What Do We Do When We Lose "Talk of the Nation"?

Apr 22, 2013

A note to listeners from General Manager Ben Fry:

Neal Conan of Talk of the Nation

Like many of you, I was disappointed when I heard that Talk of the Nation would be going off the air at the end of June. We began airing the show in 1996 when we expanded KUAR’s broadcast schedule to include news programming throughout the middays. During those 17 years, we’ve seen the show’s appeal in this market grow. In the beginning, KUAR’s audience dropped off between 1 and 3 p.m. Now, Talk of the Nation consistently delivers a strong audience during our midday hours, especially since Neal Conan began hosting in 2001.

I was just as disappointed in 2009 when NPR announced the cancelation of Day to Day, the midday newsmagazine hosted by Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand. The show had become very popular with our audience, and we thought its approach was top-notch. However, Day to Day went off the air due to budgetary constraints. The show just wasn’t picked up by enough stations, which hurt efforts for national underwriting.

NPR says it’s ending production of Talk of the Nation to redirect its resources to support news coverage through the middle of the day, rather than call-in talk programming. Instead of taking phone calls, NPR will concentrate on producing news interviews and reported segments that can be used during the midday. As a substitute for Talk of the Nation, NPR is recommending Here & Now, a news magazine produced by WBUR in Boston, which we picked up as the substitute for Day to Day when that show went off the air. The new Here & Now will expand to two hours and be updated continuously between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Host Robin Young will be joined by Jeremy Hobson, who currently hosts the Marketplace Morning Report, and NPR will provide news segments of its own. WBUR, however, will remain the producer of the show, with NPR as a contributor.

We’re committed to picking up the two-hour expanded version of Here & Now. We were concerned when Day to Day went off the air whether we would find a suitable substitute. Here & Now has done well in the noon time slot. We like Robin Young’s relaxed style of interviewing, and we like the show’s approach of tackling several topics during the hour. We’re especially excited to see how the show will benefit from the addition of segments produced by NPR’s news team.

However, that still leaves us with several questions:

(1) When will we air Here & Now?

Currently Here & Now airs at noon and Talk of the Nation airs from 1 to 3 p.m. Should we air the 2-hour version of Here & Now from noon to 2 p.m. or 1 to 3 p.m.? Or should we back up and air the show from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and move Fresh Air  to the afternoons?

(2) Will we air Science Friday?

With the news that Talk of the Nation is leaving the air, we also found out that Science Friday with Ira Flatow will continue. We hear anecdotally from listeners that they really enjoy Science Friday, and our audience research shows that more people tune in to the Friday show than the Monday-Thursday shows. However, if we air Science Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. that means we’ll be dropping the programming that regularly airs during the rest of the week, which works against my own desire to have consistent programming every day Monday through Friday.

(3) What new program will we introduce on KUAR?

Even with two hours of Here & Now and the possible continuation of Science Friday, we’ll still need to add another daily hour of news programming during the middays on KUAR. As we think about that decision, we’ll consider several factors: What show will fit well with the other shows on the air? What will serve our listeners best? And of course, what can we afford? Some of the shows we’ll be looking at will cost more than what we’re currently paying for that hour. Will an increase in cost be worth it?

Here are some of the programs we’re considering (with links to their webpages):

  • The Takeaway with John Hockenberry – Hosted by Hockenberry, a public radio veteran, the show is “an hour-long midday news magazine that features unique conversations about topics of the day with both newsmakers and diverse voices.” The producers promise that “listeners will exposed to significant, lively and far-from-usual news perspectives.”
  • Tell Me More with Michel Martin – “Tell Me More focuses on the way we live, intersect and collide in a culturally diverse world. Each day's show features a variety of segments examining U.S. and international news, ideas and people; its range of topics covers politics, faith and spirituality, the family, finance, arts and culture and lifestyle.”
  • To the Point – “One-hour, weekday, fast-paced, news-based discussion program that focuses on the hot-button national issues of the day. Hosted by award-winning journalist Warren Olney, the show presents informative and thought-provoking discussion of major news stories — front-page issues that attract a savvy and serious news audience.”
  • PRI’s The World – “One-hour weekday international news magazine (that) brings one-of-a-kind international stories home to America. Each weekday, host Marco Werman guides listeners through major issues and stories, linking global events directly to the American agenda…with a global network of international journalists.”
  • The Story – “The Story is a daily interview program designed to bring great stories to public radio middays in a way that will help listeners understand what is going on in their world and why it matters to them. A veteran radio journalist, Dick Gordon, interviews people whose real-life experiences help us understand the news of the day or ongoing issues of importance.”

As we consider the answer to these questions over the next couple of months, you can comment here on this page, or you can send me a private email at ben@kuar.org. We’d also like to hear from you whether you think the call-in format is still viable or whether public radio should concentrate on newsmagazines or interview shows instead. We look forward to the valuable input of our listeners as we consider these important changes.

NOTE: It’s worth mentioning that we’re losing another program that’s been on KUAR for many years. "Earth & Sky," which airs at 6:19 a.m. and 3:48 p.m., will end production on May 31. We first began airing the show when it went on the air in 1991. It was developed by former producers of "StarDate" as a broader approach to science information. The show’s popular webpage, EarthSky.org, will continue.