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Saturday, 17 February 2007


John Proffitt

"Stations will opt for local survival before national excellence..."

Indeed! That's what we're doing in Anchorage right now -- surviving. But, ironically, our local survival currently depends almost exclusively on that national excellence. Without the NPR/APM/PRI content we buy at outrageous prices, we'd be pretty much dead in the water. The content we produce ourselves certainly doesn't approach national quality. And we don't produce much of it anyway.

Our connection with the community -- our "relationship" with our listeners -- isn't based on what we do locally. It's based on regular delivery of national content in a format that, for now, still suits a large portion of the audience: drive time radio. That audience is shrinking, of course, but it's still there in sufficient numbers.

It's no wonder most listeners refer to us as "NPR" -- so much of our listened-to day comes straight off the satellite anyway. We might as well be NPR. In fact, maybe NPR should just buy us and get it over with! Why not just become the ClearChannel of public radio?

When I think about this conundrum -- the "local" station that can't survive without national content -- I wonder what it would be like to startup a true community-based station, like so many low-power FM groups have done in recent years. To be focused solely on serving your town or even a collection of neighborhoods or townships -- what's that like?

In any case, I think our future looks like one of these three options:

1. We will join a collaborative/cooperative new media model like what Stephen Hill proposes in the posting you noted above. It will be some kind of new model where all "public media" entities can gather their content and their audience, whether on air or online.

2. We'll turn into a simple, local community station that just does radio. We may even go to a relatively low-power FM system with an IP stream on the side. But our purpose in life will be creating content that's intensely local and meaningful for our geographic audience.

3. We'll remain a high-power FM station that builds a somewhat more local presence but still carries NPR/PRI/APM/etc. Only in this new model, we'll get those national sources for FREE. Shoot -- they may even pay us to carry their wares just like Proctor & Gamble pays for premium shelf space in every supermarket it can find. And why not? The ad revenue will go to the nationals and they'll start accepting money directly from the public for subscription services. So their service will be fully paid for, and getting into our market on our transmitter will be very valuable to NPR/APM/PRI. Once the high cost of buying programming is lifted off our shoulders, we'll have more resources to focus on our community (creating relevant content, building relationships, etc.).


One other semi-related point... the DDC concept so far appears to benefit primarily the players that created it. That would explain why its creation has been so quiet and behind closed doors, despite claims of openness from the start. Perhaps we'll see more details at IMA, but to date, I'm highly skeptical, especially based on the way it was presented at the IMA meeting in Arlington this past fall. I think Stephen Hill has the right idea in his post -- we all play together to win together. I think the DDC players are playing to win primarily for themselves.

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