Listening Post: One step up, two steps back

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.

Really big Taiko drum. Photo: Don France, CC some rights reserved

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.


4 Comments on “Listening Post: One step up, two steps back”

  1. Paul R. Sheppard says:

    “On the other hand, people have regularly pledged money to NCPR in return for a supply of well-composted manure…” No Dale, we get that already from so many other stations. I am an NCPR listener and sometime contributor, because you spread a lot less of it than most.

  2. Donna Smith-Raymond says:

    Throwing vegetables gets my vote!! Though I do like the hot tub sized drum. And the tractor and the zumba flashmob! Now all you need is the drone! No door-to-door canvassing, though. Not for me (either to contribute–which I do with no nagging–or, especially, to do!), even if 11,000 extra members is a good number.

  3. Mike says:

    NPRadio needs aerial drones for researching stories? Really? Seems a better plan to buy Brian Mann an ultralight and send him puttering through the skies of the North Country. Can’t wait to hear the arguments in favor of SpyRadioCam.

  4. Kent Gregson says:

    Door to door may work in some spots, but it’s not practical for most of your listening area where there’s more trees and miles than people. Tehnology is your strong suit though. You guys have the best coverage network in northern NY. We need that for broadband and cell service around here. Is there a way to assist the effort to connect the area and profit? Then you could get Brian a float plane.

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