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 radio’s horizon.

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


Wayne Roth
KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio

In an essay entitled Visions of Public Radio’s Future prepared in July 2003 for the Station Resource Group, Tom Thomas and Terry Clifford wrote:

For all the change that will occur, there is great inertia, stability, and real power in broadcast radio as a medium and public radio’s current position in the media landscape.

We must pay attention to continuing reinforcement and renewal of the basic capacities of the system, to avoiding the inefficiencies and complacency that can creep into successful and secure public service enterprises, and to encouraging higher performance throughout our field.

As we reflect on these and other possible developments, and the paths through which public radio might address them, we see a broad outline within which to organize our thinking and our work.


I agree with Tom and Terry and have used their outline to organize my thoughts about the state of public radio in 2020.

More Public Service

Public Radio and News/Talk will become interchangeable identifies for listeners. After a few years of uncertainty, music formats will revive as XMers, Podders and Streamers (re)discover the value added by talented presenters/disc jockeys. Dual and eclectic formats will become the mainstay of LPFM, the neo-community radio stations.

Investments in local programming will continue to grow, contributing to significantly increased mid-day listening. There will be more multi-station collaborations which leverage investments and lower the cost per listener, especially for news coverage. These independent collaborations and ‘networks’ will compete with national program producers and syndicators for station acquisition budgets.

Many more stations will control two or more broadcast channels and provide multiple services in their market. Public radio consolidation is inevitable given declining support from institutional licensees and Public Radio Capital’s ability to facilitate management agreements and sales.

The public radio audience will double and listening will increase by 50%.

National Public Radio will be the largest broadcast news organization in the country.

Sustainable Economy

Listener sensitive income will make up more than 75% of public radio system revenue. Cost of fundraising will decline and station partnerships will expand. Corporate support will be the largest source of revenue for many stations in the 50 largest markets.

Robust Technology and Multiple Platforms

Broadcast FM/AM will remain the dominant delivery channels. Access to multicast channels will drive HD Radio receiver sales. New program steams available on the additional channels will be subsidized by significant corporate and foundation support.

Less of the half of the original LPFM stations will remain on the air. Most of those which survive will be an integral part of the public radio system.

Profitable/sustainable Internet and satellite radio services will be controlled by fewer than a half-dozen companies world wide. Independent Internet radio producers will be sustained on “cool” if not profits.

The services provided by Public Interactive, Public Radio Exchange and the Content Depot will be merged into a single entity. It will be known as ICE, Interactive Content Exchange.

New media/web producer job descriptions will be absorbed into radio producer job descriptions at stations.

Connection to Community

The most successful stations will have strong, independent community boards (governing or advisory) whose sole purpose is to provide support and continuity for the station.

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