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Frank Ahrens
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Radio Talk
With Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2001; 1 p.m. EDT

Frank Ahrens covers radio for The Washington Post. His column -- "The Listener" -- appears every other Tuesday in the Style section. Frank is also a general assignment feature writer, and his reporting subjects have included everything from minivans to murders, from baseball to bandwidth.

If you're wondering about the inner workings of radio in Washington, around the country and on the Web, or want to know what Frank really thinks of minivans, then don't touch that dial... um, mouse! Please join us for this discussion!

Also, check out another edition of Radio Lives with Frank Ahrens, a series of conversations with washington radio's biggest stars. On this episode, Ahrens interviews WTOP traffic reporter Lisa Baden.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Frank Ahrens: Greetings all, and welcome to the discussion.
Well, a full multi-media plate today.
We've got the Listener column, in Old Media (the printed page, how retro!), in which I examine the duplication of morning and evening programming on Washington's two NPR affiliates, WETA and WAMU.
Second, on our Web site at www.washingtonpost.com/radiolives, we have yet another installment of Radio Lives: A series of conversations with Washington radio's biggest stars. Today: traffic reporter Lisa Baden. Check it out.
Finally, we've got our typically cozy Internet discussion.
G. Gordon Liddy's last day at WJFK was Friday. He is still going to be syndicated to more than 100 stations by Westwood One, but does not now have a home studio--an actual place to sit and talk. WTNT thought it had Liddy inked to a midday deal at their new talk station (570 AM) and he was set to get yesterday, but there's been some hang-up between WTNT and Westwood One. Apparently, Westwood One -- under the CBS corporate umbrella -- is not happy about one of their talkers, Liddy, originating from the studio of a rival radio chain -- WTNT is owned by Clear Channel. So that's gotta be sorted out.
Don and Mike, as reported a couple of weeks ago, move to midday so they can go live in NYC and Opie and Anthony move to D&M's afternoon slot. Early impressions from you?
Let's go.

Belleview, Va.: During its next membership drive, how will WAMU address the issue of member support for a particular program? The recently cancelled Bluegrass show had the second highest dollar amount raised by it's listeners, yet the management of WAMU chose to alienate these loyal audience members by saying, in effect, "thanks for your money, CHUMPS! Now go away." WAMU will never get another dime from me.
Michael D.

Frank Ahrens: WAMU refunded some money to disgruntled bluegrass fans who demand it back. When I last spoke to WAMU, maybe a week ago, they had refunded 72 $35 bluegrass memberships. Of course, the memberships are a drop in the bucket; the bluegrass/country shows raised bigger money during on-air pledge drives, and that's gone.

Washington, D.C.: Just a rant--gave 99.5 (oh! it's just so HOT!) a listen today after avoiding it because of the super-obnoxious commercials. While some of the songs were ok (the overall mix is lame) the DJ came on in between and SHRIEKED the most inane stuff (lots of WAZZUPs and the like) at the top of her voice. After announcing one song so loudly my car speakers buzzed, she yelled "TOAST!" and played the song. Toast? What is with this station? I'm 23 and coming to the end of the 18-24 demographic, so I suppose I just don't get these crazy toast-eating shrieking young whippersnappers.

Frank Ahrens: There's nothing worse than toast-eaters, is there?

Wiredog: Ever find out what happened to Kelly Knight of DC101?

Frank Ahrens: Sure. Buddy Rizer, the DC101 program director, fired Kelly Knight to hire LeeAnn Curtis. Rizer explained that he wanted Curtis to be DC101's music director and an on-air talent and so it looks like she has better value to the station than Knight did.

Chevy Chase, Md.: Why is Bob Madigan called "Man About Town?" What does that mean?

Frank Ahrens: Bob is a sort of wandering light-features, events-style reporter. His job is to report on things to do, like festivals, and, more importantly, to get WTOP's name out in the public.

Arlington, Va.: WGMS recently dropped the Metropolitan opera broadcasts on Saturday afternoons. In most other markets, these are carried by NPR stations. I e-mailed Dan Devaney of WETA urging him to get with WAMU and 'work it out for the good of the listeners.' No response. That means no more money from my wallet to these stations. If they can't serve the public good by offering the diversity the public wants, from bluegrass to opera, we should start a campaign to get their licenses revoked, and given to organizations who will provide the diversity.

