Chris Bannon is VP of content production and development at WNYC. In 2014, the station launched three new podcast-only programs, and took in two other independently-run podcasts.
“I think podcasting has been the best thing to happen to public radio in my lifetime,” he says. Though the station's broadcasts reach more than one million people in New York, many more people are listening to WNYC's shows via internet streams and podcasts. “The future is really up for grabs," Bannon says. "I mean, we know people will continue to listen to the radio, but WNYC needs to think about its digital audience, which, in sheer numbers, really dwarfs the radio audience now.”
Bannon says the growth of podcasting is good for public radio because it makes launching new shows easier, faster and cheaper. He says the casual tone of podcasts is spreading, helping older broadcast shows loosen up that public radio formality. Maybe most importantly, Bannon says podcasting is putting audio ”back in the middle of people’s lives, just the way radio has been for almost a century.”
You can download our extended conversation with Bannon below. Here are some highlights:
Extended Interview Highlights
Why WNYC's investing in new podcasts
The ease of pilotting podcasts is very appealing... Shows that start as podcasts can--and many should--become radio shows... We were looking at models that allow us to do fairly rapid growth with the audience, that serve our audience’s core interests and that brought new voices--younger voices--to the air [such as Death Sex and Money]
We also decided that we couldn’t grow enough shows in-house fast enough, that we needed to look outside the building. We were looking for projects that involved women specifically... And we were also trying to find subjects and topics that we knew were of interest to public radio audiences. So we formed partnerships with two existing shows [The Longest Shortest Time, and The Sporkful]. Both of those shows had grown to a level that made them competitive in their categories--parenting and food--but that needed full-time production help, a chance to benefit from the kinds of marketing and promotion that we can do.
On the "Serial effect" and the growing popularity of podcasts
We have seen really strong growth in [the podcast subscriptions for] all of our shows this summer and fall. I think we have to give some credit to Serial for opening a door through which a lot of people have walked for the first time, into the kind of listening that our core listeners have done for a long time on public radio.
What it really does is makes me want to make sure that we are doing the best shows we can, so that we are competitive. I think our competitive advantage is that we produce very good shows.
How podcasting may change public radio
I can’t see FM radio stations just folding up and disappearing, really, any time soon. I saw a study from Edison Research this summer: something like 90-plus percent of the country listens to terrestrial radio every week. And the number is drifting down very slightly, but it’s not going off a cliff. Public radio stations all around the country still have a very vital mission. When there’s an emergency, when there’s breaking news, when there’s an event like the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri this summer… I’m not sure a podcast can do what we did for New York during Hurricane Sandy. There are some things that live radio are really necessary for.
Audience tastes will shift over time as they find and explore this world. I hope we’ll be lucky enough to keep coming up with really original things, and help lead that conversation.