Public Radio Me

Every effort of creation begins with a set of assumptions – a definition of what "we" are and what we are trying to achieve, based largely on what we do, have done, and have always been.

This is fine unless conditions change or unless we swap one medium for another. Remember the video of the early days of TV news?  Spare studio, visible earpiece, super-sized microphone.  It wasn't television, it was radio with pictures.


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To dive into a new medium (like mobile) on a new platform (like an iPhone) you need to think completely different thoughts about a completely different medium in order to be successful in serving it and its patrons.

To do otherwise is to succumb to a psychological state called "functional fixedness."  That's a cognitive bias that limits a person to using a thing only in the way it has traditionally been used.

If we, as broadcasters, are using mobile like radio then we are suffering from functional fixedness.

It's an easy trap to fall into.  After all, the shortest distance between our over-the-air station and our iPhone app is our stream.  But our over-the-air product is exactly the fixed function that this new mobile medium ceases to limit us to.  There is virtually no point to a mobile app that doesn't add value to the experience of using (note that I didn't say "listening to") your station.

Too many broadcasters are viewing mobile selfishly.  Listen, the consumer doesn't care what's in your company's best interests, she cares only for her own problems and whether or not your app solves them.

Public radio apps (which are some of the best out there), for example, tend to be bundled into menu-filled portfolios of public radio stations and shows rather than engaging experiences immersed in the station or program that's of most interest to me.  They are, in other words, "horizontal" when they could be more "vertical."

Are you a Car Talk fan?  No dedicated mobile app for you.  That's right, I can have an app that masquerades as a lighter at a concert but I can't have an app for Car Talk.  One that does more than replay the show – one that deepens my experience and (buzz-word alert) engagement with the show.

And if I'm a fan of WHYY (for example) in Philadelphia, don't give me an app that simply replays the station.  Give me a choice of streams, including ones not duplicated on-air.  Give me an app that brings me more of ME, not simply more of you (or, by bundling your station with many others, LESS of you). Where's the local cultural information?  The local news? The weather and traffic? Where are highlights of local shows (not simply over-long and over-leisurely podcasts)?  Where are my interaction and participation opportunities?  Where's your recognition of the fact that MY WHYY is not the same as HIS WHYY or HER WHYY?  Where is the Public Radio Me?

And isn't Public Radio Me exactly the kind of public radio I'm likely to pay you for in the mad media years to come?

The reason we approach this so narrowly is that we have a natural tendency to bundle our assets the way they're bundled in our industry (our "functional fixedness"), rather than unbundle them according to the tastes of each individual fan.  We must configure our apps around that fan's interests rather than our over-the-air stream.

The traditional media channels scream so loudly, you can barely hear the tiny voices of each individual participant in your cause.

"What about ME?" he may ask.  

And don't just call him a "listener."

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