Public Radio in the Year 2020: Thoughts on the Future

A group of station managers were asked to write about public radio in the year 2020. They were given free reign to write whatever they wanted and at whatever length. Only a list of questions were provided to help them begin thinking about public radioís horizon.

Please read and begin your own thinking about public radio in the year 2020Ö


Ellen Rocco
North Country Public Radio

Iíve stewed on this public radio in 15 years thing for the past three weeks. I havenít lost sleep over it, but the topic lurks and churns. Marietta loaned me her crystal ball. No dice. Very cloudy. I concentrate on the questions. Will there be local stations?(Crystal ball: Murky.) Who will be listening? (Does the grey blur mean everyone, no one or just nursing home residents?) How relevant will NPR, CPB, SRG or NFCB remain? (Did the crystal just laugh? Do crystal balls have the capacity for laughter? Does public radio have a sense a humor? Oops, thatís another topic.)

Fifteen years is a long time in radio. In 1990, the technological picture at North Country Public Radio looked like this: most of our music collection was on vinyl, cds were still a novelty; we recorded stories on cassettes, dubbed them onto open reels, and used razor blades to cut tape; we had a couple of computers for word processing; we frequently missed satellite feeds to our tape decks; we used payphones to call in breaking stories; when listeners wanted a copy of a story, we ran a copy onto cassette from the open reel master and charged them $10; websites were science fiction; and so on.

With all the technological transformation, itís easy to think that our future is all about technologyóa series of tool upgrades. And, thatís what we mostly spend time talking about at public radio conferences. Itís the things that havenít changed over the last fifteen years, and I suspect, wonít change in the coming fifteen years, that will keep us relevant.

Here are the things we have done, we do now, and must continue to do:

  • Make radio, maintain websites, or integrate whatever else comes along to connect people with others in their community and the world.
  • Use media to help people communicate with each other, to help people make media.
  • Keep ourselves accessible and available to the audiences we serve.
  • Make media that is honest, trustworthy, compelling, surprising, diverse, fearless, interesting, and meaningful.
  • Make media that is both rich and deep and lean and direct.
  • Make media that stands out from the pack not because we have the fanciest gadgets but because we have the best content.

If we remember our mission, we can sort out the rest of the challenges. The minute we forget mission--forget that we program the crystal ball and any other technology--we can forget about 2020.

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