NPR will launch campaign to diversify public radio audience

Originally published in Current, Nov. 11, 1996

By Jacqueline Conciatore

NPR has begun a campaign designed to raise awareness of its programming among college students and people of color.

The NPR Initiative on Audience Development, announced to stations in October, is the first phase of a larger campaign to expand and diversify NPR's audience with new programs and services.

At the Public Radio Program Directors' Conference in New Orleans in September [1996], NPR released results of its research into African-American listening, and said it would use the results to develop new outreach services and programs. That research showed there was less awareness of NPR among African-Americans than in the population as a whole.

Stations' goals will determine what constituencies they target in the campaign, says project manager Judy Reese, who is NPR's manager of minority and community affairs.

The network is looking for at least 10 stations to participate in the first phase of the campaign, which will "spin out" into community activities including remote and studio broadcasts, listener groups, information seminars, recruitment sessions and a speaker series, says Reese.

"There are so many people who don't know about this thing called public radio," she says. "If we do our job right, we will be able to say we have relationships with organizations and individuals we didn't have before." Reese hopes stations will see specific benefits such as expanded expert pools for the news staff, new underwriting sources and local media attention.

A recent Latino Town Hall meeting sponsored by NPR with Washington, D.C., station WAMU is an example of the kinds of activities the Initiative will undertake. WAMU's Oct. 30 gathering, which drew about 230 residents, discussed a wide range of local and national issues, says Reese. It was moderated by Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa. Prior to the forum, WAMU General Manager Kim Hodgson welcomed the audience and NPR President Delano Lewis spoke about the NPR mission. When it was over Latino USA Executive Producer Maria Martin talked about the value of public radio.

The event realized Reese's vision for the Initiative: "coming up with strategies that work for stations, please the university or other licensee, serve the community, and feature NPR programming. It's a real win for everyone involved." Reese hopes to follow this forum with one on African-American and Latino relations.

Another example of Initiative activity is a Black Film Series that NPR has offered since October. Public and commercial radio announcer James White, also a film historian, is hosting the series of six Saturday matinees, which are screened in NPR's first floor conference center. "We want to use all these events to introduce ourselves," says Reese. After all the community events, NPR and stations will send the community members information on programming and invitations to future happenings.

The planned speaker series will feature personalities from a variety of fields "talking about what they do, a book they've written, things they feel passionately about that impact a particular audience," says Reese.

"Good places to start"

NPR's flagship programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered aren't participating extensively in the campaign. Rather, the Initiative will promote Talk of the Nation, The Derek McGinty Show, Latino USA and Weekend Edition Sunday. The two talk shows were chosen in part because their interactive format should appeal to younger listeners, says Reese. Weekend Edition Sunday is participating because "the producers made it part of their vision to speak to, in their programming, younger audiences and more diverse audiences."

The four programs were "good places to start," she says. Later "we will use those as avenues to promote our flagship programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered."

The first phase of the campaign will last through June 1997. NPR will scale the size of the Initiative to grant income; it now has Ford Foundation support for the project. NPR spokesperson Kathy Scott wouldn't reveal the grant amount. Participating stations won't be required to contribute to the costs.

In selecting stations, NPR will consider factors including community demographics, whether stations plan to carry on relationships with targeted populations in the community once the project is over, and how the stations' participation might be linked to programs sponsored by a university or community college licensee.



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