Listening Post: Mission creep

Back in the last millennium, the mission of a public radio station was relatively easy to define. It broadcast to the general public within a specific region. It’s service focused on the inhabitants of its listening area, providing them with information and entertainment related to where they were, and serving as a conduit to them for information and entertainment from around the world. In turn, this geocentric focus defined how the service got supported. Those among the local listeners who were so inclined provided the station (after some cajoling) with financial support. The technological reach, the mission, and the funding model were all more or less all in line with one another.

But now, new forms of media (aka the Internet) and more specifically, social media, have altered all three of these factors–and continue to do so at an accelerating pace. We now “broadcast” to hundreds of thousands each year around the globe, by means other than radio. As a result, an additional mission falls within our scope. Instead of just being the lens through which our audience receives the world, we are now also a lens through which the world sees our region.

While this is a fantastic opportunity, as well as a privilege, it is also a challenge. While our reach and mission have expanded, our resource base remains largely unchanged, based on turning on a microphone, and asking radio listeners to contribute support. In discussing the growing investment the station is making in new and social media, both in cash and time, a staffer put the question in a nutshell, “What does it matter if 40 million people look at a picture of boats that gets circulated in the anonymous web-o-sphere, if those people have no awareness of NCPR and no realistic likelihood of developing loyalty to our organization?”

So we have the new technology and an added new mission that is well within our wheelhouse. How do we sustain it? To date, it has been largely supported by the same core group, living within or invested in our region, who tune us in on the radio. What is the value to the North Country in having the world discover it through the lens of NCPR? What is the value to the world? And how do we get those who are served by this new mission to support its continued existence? Got any anwers? More questions? Let us know in a comment below.


17 Comments on “Listening Post: Mission creep”

  1. john says:

    You are asking the other side of a question that I am increasingly asking myself more often in recent times. Is NCPR still interested in being the radio station that is about me, my neighbors and my locale. The sense of locality has been feeling increasingly diluted and marginalized, at least my sense of how it relates to St. LAwrence county. If NCPR were to move to Saranac Lake, Lake PLacid or Tupper Lake, tomorrow, I wonder if I would notice any difference. I still listen to NPR, but I am increasingly feeling disengaged from nCpr and am paying less and less attention to ‘local’ shows and news programming. They just don’t seem to connect to the world around me on the home front.

  2. Romeyn Prescott says:

    Consider injecting very brief fundraising “ads” into your internet stream in strategic places, like in place of the mention of sponsors. Someone listening 3 states away isn’t likely to patronize any of your local sponsors anyhow. And DEFINITELY inject something when you are otherwise regaling us with the FCC-mandated litany of call letters and frequencies!

  3. oa says:

    “What is the value to the North Country in having the world discover it through the lens of NCPR? What is the value to the world?”
    A: Both those things are up to the world. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Just report and comment on the area you’re supposed to report and comment on. Do it well, and the rest takes care of itself.

  4. tootightmike says:

    Hundreds of thousands!??? Really? …Or is it someone like me, who logs on five times a day, every time I take a break…365 times a year?
    I see no need to market the North Country, or our radio station, to the (imaginary) rest of the world.

  5. ADKinLA says:

    I am a former Upstater and I rely on NCPR for coverage of the North Country and to tell me what’s going on and what people think about it in the InBox. It is how I see the region being so far away.

    The fact is even if people aren’t from/familiar with the region, information is global so people’s perception is shaped by NCPR and other sites like the Almanack.

    In terms of your “boat/loyalty” question, I find that building a loyal fan base requires going niche not broad. If you want loyalty to NCPR outside the region, just keeping doing what you are doing, if people want info on the ADKs they will come here and support it. If you offer some products or other value added content to us out of the area people, that could help your bottom line as well.

  6. Ken says:

    Is it “mission creep” or is it the capitalist mindset “gotta get bigger creep”?

  7. Bob Falesch says:

    “Mission Creep.” That’s not a particularly self-aggrandizing title, is it :–) I wish nothing but growth and success for NCPR *and* the region as a whole.

    Implied in your post, Dale, is that one of the issues NCPR is grappling with is whether or not North Country’s taste in radio is compatible with the wider net audience. Also, you may be saying that getting new support from those around the world who’d tune in the stream (or “like” your Facebook page) is important, but not more so than growing the local audience while retaining NCPR’s loyal subscribers. You feel you do a good job representing the local region to itself, but you wonder how much that would interest distant listeners.

    Does the current character of NCPR truly represent the region’s tastes? Its activities? How do we know? Revenue from contributions? Number of local subscribers? Mix of corporate versus individual donors? Word-of-mouth?

    NCPR-produced shows as well as many of the syndicated shows carried here strike me as conservative. I often wonder if the region’s population is correspondingly conservative in its collective taste (just a vague rumination — please take into account the fact I have little experience living in a rural condition).

