07 April 2008

What Kind of Good is Public Radio?

My local public radio station is doing its pledge drive. I'm a shameless free-rider, but since I average only about 5 minutes a day of public radio, I figure it's ok to be without shame.

This morning, the announcer said that their listernship is growing, and that each new listener increases their costs. Now I'm puzzling over that. It seems to me that public radio is a toll good--that each new listener would have minimal, if any, effects on cost. (Unless you got those new listeners by putting up a new antenna to reach a new set of potential listeners).

So did NPR lie to me to get my money? Or is there something I'm missing?


DEH said...

If your local NPR affiliate has an online presence they may be referring to their bandwidth costs. WLRH in Huntsville, for instance, makes all of their programming available online in streaming format -- I imagine that can't be cheap.

Other than that, I can't imagine how it could cost more per listener.

Anonymous said...

NPR charges the station according to the estimated listenership - so they charge Houston more than they would El Paso for All Things Considered.
But there's no way to know if each individual radio listener is tuning into the local NPR station.
And the graduated cost as population increases is not very much - and it's also countered by the amount of money a station will get from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

So - did they lie to you?
But that's a harsh way of looking at it.
Most of the local public radio pichers are volunteers with little training - and even when they are full time employees they still say some crazy things to generate pledges.
It's not easy talking into a live mic for hours at a time and trying to get people to donate.

The thing is - you can not guilt people into giving - and you (the host blogger) is a perfect example of that.
Instead the local public radio station is better off ONLY talking about the benefits of supporting public radio - not just for the listener but for the entire community.

James Hanley said...

Great comments, thanks. That's why I put "is there something I don't know," because so often when we rant about these kinds of things, it turns out there are things we don't know, and that do matter.

But now I'm thinking some more, and it appears to me that I can help my local NPR affiliate by not listening! ;)

And I'm not wholly sure you can't, to some extent, guilt-trip people into donating. They can tell me all about the benefits, but I can get those for free, so telling me about them doesn't give me incentive to donate (and the tote-bags and stuff never interest me). But avoiding guilt...that may be the one thing I can't do unless I give. Still, it's either empirically true or false, and I don't personally know which, although I suspect anonymous is right. Guilt-trippping listeners probably just causes them to tune out.

And anonymous is exactly right about the difficulty of talking into a microphone for hours. I was being a little tounge-in-cheek on the lying question, although of course that rarely comes across well in a blog. But many's the time I've laughed at something a radio host, sports announcer, or politician said, and said, thank god nobody (except my students) is recording the things I say. Because I'd do it, too.