“We Don’t Feel Like We’re a Radio Station”

You can limit yourself by your delivery mechanism.

That’s the message from Jennifer Ferro, General Manager of LA’s legendary non-commercial juggernaut KCRW.

Quoting Jennifer:

We have never thought of ourselves as a radio station. The radio is just the delivery device.  It’s all the gooey stuff that we think up, create, and analyze that makes us what we are.

And KCRW most recently illustrated this very concept in their groundbreaking iPad app, the Music Mine, developed in conjunction with PRX.

Watch and listen to the way Jennifer describes the vision for KCRW, and recognize that she could be talking about your station brand, too.  You are not just “radio” anymore.  And the sooner you stop thinking of yourselves that way, the sooner your advertising partners and consumers will do likewise.

Watch this video:

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  • Frank M

    Excellent interview and a must-watch for anyone in public radio. Though I will say that her belief that radio is for the grandmas of the world is pretty off-base, otherwise the Ryan Seacrests and Nick Cannons of the world would be unemployed. But overall, the idea that a radio station should not limit itself to the idea of its terrestrial broadcast reach is excellent. Understanding and serving your local market without limiting yourself to it is critical to survival in the next generation of radio. Thank you for the interview!

  • Thanks for the comment, Frank!

    PS I don’t think she literally believes radio is for grandmas only.

  • Lee Cornell

    Absolutely! As media entities, the more we view “radio” as one of our cache of delivery platforms, the more likely we will be to focus on how we shape, create, and utilise content… and build new revenue models. 

  • Thanks Lee!

  • Ryan Williams

    You know, those are neat ideas and all, but calling KCRW a “juggernaut” in any meaningful sense seems pretty generous. With all due respect, the station/app/brand – however they think of themselves today – isn’t terribly relevant in any category they compete in. For example, in the radio space, they routinely get walloped in both ratings and reach by the very limited Orange County Class A FMs.

    Also, saying that you don’t really think of yourself as a radio station, when clearly the principle asset in the organization is a radio station, seems pretty foolish. If traditional radio is as valueless as she makes it seem, why not just sell off 89.9 to EMF and move to Silicon Valley to only make apps?

  • Well, “juggernaut” may be too strong a word, but you are dead wrong about the influence of this station in music fan and public radio fan circles, Ryan.

    I haven’t seen the ratings but clearly dominating ratings is not their core mission, just as it isn’t for any public radio station committed to public service and rewarding listeners for their support.

    Indeed, the radio station is not their principal asset – their principal asset is the attention of their fans and consumers. That is also the principal asset for any “radio station” whether they choose to see it that way or not (just ask Seth Godin if you don’t believe me).

    It’s unfair to characterize her comments as a “slam” on radio, since it’s clear that that is an important driver of their content to consumers and she knows that better than we do. Rather, we should be looking at this entire discussion as one which opens up possibilities for radio to be more than it has been for a hundred years.

    We have to get away from the tendency to blind boosterism “rah rah” for radio on one side and “radio is dead” on the other. Both are incredibly foolish and shortsighted points of view, no matter who is espousing them.

  • Anonymous

    Ryan Williams called it. It is a nice cool article, but where the rubber hits the road the station is no longer that relevant. Furthermore they have such a different model  it is apples and oranges.

  • You are entitled to your opinion, but I disagree with it. This is exactly the kind of broader picture thinking that allows the “narrow” category of radio to broaden with the tastes of its audiences. And their model is different, yes, but does that mean there’s nothing to be learned from it? No. After all, advertisers matter a lot in their world, too (they’re called underwriters). And consumers, it turns out, matter even more (they’re called members).

  • John Krandal

    Thanks for the interview, but I am underwhelmed by Music Mine’s capabilities. Maybe I should ignore the hype.

    Jennifer Farro quotes:

    “…lets us kind of be this service providing this universe of music..”

    “..and we’ll focus on this concept of mining through music…”

    “..we do that because it’s really about this concept of discovery and if you already know what you are looking for then you really aren’t finding anything new…”

    From the KCRW Music Mine web page:

    “The app displays up to 100 artists at a time..”

    So, my universe, my discovery is limited to 100 albums at a time? No wonder they didn’t want to provide a search function.

    Jennifer Farro quote:

    “..what we were really trying to do was breakaway from the concept of radio…”

    From the web page touting Music Mine:

    “KCRW stamp of approval”, “handpicked by tastemakers at the LA public radio station”, “updated daily in tandem with our on air playlists.”

    So, my Music Mine universe is restricted to what KCRW has played, is playing? I understand KCRW DJ’s are world renown, but I am a little suspicious of tastemaking.

    Also, I get a sense that Music Mine is geared towards new music. The universe, the mine, the discovery is diminished if limited only to the new. 

  • 100 at a time, but an ever-changing 100. That’s what curation is all about – creating the field of discovery for your audience to play in. It could be argued that the opportunity to discover EVERYTHING at once may be discovery, but it’s not curation. And the value is in their human curation, not simply the discovery it enables.

    You’re right that discovery is diminished if limited only to the new, but KCRW is not iTunes. And even iTunes has more discovery (as measured by sales) from new titles.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoy the perspective and challenging ideas. Good stuff.
    Something I’m wrestling with: (not just Jennifer,but) the number of “radio professionals” (I should drop “radio,” I know,lol) who don’t listen to radio. Now, I’m sure one response is likely “see, radio is no longer relevant.” OK, but if a major movie or television exec. was public/proud of the fact that they didn’t see any films or programs…it would likely not lead to a long tenure in that industry. It’s somehow hip to only listen to ____ (insert Apple device of choice.) Grandma isn’t the only one still listening to radio. Shouldn’t we be listening to more radio,not less?
    Also, somewhat inline w/ some of the strengths of the Music Mine app, if all anyone does is listen to what they have personally selected (on their device) there’s stagnation. There’s no growth past the point of introduction to the media they already know & prefer, whatever the means of introduction. It seems as though we need to not only program much more effectively, we need to reclaim the role of the “introducer” of great content. Actually, I probably came to that thought through your writing,Mark
    Be gentle, I’m just dipping my toe in… 🙂

  • How dare you suggest I’m not gentle! I let everybody in here! 🙂

    Regarding your point, sure! And to introduce great content you need to make it. Because makers of great content never have a problem introducing fans to it 🙂

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