PRNDI: ‘Telling the Story’

In 2008, PRNDI released a study focused on nine successful public radio news stations:

  • KSKA, Anchorage
  • KUOW, Seattle
  • KOPB, Portland
  • KQED, San Francisco
  • KBIA, Columbia
  • KWMU, St Louis
  • WPLN, Nashville
  • WKSU, Kent
  • WEVO, Concord

The research explores the connection between strong local news and strong audience support (measured as above-the-median ratings and financial support). The nine were among 18 such stations surfaced in research by the Station Resource Group (SRG).

Go to the “Telling the Story” Overview to see the findings. There’s more on the News page, the Programming page, and the Fundraising page. You’ll also find audio profiles on each of the nine stations (at the bottom of the pages).

PRNDI used the project to highlight what more and more stations are discovering: that commitment to local news is part of a successful public service formula. PRNDI hopes the models profiled here encourage similar, sustainable business models that are broadly embraced by station leaders, networks and public radio supporters.

SRG’s Tom Thomas Explains How “Telling the Story” Stations Were Selected

WASHINGTON, DC (2008-07-16) One way to get better at what we do is to borrow a page or two from the best – top performers to whom we might look for insight and inspiration. Among public radio’s news stations there are always a few who have the buzz: homes of reporters who regularly file for the network, stations that have met challenging occasions with competence and flair, and folks who consistently take home the big awards.

But we can also approach the search for top performers from the perspective of audience and mission.

As broadcasters we aim for wide use of our programming. How well do our stations compete for listeners’ attention? As public broadcasters we aspire to deep value and impact. When listeners tune in, do they find our service important in their lives? Top public radio stations should excel in both dimensions.

The Station Resource Group used this framework to surface top news stations based on measurable performance. To assess stations’ competitive strength we used share of listening and highlighted those that consistently rank above the median for markets of comparable size. Assessing value and importance is more complicated. But we know, from multiple studies, that the personal importance of our service to those who use it is one of the most powerful predictors of individual giving (right after the amount of listening). It stands to reason that stations that perform above average in raising listener support, after adjusting for the size of their audience, must be making themselves especially important in the lives of their listeners.

SRG found some 18 news and news-and-classical stations that beat the average on both measures at least two out of three years running. These stations are clearly doing some things right. There are others, too. Several news-and-something-else stations have strong audience shares and fundraising, but there are not enough of them in any one category to create a reliable statistical model. There are some news and news-and-classical stations with outstanding audience performance, but they are part of multiple station groups in which it is difficult to disentangle their financial performance from the rest of the operation. And there are stations that changed formats during the period we were examining that we excluded from the analysis.

SRG was delighted when PRNDI board member Amy Tardif and others took up the task of telling some of these stations’ stories, picking the nine case studies that are presented here. It is an opportunity both to learn from their good work and to celebrate their success.

Tom Thomas
Co-CEO, Station Resource Group