In with the old, in with the new

You may have noticed some new shows on NCPR lately. There’s the TED Radio Hour, Cabinet of Wonders, and Ask Me Another. They’re all pilots. And as today’s New York Times points out, they’re all trying to capture a younger audience.

I talked to Jackie Sauter, our programming director, on the phone today. She says that the station’s been receiving brisk feedback about the pilots. People like the TED Radio Hour. They’re a bit more on the fence about the other two. Of course, that’s no indication of these programs’ ultimate success: Jackie told me that when Car Talk first came on the air, people thought it was too silly for public radio. And they weren’t so fond of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me either.

Going forward, public radio faces the challenge of creating programming that both appeals to its core older audience and attracts a younger generation of listeners. As a young reporter and listener, I know that I prefer to listen to newer programming, like the Moth and Snap Judgment, along with news and culture shows. And to my young ear, some of the old public radio mainstays are starting to sound a little  . . . dated.

Don’t get me wrong. I will of course be nostalgic for Car Talk and programs of yore. But I also look forward to public radio’s future, to its new voices and perspectives.What I’ve learned from all the old hats at NCPR is that a thriving public media system requires vision. And that gets me thinking. What do I want public radio to look and sound like in 10, 20, 30 years?

I’ll ask you the same thing. What do you want to hear on the radio? And how can we build strong programming for public media going forward?

Editor note: you can find out more about NCPR’s three new program tryouts, weigh in on your experience, and provide feedback to NCPR and to NPR on the New Program Showcase page. –Ed.

6 Responses to “In with the old, in with the new”

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  1. Bob Falesch says:

    I agree with you, Sarah: Snap Judgement and Moth are both great shows. I don’t feel insulted by them as I do with these new NPR pilots. Sound Opinion (WBEZ) and the CBC show DNTO strike me as shows you might feel are trying to resonate with “young people.” I enjoy those as well. I don’t believe NPR has to dumb-down to appeal to a particular demographic. I’m afraid NPR does not give enough credit to younger people. I could easily do without Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion (mentioned in the NYT article), two shows for which I’ve never parked myself in front of the radio. As a matter of fact, I run to the off-switch when the latter comes on.

    I believe the problem is not so much in the programming as it is in the myriad of media choices we have nowadays. The NYT article does hint at this by mentioning all the podcasts out there. In addition, available realtime streaming content is humongous as well. There must be 1000-times the number of audible media choices now compared to a decade ago, and when you add mobile to the delivery-mix, you’ve got a compelling siren song for the youth. Therein lies NPR’s competition I think. Younger listeners may be more inclined to seek out entertainment from all of these new-media choices than do other demographics.

  2. Newt says:

    My daughter told me to listen to the Moth, so that’s a vote in your target demo for it.

    I turned off “Ask me Another” after about 30 seconds. It was totally unbearable ; but I am not in your target demo, and will not be offended to have my tastes brushed aside to attract younger listeners (sigh).

  3. Michael Greer says:

    The TED talks are fascinating. That said, the show OK, but I’d prefer less production and more of the actual TED performance. I don’t see a need to take these brilliant speakers and turn them into sound-bites.

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    I agree Michael. I was listening this weekend and I kept thinking, just let the guy (or gal) talk. Sure, pick a theme and present two or three TED talks on it, but get rid of the “host.” Superfluous.

  5. Mike says:

    I feel the same about the program “On Point”.

  6. Bob Falesch says:

    Doesn’t TED Radio Hour also attempt their own followup interviews with the TED speakers and thread that into their original TED talks? I think this could really work, and, if done well (Jad and Robert, what’s your consultation fee?) I think this could be smashing. It’s still pretty rough, but if they eventually work out the seams and either go NPR-Elegant or RadioLab cool-chic, I’ll be on board full-throttle.