Frank Ahrens: Thanks for your posting. It's hard for me to imagine opera coming back anywhere in the region. Thinking back a year or so, here are the niche formats that have been killed by commercial and public radio:
choral music, chamber music and bluegrass, jazz (by public); show tunes, jam'n oldies, opera, standards. (by commercial)

Woodsboro, Md.: Frank,

I'm posting this early as I can't make the online discussion. Excellent column today on the state of Public Radio in the Nation's Capital.

I'm a listener of WETA, and have been more than a little dismayed at the trend away from music and more towards redundant programming. As you've stated, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" can be heard at both WETA and WAMU. However, WETA goes further and broadcasts the audio portion of the evening daily "NewsHour," and then "Washington Week" on Saturdays. WHY? They killed an hour of "Performance Today" to do this, and it's annoying.

Another question: Do you think D.C. will ever get another real jazz station the likes of the defunct Jazz90 (WDCU 90.1)? I've tried and tried to listen to WPFW, but it's too uneven and the announcers talk WAY too much. Felix Grant would be sadly disappointed.


Frank Ahrens: Good posting. I can't imagine jazz coming back to a commercial station...the only kind of jazz that this market seems to support is light jazz (WJZW, 105.9). It would have to be on a public station like WPFW, which does play a considerable amount of jazz. But, as you note, often lacks professional-standard broadcast quality, as the station is run mostly by volunteers.
WETA general manager Dan DeVany tells me that his goal is not necessarily to grow WETA's audience, but to more fully serve the audience it has. And his research has told him that that audience was the morning and evening news magazines, as well as the NewsHour instead of two hours of Performance Today.

Fairfax, Va.: Anyone wondering about the status of Liddy? He's still on the air and he's broadcasting to his affiliate stations across the country. Hopefully, he'll return to D.C. soon, for now, catch him on WCBM AM 680 out of Charm City noon till 2pm.

Jason V.
Liddy Show Producer

Frank Ahrens: Thanks, Jason. Since we've got you...what's going on with Liddy's contract and Westwood One? Is that the deal? That Westwood One doesn't want to see Liddy originating from a Clear Channel station?

Bowie, Md.: Frank, let me start by saying that I love your column and chats. Do you have any plans on writing about the new morning show on WHUR? I keep seeing their taxicab and Metrobus advertising and the show sounds pretty good (finally a show with a local viewpoint rather than national trying to sound local). The other question is why does everyone pay so much attention to 12+ listeners when the money is in the older listener. Just curious.

Frank Ahrens: I would like very much to do a column about the morning show at WHUR, with John Monds, T.C. and Mo'Nique (hope I spelled that right), especially as relates to WHUR's recovery one year after losing Tom Joyner to WMMJ.

Herndon, Va.: You missed the -true- homogenization of NPR in your column today. You discussed stations in two of what I would guess to be the top three public radio markets (leaving out New York), listing their lineups and overall themes. In both of these cities the major -and- minor NPR stations cater only to natively-English-speaking populations in both their talk and music programming.
The Washington (particularly Fairfax) and Los Angeles metro areas have the two most linguistically and culturally diverse populations anywhere in the world, but no Spanish-language programming on public radio. WAMU carries "Latino USA" at 7 a.m. Saturday mornings... a trivial bone thrown to those communities. Even the international news segments (PRI's The World, BBC's World News) are Europe-focused. Classical music on WETA and Bluegrass on WAMU are a part of that same anglophile domination, not banners for diversity. Blues and Jazz may serve a somewhat different population than the Classical, but it is still Anglo music, and leaves out a major slice of the populace.
Oddly enough, this is occurring at a time when Spanish-language programming is on the rise in the commercial world. Spanish-language morning shows are toppling the ratings giants in Los Angeles and New York. This is the kind of under-served community that public radio was designed to serve, but public radio is letting the commercial world lead the way. Let the upper-middle-class buy a Rachmoninoff CD. I want to hear someone say 'Hola.'
Don't feel bad, though... I doubt it has occurred to Billy Tauzin either.

Frank Ahrens: A very good posting. Thanks much for the input. Very appreciated.

Rob M. from Arlington, Va.: Frank,

Let me get this straight: You have the opportunity to report on one of the biggest D.C. radio stories in recent memory -- of course I'm talking about all the happenings with Don and Mike at WJFK (a story YOU broke) -- and you choose to use your column to write about diversity in public radio?

I don't get it. How about a follow-up: How was Don and Mike's first day? What about Opie and Anthony? What's going on with Liddy? What about these top 10 markets Don and Mike keep talking about? If you think the story's a non-issue just because you covered it two weeks ago, you are sadly mistaken.

