When I started this blog about six years ago, public radio stations were awakening to the challenges involved in evolving from having just one outlet for what we create — FM radio — to functioning in a diverse and complicated media world that is largely built on the Internet.
Back then, one of the strategies KUSP felt was worth exploring was to find a way to collaborate with other nearby public broadcasters. Our main focus at the time was trying to find a way to partner with KAZU, the Monterey Bay area’s other NPR member station. In early 2008, after about a year and a half of serious discussions, Cal State Monterey Bay (KAZU’s owner) ended that conversation, but both parties gathered a lot of information in the process. For KUSP, we used what we learned to make some significant decisions about what we program and how we operate, and our audience and donor support has grown steadily since that time.
2008 was also the year we started one of our most important station-to-station collaborations — becoming partners with KALW in San Francisco on production of our daily call-in/interview program, Your Call, which airs weekdays at 10:00 AM.
Fast forward to the present, and the urgency of finding a better way to provide public radio in the U.S. is greater and more widespread. Earlier this month I attended a national meeting of public radio executives focused on collaboration. We looked at the issue in two different dimensions — station-to-station collaborations (as we tried to do with KAZU, and have been doing with KALW) and station-to-network collaborations.
In a sense, some of the most important services public radio provides are the product of long-standing collaborations. NPR itself can be thought of as a big collaboration or a big co-op; it is governed by the 268 organizations that own NPR member stations (including KUSP). The stations vote to elect NPR’s Board of Directors and contribute most of its financial support through dues and fees for the programming we use.
There are a lot of ideas in circulation about how to improve the station-network relationship (not just at NPR, but at the other major distribution organizations too, such as Public Radio International and American Public Media). But more of the innovation is happening now at the station-to-station level.
KUSP hopes to encourage a renewed focus on collaboration with the stations that are our neighbors — in the San Francisco Bay area and in the rest of Central California. We realize that great opportunities exist if we can improve our collective efficiency and free up more resources for local and regional programming… and improving the ways we get that content to you, whether it’s on FM radio or through all the other ways our audience consumes media (desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, and on and on).
Here are some of the interesting angles we’ve seen recently in terms of collaboration at the local and regional level:
St. Louis Public Radio, operated by the St. Louis campus of the University of Missouri, is merging with the St. Louis Beacon, an innovative online-only news organization. This blog post describes what they’re hoping to accomplish together.
In Kentucky, six of the state’s seven public radio stations are involved in a study of how they can align their efforts. Kentucky has a history of powerful station-to-station partnerships going back twenty years.
The Kentucky stations are being advised by a national non-profit, Public Radio Capital, that has been involved with many different station collaboration projects. Two Public Radio Capital executives summarize the challenges and some of the strategic solutions they see in this article.
Like the Monterey Bay area, Buffalo, New York had two NPR news stations competing with each other, neither having enough capacity to really do a great job. This article describes how they pulled the stations together and diversified the formats, giving listeners higher quality and more choice.
We hope our renewed focus on finding collaborative solutions in this part of California will bear some fruit in the months ahead. As we make progress, I’ll let you know what we’re up to in this blog.