On hunt for more midday carriage, APM and BBC alter Newshour clock

By Andrew Lapin

Another public radio midday news program plans to tweak its format to give stations more flexibility to insert local content.

Beginning July 1, the BBC’s Newshour will alter its show clock, ceding 4.5 additional minutes from its newscast for local cutaways. The change boosts the total allowance of local minutes within each Newshour broadcast to 16.

The global-affairs program is distributed within the U.S. by Minnesota-based American Public Media and carried on 225 stations and 24 HD Radio multicast channels. APM declined to provide the number of licensees that carry the show. The BBC produces four live broadcasts of the show each day.

APM announced the clock change May 29 as station program directors weigh midday scheduling decisions triggered by cancellation of NPR’s Talk of the Nation, which also takes effect July 1.

With less than four weeks before the last broadcast of TOTN, public radio distributors are entering the final push to expand carriage for a big stable of midday shows. Producers of two top competitors for midday slots — Here & Now from Boston’s WBUR and NPR, and Public Radio International’s The Takeaway, co-produced by New York’s WNYC — have also been talking up their willingness to collaborate with stations and allow more flexibility for them to present their own reporting within the broadcast.

In April PRI announced its plan to collaborate with a coalition of eight stations and develop fully customizable, localized versions of The Takeaway by late June. And in May, NPR hosted a gathering of station managers to discuss future collaboration plans for Here & Now, according to Wisconsin Public Radio Associate Director Michael Arnold, who received an invitation to the event.

APM’s station-relations chief said the Newshour isn’t trying to play catch-up with other midday competitors. Changes to the show clock have “been in the works for a long time,” said Nancy Cassutt, managing director of distribution. “This is not a reaction to The Takeaway, just to be really blunt . . . I know it looks reactive, but it’s not.” APM and the BBC began discussing options for adding more local time to Newshour last summer, she said, when APM took over distribution of BBC Radio programming from Public Radio International.

Stations that carry Newshour had been asking APM for greater flexibility with the program, but logistics had prevented the change from taking effect until now, Cassutt said. “[The BBC] spent a lot of time internally trying to figure out what was best for the show, for the content, for the audience,” she said.

APM has brainstormed opportunities for expanding carriage of Newshour in midday timeslots in the post–Talk of the Nation landscape. Cassutt aims to convince stations that they will have room for Newshour in their schedules alongside any other new additions.

Newshour offers “a very different perspective from, I’d say, the rest of midday programming going on in America,” Cassutt said. “New clock or no new clock, I’m going to continue to get more carriage of this flagship show,” she said.

“The Pollyanna response is, ‘There’s room for everybody.’ And in a way there really is. There’s a lot of hours to cover during the day.”

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org

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