By Mike Henry, CEO, Paragon Media Strategies
It’s been about 10 years since public radio’s Music Discovery stations started appearing in markets around the country. The Current in Minneapolis and Radio Milwaukee are both over 10 years old. Others, like WFUV in New York and WXPN in Philly, have been around much longer, but became serious about formatting and audience growth within the last decade. During this time, many other new Music Discovery stations have launched, including KXT in Dallas, KUTX in Austin, The Colorado Sound in Ft. Collins and NV89 in Reno. It’s been my honor and pleasure to work with all of these stations as we attempt to provide local markets and music scenes with community-focused music radio stations with which they can be proud.
If “Phase One” was launching these stations and implementing effective programming strategies, it seems that we’re collectively reaching “Phase Two” of this evolution. The next challenge for pubradio Music Discovery stations is to compete with a growing number of consumer options with more effective marketing strategies to grow awareness and trial listening. Some stations are early leaders on the marketing front with great results. The Current in Minneapolis has been on a ratings roll for several years, while Radio Milwaukee, KXT in Dallas and KUTX in Austin have recently experienced significant ratings gains after formal marketing campaigns with real marketing budgets. Other Music Discovery stations can learn from their marketing and growth strategies that go beyond the Xs and Os of programming a great music station.
Partnerships are also forming in front of our eyes that are essential to the growth of these stations. VuHaus formed three years ago as a live performance video aggregation platform for public media, and now has 22 partner radio stations. VuHaus (pronounced “view house”) is a collaboration of public radio and television stations from across the country, deeply rooted in their local music communities. VuHaus shares a common mission to support artists and be a source of music discovery for audiences around the world. VuHaus is a non-profit, non-commercial organization, with an aim to be true partners to artists while providing a unique window into the country’s most vibrant music scenes.
In the fall of 2017, NPR Music and VuHaus‘ public radio network kicked off Slingshot, a collective effort among taste-making music stations to elevate exceptional emerging artists.You can read more about Slingshot here. At SXSW in March, the collective booked and managed three stages, while a total of 11 pubradio music stations had a strong presence at the seminal Austin music festival.
NPR is also behind a new effort called the noncomMUSIC Alliance, with a stated goal to celebrate public radio’s role in connecting musicians, performers, and artists with the audiences who enjoy and support their music. Those in the alliance are dedicated to boosting the work of noncommercial public radio as an essential component of music discovery, curation, preservation, performance, and community.
On the near horizon, pubradio’s Music Discovery stations will be front and center as the local megaphone for U.S. cities formalize their “music cities” economic development strategies that hinge on the success of the local music scenes. These stations are curators of local music and evangelists of the local music scene, and serve as natural partners for cities to leverage for their own benefit. Austin, Ft. Collins, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and others are actively engaged in this unique marketing opportunity, and surely many other cities and local stations will follow.
And lest we forget, this all within the world of non-profit, non-commercial radio, where success means more than simple ratings growth. A local “mission” is what drives these stations and growing up means getting serious about sustainability and survival for the good of the mission. While the challenges are significant, so are public radio’s responses. Ready, set, and let’s go to Phase Two.