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Midday Matters

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I’m in Portland, Oregon for a conference of NPR program directors and just got back from a talk called Midday Matters that was so depressing I had to go back to my hotel room and take a nap.  The gist of the seminar was that NPR stations should only air talk, that ratings are the most important thing and that if you have a successful show you should repeat it as often as you can until it adversely affects ratings.

Oh and music is bad because it drives ratings down and the worst thing in the world is midday.  Apparently all NPR stations experience drastic slumps in their ratings between noon and four PM and it is the topic of much hand wringing and decidedly non-existential angst.  The solution, as it turns out, is to repeat your morning news programs because those are popular and maybe there are some people who didn’t hear them or maybe the people who did won’t mind hearing them again.

These guys are so out of touch I wondered if they even listen to the radio themselves anymore.  I listen to the radio every day and will frequently tune in to NPR for local news in the morning and world news in the afternoon but, like so many others I’m sure, I can’t listen to people talking all day and so I generally head over to a music station for most of the day.

I’ll never understand why music is anathema to NPR stations.  Why can’t they intersperse an hour of music in between the talk shows?  That would be so much more interesting than a continuous news cycle in which the hosts clearly have nothing new to say, or there are no updates.

The other thing that really frustrates me about this is that, if there were ever a radio format that could get away with playing all genres of music, following a Mozart symphony with a Hank William Sr. tune and then heading over to a John Coltrane before going into a Kronos Quartet album, it’s the NPR format.  What a waste!  It would be so wonderful if they would play music from all eras and in all styles in between their talk shows.

To which they would calmly reply, we would do that but our studies show that it would drive ratings down.

And that could be true hell, your ratings are already down.  Instead of getting together and sharing the same old “wisdom,” why not try something new, radically bold and artistically bold?  As the immortal Neil Young said: It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

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