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Talk Show Summit: "Beyond Hit or Miss: Building Better Talk Shows"

A national gathering of talk show producers, hosts and station Program Directorss, convened to help identify and develop "next steps" for the Talk Show Best Practices Project.

Meeting Background

The meeting title echoes one of the key listener findings from the 2006 PRPD/LNI research project: Sense of Place: The Value and Values of Localism when listeners around the country consistently described the quality of public radio's local talks shows as "hit or miss."

The summit was planned and facilitated by PRPD President Arthur Cohen, as well as KUOW Program Director Jeff Hansen and LNI Project Manager Marcia Alvar who developed the Talk Show Matrix.

Station attendees included Colorado Public Radio, KNPR, KQED, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KUOW, KXJZ, North Country Public Radio, Vermont Public Radio, WCPN, Wisconsin Public Radio, WNPR, WNYC and WUNC.

Summit Goals

The four main goals of the summit were to:

  1. Refine and advance the "best practices" identified in the PRPD/LNI Talk Show Best Practices Matrix.
  2. Determine if there is a need and constituency for new training programs and/or conferences targeted to public radio's talk programmers.
  3. Develop specific ideas for the type of training/conferences that might be desired
  4. Begin developing a common language to discuss the broad range of programs currently called talk shows.*

* Even the relatively small group of stations at the summit represented an enormous range of presentation; from what we called an "Uber-Produced" program (entirely pre-edited and pre-produced) to "Radio Verite" - all live with very few filters in place including little or no pre-screening of callers on whom these programs rely heavily.

Getting Ready for the Discussion

To prepare for the summit, attendees were asked to;

  • Review and critique the Talk Show Best Practices Matrix
  • Prepare a self-assessment of their program
  • Provide brief audio excerpts from their program to illustrate both successes and shortcomings.

These materials provided the focus for the meeting agenda.

We want to thank the participants for the hard work they did to prepare for the summit, and their willingness to share both their aspirations and assessments of their programs.

Attendee Goals

To kick off the discussion, attendees were asked to share what they hoped the Talk Show Project could achieve. These are the goals they identified:

  • A shared vocabulary - what we mean by words like:
    • "Talk show"
    • Host "opinion"
    • Host "personality"
  • A stronger sense of community among system peers
  • Training
  • Articulation of best practices
  • Staffing information
    • Role of Producer
    • Hiring/Career path
  • How to build audience
  • Knowing what audience expects of us
  • Standards/practices for partnerships
  • How to do research - clearinghouse
  • Learn how to measure impact
  • How to measure success
  • The right topic mix - national/local
  • Aircheck standards for talk shows
  • Promotion
  • Dealing with topics that need repeated/continued coverage over time
  • Awards/recognition for talk shows

Possible Outcomes/Future Projects:

Attendees suggested a number of activities to help strengthen public radio talk programs. PRPD and LNI have already begun work on several of these ideas and welcome any potential partners who want to support and participate in this important work:

  • Issue a broader "call" to stations throughout public radio for examples of current talk show practices and tools that may serve as models for others.
  • Explore the creation of regional training sessions. These would be hosted by a station that produces a talk show. Observation of the planning, production and critique of the show would be incorporated into the training agenda.
  • Develop training that helps people become trainers themselves - a "Train the Trainers" approach that can strengthen full station staffs rather than just the one person who can attend a workshop.
  • Use the web to provide ongoing listening sessions and critiques as well as topic-focused webinars.
  • Refine the Matrix and reversion into other forms such as handbooks that could be focused in a variety of ways:
  • Issue a broader "call" to stations throughout public radio for examples of training activities they feel could strengthen the listener service of public radio talk programs.