Very rarely does something exciting, with this much magnitude, happen in D.C. radio -- how about a little follow-up, please?

Frank Ahrens: My workmates and I have a running gag on your opening line. "Let me get this straight:" is this age's--the age of Utter Archness, of High Irony--preferred way to start a letter to the editor, or a letter to a radio columnist. Love it.
Sure, Don and Mike/Liddy/Opie and Anthony are good/big stories. But I'd written extensively about them recently. And, from the tone of your note, you seem to dimunize the issue of diversity in public radio. The WJFK makeover is an interesting story, but I wouldn't call it an important story. Diversity in taxpayer-funded public radio--which is the last place on the radio dial not FULLY driven by the market economy that forces homogenization in commercial radio--is an important story. I cover both.

Fairfax, Va.: You think a guy who zipped it and kept it shut during one of the biggest scandals our country has ever faced is gonna' tell ME anything? Shoot! I'm sure Gordon will tell everyone on the air when he has something to report.

Jason V.

Frank Ahrens: Just be glad he hasn't cooked and eaten you, I suppose.

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Nice piece today on the state of public radio in our area. You know, I don't mind that WAMU and WETA play many of the same programs. What angers me, however, is when they play them AT THE SAME TIME. It makes no sense.

Frank Ahrens: Fair enough. Thanks for posting.

Annandale, Va.: Thank you for this morning's article on the cloning of public radio. The recent changes at WAMU have been infuriating. WAMU admitted that the weekday bluegrass program received its second highest pledge totals, yet that was not enough to save the program. How will they explain that the next pledge drive?

Ten years ago, Washington radio had a good selection of acoustic music, including the bluegrass and classic country shows on WAMU, Music Americana with Dick Cerri on commercial radio, and the Saturday nigh folk program on WETA. I've watched with dismay these being eliminated, one by one.

It is especially insulting to hear those promos on WAMU for their all-bluegrass Internet show -- as if we all had internet in our cars.

I've given up on both public radio stations and stick to WGMS.

Frank Ahrens: I talked to a very interesting woman a couple of days ago--Brenda Barnes, the general manager of KUSC, the classical station in L.A. that I wrote about today.
I asked her, concerning the lack of eclectic music radio stations (to be fair, one of KUSC's biggest rivals, KCRW, does eclectic music): Is it just disgruntled radio reporters who wish that there were stations that played all different kinds of music?
She said she thought that most people had eclectic musical tastes, but that they wanted TO PROGRAM IT THEMSELVES. i.e., they want to hear classical when they want to hear classical; not when some deejay decides to play classical. I find this fascinating.

Washington, D.C.: I have to submit early because of an afternoon meeting, so I hope you get this.

What happened the other week with the Z104 morning show. I only get to listen to it for a few minutes in the mornings - but one recent Friday there was this big to-do. The DJ was claiming that he'd been fired, and to get back at the general manager he wasn't going to play anymore commercials for the rest of the morning. I only heard the discussion of what he was going to do, but it seemed like a ratings scam of some sort. Then, Monday morning, everything was normal. What was this? It was sort of annoying to listen to, especially when nothing seemed to happen in the end. I think I'll start bringing more cds in the car with me.


Frank Ahrens: Didn't hear it but must have been a stunt. Z104 is locked in a good, old-fashioned Top 40 ratings battle with the new Hot 99.5. You'll hear all kinds of stuff because of it.

Alexandria, Va.: Frank,
I think the "Jack & We-really-need-Bert-back" Show on 107.3 has hit a new low, and I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on their ploy.

Yesterday, they introduced a new type of commercial: benign host chatter that started out innocently enough as Jack talking about getting his teeth whitened. What it became was nothing short of a radio play/5-minute commercial.
Jack: Don't my teeth look great?
Stacy: Wow, after one 20-minute treatment?
Jack: Yeah, I got to watch TV while having it done at Dr. So-and-So's office. Wow, they were so nice. There's a Web site you can check this out at...etc.

Not only did we have to listen to it once, but the whole charade was repeated later on, live again, on the show. I ended up turning the channel. But the last straw was this morning, at 7:25, when I turned on the show. They were yet again conducting their live and long commercial. No more 107.3 for me.

So, how much would a five-minute radio commercial cost during morning drive time? Multiply that by at least 3.

Your thoughts? Thanks!

Frank Ahrens: Your objections notwithstanding, Jack Diamond's morning show was by far (nearly by double over its closest competitor) the No. 1 rated show among females 25-54, the show's target audience, in the most recent Arbitrons. So, I guess something's working, even if it's not your taste.

