NPR drops Talk of the Nation, replaces with WBUR’s Here & Now

By Ben Mook

This item has been updated and reposted with additional information.

After more than two decades on the air, NPR’s Talk of the Nation will come to an end in June to make way for the newsmag Here & Now, which will be revamped under a new partnership between NPR and Boston’s WBUR-FM.

Talk of the Nation will air its last episode June 28, ending a 21-year-long run. The call-in talk show has helped launch big names in public media, including original host John Hockenberry, This American Life’s Ira Glass and PBS NewsHour’s Ray Suarez.

NPR Chief Content Officer Kinsey Wilson said the network decided to end Talk of the Nation because a newsmagazine might pull a bigger audience in midday.

Talk of the Nation had an incredibly successful run and in many ways set the standard for call-in programs on public radio,” Wilson said. “Call-in talk has become a midday staple, and there are a lot of good shows out there. There’s no lack of faith at NPR in call-in talk on public radio.”

The approach to ownership and distribution of the revamped Here & Now is novel, Wilson said. Public Radio International currently distributes the show, but that deal ends in June. Under the new arrangement, WBUR will own the show, but NPR will have a financial stake.NPR and WBUR will both shoulder the higher production costs of the show as well as the marketing needed to increase station carriage. Newsrooms at both organizations will provide content, and Wilson said they hope other stations will contribute as well. He said the new approach comes as NPR has increasingly focused on working with member stations to provide new content.

“This represents a new way of working with member stations for sure,” Wilson said. “It’s not like the traditional distribution model. This is a true collaboration.”

KUOW in Seattle carries Talk of the Nation on KUOW-2, which is on HD and streamed online. Jeff Hansen, p.d. at KUOW said he would consider adding the revamped Here & Now.

“It’s a very good show,” he said. “It’s kind of modeled on the style of the BBC Newshour, and The Takeaway is also similar, in that it has a strong host and many of the segments are made up of live-to-tape two-ways between the host and guest experts, which has proven to be a pretty good model.”

Hansen agreed that adding a newsmag in midday made a lot of sense for NPR.

“This is a very good move,” Hansen said. “It’s exactly the right thing to do.”

Science Friday, a staple of Talk of the Nation since its debut in the early 1990s, will continue after the change. The show will be available Fridays. Here & Now will be offered five days a week, but stations will be able to replace the show’s Friday editions with Science Friday.

Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan, who has hosted the show for 11 years, will “step away from the rigors of daily journalism,” according to an NPR release. Wilson said Conan plans to leave NPR to take time off and possibly write a book..

NPR is confident that the remaining staff of Talk of the Nation will find new homes in the organization, Wilson said.

Here & Now is now hosted by Robin Young, who will be joined July 1 by co-host Jeremy Hobson, currently the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Meghna Chakrabarti, co-host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, will serve as primary backup host.

Here & Now has been on the air since 1997 and became nationally syndicated in 2001. The show now airs on more than 170 stations.

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