It’s called innovation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s new. Public media is always looking for better methods and tools to do its work, and sometimes it can be startlingly new. One example is NPR station KBAI, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, which has secured a $25,000 grant to use aerial drones in reporting. The small unmanned vehicles, controlled from a tablet computer, would be used to collect photos and videos in hard-to-reach locations at a small fraction of the cost of using helicopters or other aircraft. This seems like a much more fruitful use of the technology than the news flutter earlier this year over a West Coast taco vendor’s proposal to use drones dispatched to smart-phone GPS coordinates to deliver its products while they’re still hot.
Rocky Mountain PBS, on the other hand, is going with an old-school approach to growing membership. Forget social media, go back before telemarketing–the Denver station is canvassing door-to-door, taking a leaf from a playbook only used in recent days by the likes of Mormon missionaries, local legislative candidates, and Girl Scout cookie sellers. Does it work? They’ve added more than 11,000 members since the door-to-door campaign began in August 2011.
At NCPR we’ve taken a few stabs at old-school and new-school profile-raising in the last year. At the Potsdam Summer Festival our illustrious leader, Ellen Rocco, piloted a tractor in the festival parade, drawing the Radio Bob Band behind in a wagon. Meanwhile, down in the park, membership director June Peoples leaped forth as part of a Zumba “flashmob,” coordinated by smart-phone in the middle of the craft fair and car show. We haven’t quite figured out how to document the results. Other outside-the-box suggestions included a station punkin-chunkin team, dispatching vegetables toward the far horizon using medieval weaponry, or (my favorite) an NCPR Taiko drumming group. No one can ignore a drum the size of a hot tub, being pounded with a mallet the size of a baseball bat.
As with many innovations, we have no idea what these might accomplish for our business model. On the other hand, people have regularly pledged money to NCPR in return for a supply of well-composted manure, or just for the pleasure of listening to Radio Bob choke down his bi-annual hot pepper treat live on the air.