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Public Radio's Minority Audiences

The most important thing to understand about public radio’s minority audience is this:

There is one.

In fact, there are many.

One-in-seven listeners identify themselves as being other than white. That’s over three million minority listeners tuning in each week – double the number of 10 years ago.

The second most important thing to understand is what serves these listeners:

Most listen because of their interest in public radio’s hallmark programming.

Efforts to "target" minority audiences are not without merit or success. But public radio serves more minority listeners – and generally serves them better – with the news, information, and entertainment programming for which it is best known by all of its listeners.

The remaining point to take away is this:

Public radio’s minority audience will continue to grow because the college-educated minority population will continue to grow.

In sum: Public radio’s service to minority audiences has never been greater. All signs point to even more minority listeners seeking what public radio does best: programming that transcends racial and ethnic differences, programming that embraces the values and attitudes of an educated citizenry.

Two Service Strategies

To address the future, we must understand the two distinct strategies through which public radio attracts and serves minority listeners today.

The first strategy ignores demographic distinctions of age and sex, race and ethnicity. In its best moments it transcends racial and ethnic differences. It focuses on virtual communities of listeners who share the values and attitudes formed by their educational experience.

The second strategy targets listeners who share certain racial or ethnic characteristics. It focuses primarily on persons with these characteristics.

The Strategy To Transcend

Thirty years ago, public radio set forth a beacon of public service to advance understanding among people of good will; to unite rather than divide; to include rather than exclude; to transcend races and creeds, origins and situations.

The mission embodied in this strategy holds as self-evident that a person’s character, values, and attitudes are more relevant than one’s racial or ethnic background. It emphasizes the similarities among people rather than their differences.

Most public radio programming embraces this mission. And it serves minority listeners well. Indeed, most minority listeners are drawn to public radio for its hallmark news, information, music, and entertainment programming.

When measured by their character, public radio’s minority listeners have more in common with other public radio listeners than with non-listeners who share their ethnic or racial backgrounds.

Formal education sets them apart.

So do their attitudes and values – most clearly viewed through the VALS2  personality types.

Indeed, character, attitudes, and values are at the heart of this transcendent appeal. As we move forward with policy and programming initiatives:

The Strategy To Target

Other minority listeners are served by a strategy that beckons to people of specific racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Targeted policy and programming initiatives are at the heart of this strategy – adjusted through the years as we’ve learned how best to implement it:

A Powerful Combination

A Powerful Contradiction

In geographic communities where stations seek to serve different audiences, the two strategies offer a viable public service combination. However,

the strategy to transcend racial heritage and the strategy to target it are at direct operational odds.

They serve such vastly different audiences that they do not and cannot serve the public when implemented on a single station.

The strategy to transcend racial heritage and the strategy to target it are also at direct philosophical odds.

The targeting strategy emphasizes differences in our racial and cultural backgrounds. The transcendence strategy emphasizes similarities in our characters.

Is one strategy better than another? AUDIENCE 98 cannot inform this philosophical and political debate.

However, AUDIENCE 98 can tell us which strategy is currently more effective.

– Frank Tavares
UDIENCE 98 Associate

– David Giovannoni
AUDIENCE 98 Core Team

Blue Line

For More Information

We begin by Triangulating on Today’s Minority Audiences. Exactly how many minority listeners does public radio now serve, anyway?

Clearly, public radio serves more minority Americans today than ever. And just as clearly, its service to minority listeners will increase as it rides powerful Population Trends.

Public radio employs two strategies to serve minority listeners. The strategy to target listeners by racial and cultural characteristics is the more prominent in discussions about minority service.

However, public radio’s implicit strategy to transcend currently serves more minority listeners than does its explicit strategy to target. The current success and future direction of each strategy must be assessed in its own terms, as You Get Who You Play For.

Public radio’s strategy to transcend has mostly gone unnoticed as a magnet for minority listening. Its power lies in its ability to serve needs not currently met on the commercial band. When you think about it, Transcendence Is An Unmet Need, Too.

Public radio’s strategy to target is most developed in service to America’s largest minority – Blacks/African Americans. AUDIENCE 98’s pool of responses is big enough to get a more detailed look at these listeners.

A Closer Look at Black/African American Listeners finds them congregating in three rooms – each with its own programming characteristics, each with its own audience characteristics.

Twenty years ago, as NPR’s Director of Specialized Audience Programming, Dr. Frank Tavares helped create targeted programming for a network that had yet to develop a critical mass of targeted stations. He finds much to celebrate as he places public radio’s service to minority audiences into an historical perspective. He sees A Glass Half Full… And Rising.


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Navigate the Report

arrow.gif (139 bytes)     Public Radio's Minority Audiences
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes)     Triangulating on Today’s Minority Audiences
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) Population Trends
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) You Get Who You Play For
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) Transcendence Is An Unmet Need, Too
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) A Closer Look at Black/African American Listeners
  transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) A Glass Half Full… And Rising

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Examine the Statistical Analyses Behind the Report
(102 pages; 470,251 bytes)

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