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NPR Stations in the Same Market Running the Same Programs at the Same Time:

I like listening to All Things Considered and other NPR shows; I'm not wild about their political bias, but I like their tone and style. Another example of cultural affinity trumping political affinity, I suspect.

But here's my question: In L.A., two radio stations (KCRW and KPCC) both carry All Things Considered, but they generally carry it at the same time. That means that if there's a story on one station that bores me, I can't just switch to the other station, since the other station is generally carrying exactly the same story at the same time.

Now of course neither station wants to give up the optimal time slot -- but why doesn't one station (perhaps the one that has fewer listeners and thus more of an incentive to try to get some) play the segments in a different order? Unless I'm mistaken, the NPR news feed is 2 hours long. Why doesn't the less popular station play the second hour first and the first hour second, and thus suck in the other station's listeners who want to switch away from some boring story? And if they're above mere listener-grubbing, why don't they just provide such an alternative as a public service?

Is there some technical or contractual twist that I'm missing? (I don't think there's any antitrust problem, because there'd be no need to have any agreement between the two stations; either station can do this unilaterally.) Please respond in the comments.

Matt Welch (mail) (www):
As far as I know, the two stations, and the two stations' owners, are competitors -- National Public Radio vs. Minnesota Public Radio. The confusion arises because they dip heavily into the same content bag. With L.A. being the best and most competitive public radio market in the market, I'd guess that both run All Things Considered just as soon as they can, and don't want to delay because they don't want to lose listeners.
6.8.2005 7:57pm
Dick King:
I don't really know what to tell you...

The program is sent out in a defined order, complete with bumper music: see a typical program. However, it's unlikely that many programs would sound inferior if the halves were swapped, and it probably is designed so it can be split on an hour boundary because some stations only give one hour of ATC.

Given that we live on the West Coast, it's likely that the program is delivered well before we hear it.

Obviously your proposal doesn't work for shows that accept phone calls, but ATC is not such a show.

It seems likely to me that neither station has thought of swapping the half hours. Have you considered calling them? These are not fortune 500 companies — they have budgets that imply payrolls of a dozen or two people at the most — so you may well be able to talk to someone who can talk to you about this.

-dk
6.8.2005 8:06pm
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
I have actually heard KCRW and KPCC do something similar to what you suggest. They edit the news feeds and stick in local news items that are of different lengths. Thus, one station sometimes has the _All Things Considered_ feed running a few minutes off from the other, and I have definitely heard material on one station that was cut from the same story in the version that ran on the other station.
6.8.2005 8:08pm
Doug Sundseth (mail):
The local (Denver) public station runs All Things Considered twice daily, back-to-back (from 3 pm to 7pm). While this isn't dispositive, it is at least indicative that they have quite a bit of control.
6.8.2005 8:16pm
Charlie Quidnunc (mail) (www):
Another alternative is podcasting. You listen to what you want when you want. You need a podcasting client (free) like iPodder or Doppler Radio, and a portable MP3 player (not necessarily an iPod). Then programs are automatically downloaded to your computer, where they can be synchronized to your portable player automatically. Then, just pick up the player and go. Many commercial programs already do it, and there are about 6000 amateurs who offer regular programs. NPR is planning to start soon. I do a several times a week summary of what people are talking about in the blogosphere (including this site) on mine, at http://ripnread.com.
6.8.2005 9:35pm
Not_Todd (mail):
You're overlooking the bright side. When one is doing a fund drive, you can tune into the other.
6.8.2005 11:42pm
Phil Johnson (mail):
I commute between San Francisco and Sacramento and can get NPR sations from each simultaneously. Their segments are staggered so that I used to do exactly what you suggest.
6.9.2005 10:46am
Tom from MD (mail):
Here in MD, I have 3 NPR stations - all three play ATC. Two of them intersperse Marketplace, but fortunately do it at different times. So I get a limited choice for that hour.

One of them plays The News Hour (i.e. the sound from the TV show) at 7, which is great, but unless work goes bad, I'm home by then.
6.9.2005 11:51am
Henry Woodbury (mail):
WBUR and WGBH in Boston are unhappily converging. Up to now, WGBH featured mostly music programming while WBUR ran mostly news and commentary. Now WGBH has dropped several hours of classical music on Saturday and Sunday to run Weekend Edition and has killed an hour of their superb weekday evening jazz programming to run a boilerplate commentary program. The latter even features a former WBUR host (Christopher Lyden) and seems intended to compete against WBUR's "On Point" program that runs at the same time.

While both stations have long provided matching versions of ATC, the loss of an hour of Jazz a night is a dagger through my heart.
6.9.2005 12:42pm
Katherine (mail):
When one is doing a fund drive, you can tune into the other.

No such luck here in DC -- both stations had their spring drive on simultaneously. That's when I discovered the Jack format.
6.10.2005 3:50pm