Originally published in Current, March 26, 2007
By Mike Janssen
New York’s WNYC and Public Radio International have teamed up to produce a national morning newsmagazine, adding a second new competitor for the choicest timeslot on public radio
Just two months ago, NPR said it would offer an alternative to Morning Edition this fall (Jan. 22 article), which has long held the lion’s share of audience and defined public radio’s sound in morning drivetime. The NPR program’s co-host will be Luke Burbank, a reporter for Day to Day, the New York Times reported. NPR had not confirmed the appointment by Current’s deadline. [The appointment was confirmed later, however.]
PRI and WNYC execs say their program, slated for debut early next year, will not court a particular demographic. But, like NPR’s show, it will aspire to an informal sound intended to appeal to listeners outside of public radio’s core audience.
“There are a lot of people who buy into public radio as an idea . . . but they don’t like the tone of everything that we do,” says Dean Cappello, WNYC’s chief creative officer and senior v.p. of programming, who has led development of the show’s concept. “So there’s an opportunity to speak more directly to those people, to create something that feels like it’s been created in 2007, and to address the fact that we live in a really diverse community.”
Cappello says the show will sound more spontaneous than other public radio programs, “like the way people actually speak to each other.” It will also try to involve listeners through a website, text messaging and other interactive approaches.
Execs at WNYC and PRI began considering forays into morning drive two years ago—independently at first, then teaming up last year. The two already collaborate on Studio 360.
Both partners see an advantage in locating their show at WNYC, which will soon move to new studios in Manhattan. “We will really be on top of the needs of the stations,” says Alisa Miller, PRI’s president.
PRI and WNYC will rely on partnerships with the BBC, Boston’s WGBH and the New York Times to augment the show’s coverage of domestic and international news.
Reporters from the BBC and the Times will provide updates and commentary on breaking news and other events. WNYC already features Times writers on local programs such as Soundcheck and The Brian Lehrer Show. Producers of the new program will also use the BBC Monitoring service, which tracks more than 3,000 news sources in various media around the world.
Meanwhile, WGBH will contribute its experience with video and documentary production and new-media platforms, say WNYC execs.
PRI and WNYC are still defining each collaborator’s role in the project. They would not disclose the show’s planned budget or the amount each partner must raise. WNYC will support the show partly with proceeds from a capital campaign now underway, and the rest of the budget will come from the usual mix of underwriting dollars, foundation grants and station fees. Station fees for the show will be lower than Morning Edition’s, Miller says.
WNYC is looking for a host and plans to produce the show with a staff of about 15, led by Graham Griffith as e.p. Griffith was formerly e.p. of the talk show On Point, produced by Boston’s WBUR-FM and distributed by NPR. He also worked as a producer of Public Interest at WAMU in Washington, D.C.
With 645 stations carrying Morning Edition, public radio’s most popular morning show, where can the new programs find carriage? PRI is eyeing digital multicasts on many of those stations, as well as outlets that either don’t carry Morning Edition or air so many hours of it that there’s room to cut back.
Cities where more than one station carries the NPR program also offer opportunity. Thirteen of the 50 largest metro markets fall into that category, according to NPR. WNYC now airs Morning Edition on both its AM and FM stations but will slot its new show on AM. The station has been working on differentiating the two program lineups, Cappello says.
Grady Kirkpatrick, interim g.m. at WNKU in Highland Heights, Ky., says he will give “a close listen” to both new morning shows. The station broadcasts into Cincinnati, where WVXU also airs Morning Edition, and “we are all about non-duplication of programming,” Kirkpatrick says. WNKU recently truncated its broadcast of the NPR show to add an hour of Triple A music.
One or both shows could end up on WCBE in Columbus, Ohio, where Dan Mushalko is looking for some hipper programming. “Even at my age, I’m finding NPR to be too staid and not challenging enough,” says the middle-aged g.m.
Yet he says NPR’s upcoming program might be a better fit for his station, if it draws younger listeners as intended. WCBE has earned thanks from local college students for carrying PRI’s Fair Game, another show aimed at the younger demo.
If WOSU, also in Columbus, achieves its goal of acquiring an FM signal for the news fare it now airs on AM, there would be no point in having Morning Edition on two FM signals in town, Mushalko says. In that case, WCBE could even carry both new programs.
Elsewhere, the new newsmags might find themselves crowded out of the breakfast nook. KCUR in Kansas City, Mo., would leave a “pretty big void if we were to abandon Morning Edition,” says Bill Anderson, p.d. The show attracts two-thirds of the station’s weekly cume and ranks high among local morning broadcasts.
Dumping it would be “suicidal,” Anderson says. “It’s our bread and butter.”
This article has been corrected. An anecdote cited by a source in the print version proved to be erroneous and has been removed.
Web page posted April 27, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee