NPR delays implementing new program clocks until at least November

By Mike Janssen

NPR will postpone implementing new clocks for its flagship newsmagazines until at least November after hearing concerns that an earlier transition could interfere with stations’ fund drives and coverage of midterm elections.

The network initially proposed starting the new schedules for Morning Edition and All Things Considered Sept. 22. But stations and the board of the Public Radio Program Directors Association asked for more time.

When setting the initial date for implementation, NPR “did a good job of trying to find a time not in the middle of fundraising,” said PRPD President Arthur Cohen. “But the fact is that the weeks before fundraising are some of the busiest — maybe even worse than during fundraising.”

In addition, news stations will ramp up election coverage starting after Labor Day, Cohen said. Stations are also concerned about having enough time to train staffers to adjust to the new clocks, which will shuffle around newscasts, station breaks, underwriting credits and other elements of local and national programming.

PRPD’s conference Sept. 9-11 will include sessions about best practices for working with the new clocks, Cohen said. PRPD will also offer webinars.

In providing feedback to NPR about the new clocks, PRPD’s board also expressed concern that stations with smaller staffs could have difficulty filling some of the longer breaks created by the overhaul.

Some station programmers and independent producers have also questioned NPR’s proposal to exclude modules from stations’ local broadcasts of the newsmagazines. Though NPR would allow modules that stations are already airing within the newsmags, it would block the addition of new modules unless a station requests and receives a waiver from the network.

PRPD didn’t focus on that issue in its feedback to NPR, but “PRPD’s point of view is that stations need to be able to have maximum control of their own air,” Cohen said. “Local stations know their local audiences best.” It’s “a problem” that NPR has not provided more information about how the waiver process will work, he said.

NPR has said that it is making adjustments to the clocks based on feedback, Cohen said. A NPR spokesperson declined to provide details about possible changes.

The postponement of the new clocks will not disrupt the integration of American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report into Morning Edition, which will still start Sept. 22.

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