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A Question of Place

The Carnegie Commission's poetry that defined public radio 30 years ago waxes eloquent about the "bedrock of localism." Yet while all public radio stations are local, all public radio programming is not.

Two questions keep emerging as managers wrestle with local programming investments.

Do listeners appreciate the geographic localness of programming as much as many of us do?

Do listeners consider it important that their public radio stations reflect their geographic communities?

While the answer may vary from station to station, AUDIENCE 98 finds several clues strongly suggesting that

geographic localism is a more compelling concept among many public broadcasters than it is among most listeners.

No single statistic tells us this conclusively. But we do see a number of consistent indicators.


In terms of sheer hours on the air, local programming dominates the schedules of most public stations across America.

But there’s as much listening to network programming as there is to local – principally to NPR news magazines and a short list of major, nationally distributed shows.

Most listening to network programming happens when the available radio audience is at its peak. But placement alone does not account for its over-contribution to listening.

The audience’s loyalty to network programming is 32%.  Compare this to its loyalty of 26% to local programming.

Public radio’s network programming clearly exerts a stronger pull. On the measure of loyalty it serves our own audience better than our local programming does.

We might guess that this is, at least in part, a function of the higher quality of major network programming. But we don’t know for sure.

Personal Importance

Listeners are more likely to consider network programming more important in their lives than local programming.

For every five public radio listeners,

two consider network programming more personally important than local programming;

one considers local programming more important;

and two rate network and local programming the same.

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Individuals’ assessments of programming's personal importance are strongly influenced by their listening. For instance, those who don’t listen to local programming are unlikely to consider it important in their lives. Similarly, those who listen heavily are much more likely to consider it important.

However, something more than sheer use is involved in a listener’s assessment of personal importance.

That something is "uniqueness."

Programming Uniqueness

Listeners who consider network programming more personally important than local programming believe strongly that "public radio’s news is unique, not available on commercial stations."

But those who say local programming is more important than network programming are not more likely to say "the music on public radio is unique...."

Are listeners telling us that network news is unique and local music is not? Because the questions were not posed this way, this conclusion is speculative. But it’s quite logical, as most listening to network programming is to news, and most listening to local programming is to music.

We do know for sure that

the personal importance listeners attribute to network programming includes a component of "uniqueness," while their assessment of local programming does not.

"Local" Versus "Community"

The definition of what is "local" has changed significantly in 30 years.   New communication technologies have created the "global village," bringing the world’s news and culture into our homes as a daily reality.

Most of public radio’s educated listeners have adapted easily to these changes. They have become, as Bill Siemering once imagined, "citizens of the world."

For them, "community" has transcended geographic boundaries to mean an association of shared beliefs and interests.

Listeners with a "sense of community" – a concept introduced in the "Givers" report – feel a strong resonance with public radio’s social and cultural values and seek it out when traveling or moving residence. They are also more likely to be givers.

Given their world view it should come as no surprise that

listeners who say network programming is more important share a stronger "sense of community" than do listeners who prefer local programming.

In other words,

a person’s use of local programming does not contribute to this sense of community; his or her use of national programming does.

Unfortunately, because of how the questions were asked, we do not know from this study whether it is the "news" or the "national" component of network programming that contributes most to this sense of community.

More Questions Ahead

So – do listeners appreciate the geographic localness of programming as much as many of us do? And do they consider it important that their public radio station reflects its geographic community?

Not only is network programming generally a stronger audience draw, it is more important in the lives of many more listeners.

The personal importance people place on network programming transcends their listening. They find it unique, and through it share a virtual community defined by values, beliefs, and interests.

Given the information at its disposal, AUDIENCE 98 can find no evidence that listeners feel this way about programming produced locally.

These findings are clear, but far from the last word. They offer strong guidance for further research and additional thinking.

– David Giovannoni
– Jay Youngclaus
– Leslie Peters
AUDIENCE 98 Core Team

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For More Information

This report highlights the tensions between two communities – those defined by geographic proximity and those defined by shared interests and values.

Network programming is currently the most effective at serving the latter, engendering as it does A Sense of Community that transcends location.   This key AUDIENCE 98 concept was introduced in the Givers report to help explain why listeners consider their public radio station to be an important part in their lives.

But what about station programming efforts to serve truly local interests?

In May of this year Springfield, Oregon became A Place in Question.  In a thoughtful essay written in the aftermath of the high school shooting deaths, KLCC Program Director Don Hein suggests how a "community" station can effectively address unique local needs.

This is difficult, as the concept of "local news" on public radio is about as foreign to listeners as "network music."  What Do Listeners Think When They Think of "Local" and "National" Programming?  Click here to find out.


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Navigate the Report

arrow.gif (139 bytes)     A Question of Place
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes)     A Sense of Community
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) A Place in Question
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) What Do Listeners Think When They Think of "Local" and "National" Programming?

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Examine the Statistical Analyses Behind the Report, Part 1
(38 pages; 158,272 bytes)

Statistical Analyses, Part 2
(12 pages; 69,692 bytes)

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Audience Research Analysis
Copyright ARA and CPB.  All rights reserved.
Revised: September 01, 2000 12:38 PM.