Local Programs: A Widening Opportunity… But

As the PRPD 2001 Local News Core Values Study  reported, there is a widening opportunity for public radio stations to deepen their service to core news listeners who want a comprehensive range of news and information programming -- local as well as national and international. These listeners are increasingly turned off by local commercial radio and TV news and talk shows they describe as shallow, sensational, loud and manipulative. But to seize this opportunity, our local programming must reflect the same qualities and Core Values listeners hear on the public radio network programs they like best:

  • Depth and substance
  • Providing a “global” context for the important issues, trends and events shaping their communities
  • Rich in facts and data that advance their learning and understanding

The fact that a show is "local" does not trump these important qualities which listeners expect from every program, regardless of source. In fact, public radio core listeners often use the word “local” as a pejorative, equating "local” with parochial - narrow, restricted, provincial - as opposed to coverage that "connects the dots.” 

Local shows that engage callers encounter a special obstacle – the talk format’s divisive impact on core listeners, driving away those with little interest in or tolerance for callers who offer personal opinion instead of the factual information and expertise that public radio listeners value. This places a special responsibility to insure that callers have a clearly defined purpose that will inform and advance the topic at hand. Good screeners and guidelines are critical to try and keep the wrong kind of callers off the air. Listeners are keenly aware when calls are used simply to fill airtime.

How do we know this?

These findings and much more can be found in these landmark public radio listener studies:

  • Sense of Place: The Value and Values of Localism (LNI/PRPD 2006)
  • Local News Project II (MarketTrendsResearch 2003)
  • The Core Values of Local Programming (PRPD 2001)

These reports represent a critical knowledge base for any station wanting to produce local news/information/talk programming. Without this grounding in public radio’s fundamental appeal, staff members too often assume they are the average listener. And, as station and program insiders, they are – by definition – far from it. Everyone who works on your show needs to know who listens to public radio, what draws them to us and what they expect when they tune in. In addition to the aforementioned Core Values and Sense of Place studies, resources include data about your own station’s listening, NPR’s Profile report, Audience 98, and recent studies by the Station Resource Group.