Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Media: Some Public in Public Radio

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Back in December, National Public Radio announced the cancellation of two daily shows, Day to Day, and News and Notes. With the last day of each show coming in March, public radio stations across the country that carry these programs need to decide how to change their schedules.

I happen to remain a contributor to KALW, the lesser-known of San Francisco's two news-focused public radio stations. It has run News and Notes on its daily schedule since the program's origins as the Tavis Smiley Show; the show currently airs at noon on weekdays. General Manager Matt Martin has been a leader in using the Internet to solicit feedback, and faced with the need to replace News and Notes, he turned to the medium again to gather listener opinions.

First, KALW narrowed candidate programs for the time slot to four shows that do not otherwise air in the San Francisco market that might be appropriate for a mid-day time slot. It's an interesting list:
* The Story with Dick Gordon, a great example of a show emphasizing quality audio and storytelling hosted by a one-time CBC correspondent
* Tell Me More with Michel Martin, the only show on the list with a focus on diversity somewhat similar to News and Notes
* To the Point with Warren Olney, a faster-paced news and analysis program
* Here and Now with Robin Young, a show designed to be a noon newsmagazine

In what may be a first in public radio, Martin has set up a blog for listeners to provide feedback on the four shows. Not only is the concept interesting, but the blog has been set up in an intelligent manner--rather than functioning as a poll in which people would have to vote for one show, they have the opportunity to comment on one show, all four, or anything in between. The comments will likely prove much more valuable in making a decision than a poll or a single-thread blog.

Not living in San Francisco, what KALW decides is not especially important to me. I remain a contributor mostly because I have found how the station has operated over the years, including its program selections, to be very informative. The use of a blog to choose which program to place in an open time slot is yet another example of why I pay attention to KALW. More public radio stations should consider similar forums as they evaluate what to do with their schedules come March.

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