The big news in public radio today is that New York Public Radio, home to WNYC, WQXR and New Jersey Public Radio, received a $10 million grant from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. This comes on top of two previous grants that together totaled $11 million.
This news is significant not just because it is likely the largest one-time grant ever made to a public station, but because 80% of it is slated for the development of WNYC’s digital operations. To make this even clearer, that means it’s for the internet side of things, not the broadcast side.
Of course, at WNYC the radio and digital side are intertwined. The station distributes much of its local and national programming online and as podcasts. The station has also developed shows like Freaknomics Radio which is born digital, but then also is syndicated to air in broadcast slots.
But this grant is a vibrant indicator that the future of public radio–if not radio in general–lies in taking advantage of everything the online world has to offer a station. It doesn’t mean abandoning broadcast signals, but rather transcending their limitations.
That’s utterly explicit in the station’s announcement, noting that the new “Discover” feature in the WNYC smartphone app–funded by the Greene Foundation–is designed to deliver “radio on your own time.” Read that as: not on the broadcaster’s schedule.
The app lets listeners create playlists of WNYC programs to listen to even when they’re not in range of a cell of wifi signal. As a New York Times report points out, the app was originally designed with subway riders in mind, commuters and listeners who cannot depend on a continuous internet connection. The station’s chief digital officer also tells the Times that the “Discover” feature will be applied to the WQXR classical music app. That classical format station also offers plenty of born-digital content, including its Q2 Living Composers channel and Operavore channel.
Every other public, community, LPFM and college station should be taking note of this development. If you’re not already, it’s time to think about your broadcast station as a platform upon which you build a broader digital operation. You don’t need a $10 million grant to do this (though it sure doesn’t hurt). Instead, you just need to look at the ways broadcast constrains your programming and your ability to serve your audiences and use your online presence to expand your reach.
Have some popular programming you wish you could dedicate more time to? Put it on its own continuous stream.
If you’re not already podcasting every program you can, get to it. Although it can be difficult to navigate music copyrights, your talk programs are a no-brainer. And you can probably podcast most of your live in-studio performances as long as you get signed permission.
If you have more programming ideas, audiences or wannabe DJs than you can fit on your schedule, then you’re ready to create some new digital-only programs and streams.
This is all the more important because your audience is going online anyway. It’s important to retain the broadcast signal, but you won’t survive without a strong online presence. Your youngest listeners will never hear your best programs if you don’t make them available online, and on demand.
As should be obvious, if listeners are online, that’s where your potential donors are, too. Following WNYC’s lead is an investment in the future of your station.
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