Chantilly, Va.: So Frankie: give us your first impressions on Opie and Anthony.

I listened while driving home and learned four new Greaseman-style euphemisms for body parts and sex acts: yambag, balloon knot, Roman helmet, and Dizzy Gillespie. Disgusting? Yes. Funny? Yes.

Frank Ahrens: I've hear Opie and Anthony several times in New York. I think their repartee is similar to Don and Mike's but O and A's material is much more sexually oriented. All you have to do is go to the WNEW Web site, www.wnew.com, and you'll see for yourself. (Tip: make sure no one of authority is standing behind you when you call up the pages.) O and A are Infinity's big hot rising stars. Often, they're funny. A number of months back, they had comedian Brian Regan on and they were hilarious. On the other hand, I don't think I'd let my kid listen to them unsupervised. It's definitely grown-up radio. Does it contribute to the coarsening of the culture? Don't make me go down that road...

Arlington, Va.: Can I put in a good word for WAMU? Sure, the station made a terrible choice by programming the same thing WETA was already playing in the afternoons.

But, the new weekend programming is interesting. In particular, I've listened a couple of time to Harry Shearer's "Le Show," which is odd and funny. Not hysterical. A bit too cynical. But still funny. And original. And inventive.

Isn't that what public radio should be?

I only wish it wasn't on in that graveyard timeslot - Fridays at 10 p.m. I was frustrated, realizing that I've heard the show twice. Don't I have a life? I asked myself. Then I realized that I found the program more entertaining than the garbage playing at the local movie theater. And it didn't give me a hangover. So it's not all bad.

Frank Ahrens: Thanks for the posting. I'm glad someone in D.C. finally picked up Harry Shear's excellent show, Le Show. D.C. is the natural place for his political satire. He's a really really talented guy. (Who can forget him as bassist Derek Smalls in "Spinal Tap?")
Overall, I'm very happy that D.C. has two strong-signaled, smart-sounding public radio stations. I'm ever glad that WAMU does local news--and promises more. I'm glad for the variety of shows both play on the weekends. And I think that some good people work there. However: Even commercial radio would not have Howard Stern on two stations in the same city. If you want to listen to NPR-affiliate public radio in the a.m., your choice is Bob Edwards...or Bob Edwards.

Bethesda, Md.: Any chance we can take Jack Diamond and his Q107 crew and place them on a slow boat to Mt. Etna?

I used to enjoy that station, but the incessant chatter about nothing is more than a person can bear. Any insight into why they think anyone wants to hear their opinion on every single topic under the sun?

Frank Ahrens: Hahahahaha!

Washington, D.C.: About the comment regarding HOT 99.5, if the listener had been aware of the song following the TOAST comment. They would have realized that the DJ was giving a TOAST to the song of "Here's to the night!" The comment from the Washington, D.C. listener had nothing to do with the DJ or the song rather it was rather telling of the lack of listening comprehension and rigmarole from a young pup. I happen to like the station and the DJ. I have found her to be crass, opinionated at times, but she doesn't yell. It's more like a loud shriek. There are plenty of other bland stations for the Washington, D.C. listener to glum onto so their speakers don't hurt with loud, wild, and hot music. They could always try the classical jazz station.

Frank Ahrens: Fair enough. Thanks for the posting.

Annandale, Va.: And how about Doug "Greaseman" Tracht filling in for Ollie North on the RadioAmerica net "AS" Doug Tracht and not as Grease?

Frank Ahrens: I listened to Tracht (who's filling in for Ollie North MWF this week) yesterday. Not long enough to form a full opinion, because I was on deadline. I did notice this, however: He was talking to a caller, presumably someone who wrote a story about Chandra Levy, about the Levy case. It seemed to me Tracht was straining...not to perform, but to hold back. He was trying to be compassionate--"our hearts go out to them"--but underneath, you could hear the improvisational madman trying to get out. Tracht is a huge talent who made two colossal mistakes, both of which were racially offensive, but he's sort of like an answer looking for a problem. He is a real throwback, in a way, to scene-oriented, word-picture, improvisational storytellers of old radio. It's unclear if today's radio has a place for him.

The Airless Cubicle: A lot of the radio companies, such as Cox Broadcasting, have reported lower-than-usual second-quarter earnings. Although we haven't gone to this, what happens to a radio station in bankruptcy?

