Station Drops NPR Newscasts, Now What?

Aug 24, 2014

The WFUV newsroom.

My name is George and my station dropped NPR newscasts.

When I was first confronted with that proposal, I was like, “we’re considering doing what???”

But, once I got over the initial shock, I took a very hard look at the facts, and seized it as an opportunity to grow WFUV’s news presence. 

First of all, WFUV is Triple A station. By and large listeners come to us for music. That’s not to say our listeners simply want to bury their heads in the playlist and ignore the fact that the world is revolving around them as they catch the latest from Mumford and Sons. Our listeners are life-long learners who want to be in the know about current events, including when news breaks during the day.

So why drop NPR newscasts?

Eliminating NPR headlines did lead to a cost savings of about $50,000 a year. But, that wasn’t the motivating factor. As I mentioned, WFUV is a music station, and the station wanted to increase focus on music programming.

“We were concerned with our ability to retain audience when we cut to three minutes of news each hour across the day, “said WFUV General Manager, Chuck Singleton. “Of course, this was also informed by (and made less of a risk) by our awareness of the experience of our peers in music format stations; we were one of the last to retain the hourly newscasts.”

WFUV also worked with Radio Research Consortium to analyze quarter hour flow across the top of each hour. “Our analysis with RRC confirmed that a significant number of listeners were tuning away at the top of every hour across the day,” Singleton said.

Well, isn’t that all a punch in the gut for the news director? 

But, I get it. I managed the newsroom of a group of commercial music stations for many years. It was a similar situation. Listeners came to us for the music, but we knew they appreciated the news. The trick is to strategically place and package the news, and of course, make it as engaging as possible. 

That doesn’t mean I still didn’t have questions I needed to answer for myself or have answered for me before I felt comfortable saying au revoir to NPR newscasts. ...

  • If we drop NPR newscasts would we be leaving listeners in a lurch? 
    No.
    First of all, they appear to be tuning them out. Second, WFUV’s news department and senior management are as committed as ever to keeping our listeners informed. In fact, we used the decision to drop NPR newscasts to take a very critical look at our coverage and expand upon it (more on that coming up). Third, WFUV is just down the dial from WNYC, which pretty much owns the NPR brand in New York City. If people want to listen to NPR newscasts, they have a place to turn for them.
     
  • Would dropping NPR newscasts mean WFUV will no longer be an NPR station?
    No. This was kind of a big deal for me. I believe that NPR is at the apex of journalistic integrity and I take a lot of pride in being affiliated with the organization. WFUV remains an NPR member station, contributing content to both NPR News and NPR Music.  We still have access to NPR’s breaking news feed, which puts my mind at ease in the event we need to tap into it.
     
  • Would WFUV’s news department lose credibility if we dropped NPR newscasts?
    Again, no. We received more questions than complaints about the “disappearance” of NPR newscasts on WFUV. I thought we would be inundated, but overall we probably received no more than 25 queries. Only about a half dozen were complaints from listeners who thought it was a bad decision, a couple going as far as to say that WFUV’s News Department could never fill the void — one of those changed that opinion, and kindly said he misjudged us.

So what did we do?

We moved our locally produced newscasts to :54 past the hour during drive times and at noon to avoid losing audience with news at the top of the hour. And we expanded the length of our newscasts by one minute to allow us to include more national and international news. That also created more time for superspots in our newscasts, so reporters are routinely pitching and filing more enterprise, sound-rich pieces with more insight and context than they were before.

Overall, the decision to drop NPR newscasts was jolting at first, but in the end, it was easy to see how much sense it made for the station as a whole, and it's created new opportunities for our newsroom.

We also used it as an opportunity to revisit and strengthen our mission statement and breaking news protocols, which are attached here. You’ll see how they are strategically suited for a music station, and work to ensure that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to keeping our listeners informed of critical news and information.

The bottom line is that just because we’re a news department in a music station, doesn’t mean we can’t have the kind of depth and output as a news-talk station.