

Christmas is the traditional time for “format change.” That gives them about two months to complete the analysis and make the changes, and it’s plenty of time. Bumped programming could go onto the digital channels.

Increasing productivity from the sales side would also help, but I can’t knowledgeably comment on how to do that. I do know about ratings and programming, though; I studied it for my degree and professionally.

Finally, I still think LSUS should pony up a sizable sum to rebuild the network. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go over it again here. Dr. Vincent Marsala should personally champion the network in the legislature to secure increased funding, something he seems loathe to do.

Here’s an excerpt from email Dr. Marsala sent me:

“ ... we have been concerned about the needs of the radio station and for the past two years have included a radio station project in our capital outlay plans. However, it is unlikely that the state will fund such a project without substantial contributions from the public, if at all. Regardless, the project will stay on our capital outlay plan.”

As I said, the network needs a champion in the legislature to get that capital outlay funding. It might take a while, but trying is better than doing nothing.

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