From Marlboro to ESPN the one thing all successful companies try to do is lure in young customers. It’s no secret that if a brand gets you young, the likelihood you’ll stay loyal to them as you age skyrockets. One entity that’s been an exception to that rule is public radio. NPR, Public Radio Exchange (PRX), and American Public Media (APM) have survived despite attracting older listeners and broadcasting jazz over their airwaves.
That model is starting to change. Comedian Ophira Eisenberg is hosting a new show on NPR called Ask Me Another, which is a trivia show designed to attract younger listeners. The show, in the vein of the already successful Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, is recorded live in Brooklyn (it’s cheaper to record a live show than in studio) and the questions veer in more in the direction of Twitter and rock bands than subjects like the Greek alphabet or movies from the 1950s. One example of a question in the “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” category is “He was a famous bank robber but he really lost Americas respect when he broke Sandra Bullock’s heart (A: Jesse James).'”
Out of all the shows on public radio about half of the audience only listens to Fresh Air, This American Life, A Prairie Home Companion, and about ten others. The audience numbers are trending upwards, though, because of podcasts. Unlike the music industry, the Internet has rejuvenated public radio by making the content more accessible.
Shows that previously only on the radio have translated well to the Internet. Podcasts have done the same, with the popular comedy show WTF with Marc Maron and APM’s The Dinner Party slated to get air-time on the radio to complement their Internet presence. On the other side of the dial, This American Life and Terry Gross’ Fresh Air are consistently ranked among iTunes’ most downloaded podcasts.
All of this didn’t seem likely just a year ago when a Republican dominated House of Representatives voted to cut funding to NPR. Since then the quality of content has only increased, though, and shows (particularly This American Life and Fresh Air) are known for revealing interviews and journalism stories that aren’t covered by other media outlets. Alec Baldwin’s new interview show, Here’s The Thing debuts in a few months and the chief content officer of WNYC (one of the most listened to public radio stations) describes the also new Kings County as “an old-style variety show set for a new audience with a Brooklyn state of mind.”