Public Radio could learn some lessons from Non-Commercial Christian stations

I now work with a couple non-commercial radio stations. Not “Public” stations in the National Public Radio sense, but Christian stations in the “do unto others” sense.

The differences between the two worlds, Christian non-commercial and “Public” non-commercial are stark.

In the world of Public Radio, the emphasis is almost always on surveying users of particular programs with special emphasis on those users who are also contributors.

In fact, I do not ever recall being asked to survey anyone about a Public Radio station who does not already listen to a Public Radio station.

My Christian non-commercial stations, meanwhile, are completely different. Their interests are certainly to keep their listeners happy, but their primary interest is to grow their audience. By definition, this means considering the potential listenership available to them and surveying outside their current audience.

The difference, I believe, is mission-based.

The mission of Public Radio is to educate. Their roots are in education. The mission of Christian stations is to evangelize. Their roots are in spreading the word.

While evangelizing implies talking to more people, not fewer, and converting more fans, not settling for the ones we already have, education as a goal implies no such thing. An education goal says “we’ll educate the folks we serve now without regard for adding new students to the mix.”

That is, the mission-box of Public Radio constrains its interest in growth while the mission-box of Christian Radio is all about growth.

So what?

Well, when I asked my Christian clients why they care so much about building audience when the real measure of their financial success was listener contributions, they told me something terribly important:

The more listeners we have (and the more fans we have) the more financial support we receive.

The proverbial rising tide floats all financial support boats.

If you’re a Public Radio station this should give you pause. Because your strategy of building more special interest programs serving devoted niche audiences is not a strategy that will float all boats.

More listeners mean more financial support. Niche programming means fewer listeners.

But Public Radio’s audience has grown over the past few years, you might say. And right you are. But does Public Radio think this is happening because of its plethora of special interest niche offerings? Or in spite of those offerings and primarily because of its real strength, in-depth news?

And what if Public Radio were to emphasize those information strengths even more and tailor them to an even broader audience? What if they were to supplant the niche offerings with in-depth information content aimed at the masses? What do you think would happen then?

Hmmm?

Just ask the Christian non-commercial stations.

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