O Dubya

Frank Ahrens: Hi, Dubya. Good to hear from you. Radio One also reported lower earnings from the second quarter. I know what happens with FCC takeaway auctions--that's how Cathy Hughes got WOL back in the day. It's hard for me to imagine a radio station going bankrupt: they'd just fire all the talent and go automated first, I bet.
Both radio companies Entercomm and Radio Unica reported second-quarter losses, too. But at least one radio analyst will predict today or tomorrow that radio revenues will turn up again by this time next year. Cyclic, I guess.

High Atop Crystal City, Va.: Hi, Frank. If Bethesda's looking for an alternative to Jack Diamond in the morning, why not give WMAL a try. Not only do you get to listen to Tim Brant and Andy Parks go on about everything trivial in their lives, you will have the privilege of being subjected to each subject for at least a half hour. By the way, I've also heard the "aren't my teeth dazzling white?" routine on their show, so it's not unique to 107.3. Maybe the good doctor is paying for the commercial time.

Thanks for letting me vent. I feel lots better now.

Frank Ahrens: Get out of the Human Habitrail, quick!

Chantilly, Va.: Frank --

Any thoughts on what D&M's jump to midday will do to their ratings locally?

They've been gunning for NYC for as long as I've been listening, how do you think they'll do there?

Finally, would you agree that they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces (to steal a phrase)? I mean, they're local icons, yet seem to be disregarding their local audience for a chance at the Big Apple. Any thoughts?

Frank Ahrens: That's the million-dollar question. Don and Mike have owned afternoon ratings since forever, dominating them by far. They have loyal listeners, but those listeners simply may not be able to listen to Don and Mike when they move to midday because of practical reasons: 1) they're not in their cars yet and 2) they're in an office where you can't get FM signals well, (esp. WJFK's weak signal) and they can't listen on the computer because WJFK's owner, Infinity, doesn't let their stations stream on the Web. This is a big local risk for them, but a big potential payoff nationally.

Washington, D.C.: Wow, I never thought of the Grease--"scene-oriented, word-picture, improvisational storytellers of old radio"--as a latter day (and potty-mouthed) Jean Shepherd. But that's an apt analogy. And sadly, yes, "It's unclear if today's radio has a place for him." Or that it would have a place for the great Jean Shepherd today, either.

Frank Ahrens: Yes, exactly like Jean Shepherd, only randy. Tracht's modus operandi was to substitute words (like "hydraulics" for "penis") that, if they were typed on an indecency complain to the FCC, would make no sense. "What'd he say? That she 'canoodled my hydraulics?' What does that mean? Case dismissed."
Pretty smart.

Fairfax, Va.: Enough of Don and Mike and O & A. What is up with WJFK's weekend programming? Tech Radio is gone and Goss' Garage is the only show left. Will they add weekend programming or do we still have to listen to infomercials about plants and bald people. Love your work!

Frank Ahrens: Serious. That's my next question to program director Don Geronimo.

Fairfax, Va.: Is Don Geronimo is fearing for his safety since his displacement of Liddy?

Frank Ahrens: Hahahaha! That's the best question of the day!
I'd be fearful for my life too, if I were the program director of the station that fired G. Gordon Liddy. You'll never know when it will come. A day from now, five years from now. He's silent and deadly. And worse yet, patient. The last thing you'll hear is something in pigeon German: "Auf wiedersehen, herr doof kopf."

Alexandria, Va.: Frank - I'm trying to get the piece on Lisa Baden but cannot get it to come up. What am I doing wrong? Hope there is a pix of her!

washingtonpost.com: Check out: Frank Ahrens' Radio Lives interview with WTOP traffic reporter Lisa Baden.

Frank Ahrens: Click on the link. See if that works.

Laurie: Frank,

I am an WETA listener -- I don't mind that their programming might be homogenous -- I listen from 6:00 am to 5:15 p.m. and never change the station -- My favorite show of all is Fresh Air -- Terry Gross is fabulous.

Frank Ahrens: Thanks, Laurie. WETA will appreciate your words.

From WGMS: James Bartel (normally the night guy who's subbing for Renne Cheney who's subbing for Diana Hollander) just had some fun on air over the public radio station article in today's paper.

See, your work gets mentioned even on the Classical Station!

Frank Ahrens: What did he say?

Bethesda, Md.: Frank, Great column today about the homogenization of public radio. I, too, am wondering how to make my preferences heard when pledging to WETA. I listen to the radio almost exclusively in my car. Most of the time it's either WETA or WPFW because I want music, any good music, with as little talk as possible to interfere. But I never pledge from my car because I don't have a cell phone -- I either call at a time when I'm not listening or else pledge online. Do you know whom I can contact to express my support for WETA's music shows? I'd love to ask them to broadcast some opera too.