    I could write a small essay with all the thoughts I have bottled up, but I fear much of it would be too “inside” for a general blog audience, and just too long. However, I’ll type one of those burning thoughts right now: Web streaming must be in stereo. I think you can get by with a relatively low bitrate, but nowadays nobody wants to listen to music in mono (correct me if I’m wrong, but each time I connect to the webstream, I hear monaural. If I didn’t know any better, this alone would cause me not to drag your stream header into my iTunes “public radio” custom playlist!).

    -Bob (who has spent time in front of the microphone and also “behind the glass”)

  8. OnewifeVetNewt says:

    Can you actually measure, by quantity, location, trends, etc. your usage out of the area or do you just have a general idea that it exists? Specifics, if possible, would help inform this discussion.

    I have heard you thank donors outside of the region, and, I think, outside the US & Canada, during fund drives. Can you measure these? Are they growing?

    If people from outside the area are supporting NCPR, and this is growing, and, as I assume, this is simply a byproduct of your efforts to be a good regional station and no massive effort to expand, then the answer seems to be obvious.

    John seems to be concerned that the station is less St.Lawrence Valley-centric than it used to be, and could be just as easily based in, for example, the Tri-Lakes. I think that ship sailed about 20 years ago. I wonder how many NPR affiliates nationwide attempt to cover such a huge area.

  9. Dale Hobson says:

    We actually have pretty specific numbers for who visits the website, though the info is less good from social media platforms.

    In 2011 we had more than 100,000 visits from outside the US. And within the US, 300,000 visits came from outside New York State (and of those less than 10% came from Vermont, part of which is in our broadcast area). And much of the traffic within NY comes from cities and towns well outside our broadcast reach.

    In all, about half of NCPR’s web traffic comes from locations where the radio station can not be heard via over-the-air broadcast. Except for that portion who are streaming the broadcast live during our fundraisers, that puts half our audience beyond the reach of our most effective business tool, the fundraisers’ jawbones.

    Dale Hobson, NCPR

  10. Romeyn Prescott says:

    If you attempt to serve too many people, you’ll end up serving none of them well. Concentrate on serving your broadcast radius WELL. That anyone else anywhere else can listen in and like it is gravy. But you shouldn’t start catering to those “externals”.

  11. OnewifeVetNewt says:


    Interesting info.

    I’m still wondering about web-based donor/memberships from outside the region? Seems that would be pertinent to your question.

  12. Dale Hobson says:

    I wouldn’t advocate that NCPR lose its geographic focus in response to a world audience. But I think we should recognize that we have that audience, and become more useful to them.

    For example, if we see ourselves primarily as talking to a North Country audience about the North Country, we assume that the context of the conversation is a given. If we assume half the audience knows little or nothing about the North Country, we will talk about the issues and events occurring in the North Country in a way that provides more context to a stranger.

    I remember two parties I attended back in the seventies. My wife was in nursing school, and I was a printer. A party of our respective friends broke into two separate groups, holding mutually incomprehensible jargon-filled conversations. A little later, I attended another party with most of the same people, but also included an additional group that came from a more diverse background. The printers still talked about printing, and the nurses about nursing, but everyone talked to everyone in a more inclusive way.

    NCPR is not going to become a voice without a place, as so many media have become. But we do need to recognize that we are going to be heard far beyond where we live, and should talk accordingly.

  13. Bob Falesch says:

    “If we assume half the audience knows little or nothing about the North Country, we will talk about the issues and events occurring in the North Country in a way that provides more context to a stranger.” Would doing so necessarily alienate local listeners? In my own case, it’s likely I’d discover something as well.

    I decided to double check my claim about the webstream (it’s been a while since I’ve connected during a daytime music program). Et voila — it’s now in stereo (I’m embarrassed). David, you’re a blast.


  14. Bob Falesch says:

    Apologies for the double-post. I received a private message (via my website) regarding a provocative use of the word “conservative.” Just to clarify: I was referring to conservative aesthetics, not conservative politics. Sorry about the misunderstanding.


  15. OnewifeVetNewt says:

    Late question I occurred to me yesterday. What kind of outside-the-North-Country does “The Beat Authority” have. I think I’ve heard David mention listeners far from here. Kind of ironic if the most un-representitve of theNorth Country (in a good way) program you have is bringing in listeners from from distant regions and nations.

  16. Dale says:

    I can only conjecture based on traffic to the BA program page. The large majority of Beat Authority visitors in the last month are from the US (90%), but we see visits from Canada, Argentina (David himself, probably), Spain, Laos, Columbia, and Russia as well. The majority of US traffic is from NY and VT, but about 1/3 is scattered over the rest of the states.

  17. Alan says:

    Maybe you should create something of a general guide to North Country concepts as an appendix of sorts available to web visitors but sufficiently subtle so as not to overload the broadcast regulars. It took me a long time to figure out the governance structures, for example, so as to know what a “state senator” or a “supervisor” is. A time line of issues (and even big stories) might help, too.

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