Frank Ahrens: You can pledge to both WETA and WAMU on their web sites, www.weta.org and www.wamu.org.

Arlington, Va.: When I moved to the area in the 80s, I was delighted with the media here--a top notch newspaper and a wide selection of classical, jazz, folk and bluegrass on the radio. Well, there's still the newspaper.

Frank Ahrens: Well, I'm always doing my part to bring down the reputation of the paper.

Falls Church, Va.: Here's my problem with Washington radio. Here's what I listened to during the day (admittedly, at different decades) -
Grease driving to work
Chamber music on that little station out of Takoma Park at work
Show tunes at lunch (was that WGMS?)
WETA's classical through most of the afternoon - sometimes switching over to WAMU's bluegrass if I started falling asleep
Weasel on the way home (70's and early 80's HFS, not the one which replaced it)
Bob Here (HFS) driving around in the early evening, listening to nine songs in a row with girl's names as titles
Learning everything about jazz on WDCU for the rest of the evening

Now what do I do?

Frank Ahrens: Call up Christopher Lloyd and see if you can rent that time-travelin' DeLorean of his. Put on your Merry Go Round zippered pants, your skinny cranberry-colored pleather tie, put some jell in your hair and dial up 1983.

Arlington, Va.: Frank, some observations about your column this morning. When WETA stopped playing classical music in the morning and switched to Morning Edition, I switched my NPR allegiance to WBJC in Baltimore even though, at times in Arlington, I can only pick it up in mono, not stereo. But WBJC's wonderful music gets me going in the morning.

At the time, I e-mailed WETA saying the last thing this town needs is another radio talk show. Of course, to no avail. So, I stopped contributing to WETA, sending my checks to WBJC, instead. This is from someone who had once volunteered to man WETA's phones during their fund drive.

Your quote of Dan DeVany that he believes the switch to Morning Edition "was the right move" is drop dead funny. I remember, prior to the change in format, Dan DeVany beseeching WETA's listeners during a fund drive to pledge their support to "keep classical music on WETA."

Now, during the week, the only people during the day who can listen to classical music on WETA are retirees and the unemployed.

That, plus other changes in WETA's format, i.e., Traditions moving to 9:00 p.m., Millenium of Music to 10:00 p.m., Songs for Aging Children, to Sunday Evenings (it's a great afternoon show but who wants to listen to Devil with a Blue Dress On during dinner), completely soured me on WETA.

You hit the nail on the head when the Morning Edition switch took place. Your column mentioned the "money" issue and in my second e mail to WETA (I received the standard boiler plate response to my first e mail), I mentioned your column and that it "really is all about money." I never heard back from them.

Frank Ahrens: Thanks for the thoughtful posting.

Annapolis, Md.: Hi Frank --

I used to be the Audience Research Director at NPR and I now run a public radio research and fundraising consulting firm. I have a point of information about public radio fundraising. We know that listeners give to public radio because of their TOTAL use of a station -- not just one program. Most stations, WAMU and WETA included, raise more than half of their listener support off of the air. Additionally, listeners who do give during pledge drive usually give only once during the drive. That decision is driven by convenience rather than program loyalty.

Other factors such as at-home listening and program format also affect pledge drive results.

For these reasons, the industry has moved away from using dollars raised on-air as a way to evaluate the worth of a program to the station. If the D.C. stations are offering pledge dollars up as a reason for a program decision -- call them on it. That's not how decisions are being made. If using pledge dollars as an explanation for program decisions is of your own making -- you might want to reconsider that position. It leads readers in the wrong direction.

John S.

Frank Ahrens: Thanks for the smart posting. I will say, however, that popular shows, like Morning Edition, not only bring in the bucks themselves, but also increase the station's overall value to the listeners, as you say, hence the rise in off-air pledges. So when I wrote that it's almost financially irresponsible for stations not to carry Mooring Edition and All Things Considered, it's not just for the $$$ they bring in. It's for the factor that it's like parking a Mercedes in your driveway--good for image, hence, more money, especially from big-money donors, like the sort that give to the National Symphony and that sort.

Frank Ahrens: That's gonna do it for today, folks. Thanks for a nice, lively chat. We were all over the place, from talking about public radio to wondering if G. Gordon Liddy had become a black op and dropped off the radar screen.
See you in two weeks.
Put a damp washcloth on the back of your neck and fan yourself with a funeral home fan that has a picture of Jesus on the back.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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