“We want to sound like someone you’d invite over for Sunday brunch,” says Michigan Radio program director Tamar Charney: “smart, informed, interesting, and polite.”
“In other words,” chimes in development director Larry Jonas, “rational, quiet, and thoughtful–with no people screaming at each other.”
“Absolutely,” agrees marketing director Steve Chrypinski. “There’s this climate of screaming that’s been growing on radio over the past decade. But there’s also a large group of listeners who don’t like screaming voices delivering their news. They want calm, rational voices.”
Michigan Radio’s intense but unflappable tone is attracting a larger group of such listeners all the time. Flagship station WUOM, 91.7 FM in Ann Arbor, has gone from a 9.3 audience share in 2007 to 13.4 in 2009–double the share of its closest competitor, Detroit’s WJR.
Chrypinski says Michigan Radio has about 65,000 listeners in Washtenaw County, but that’s only 15 percent of the total audience. Across the state, listenership is down a bit at WFUM in Flint but up a lot at WVGR, with 65,000 listeners in metro Grand Rapids and about 120,000 throughout western Michigan. In Detroit, WUOM now pulls in a 1.3 share, double Wayne State’s WDET.
About $3.2 million of Michigan Radio’s $5.9 million budget comes from its 26,500 members. This spring’s on-air fund drive alone brought in $730,000, a new record. The bulk of the rest comes from corporate underwriting, an annual grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and $700,000 in funding from the U-M.
Though Oakland County is growing, Washtenaw County remains the single biggest source of members, including 4,290 in the 48103 zip code alone. “If you’re on the Old West Side,” quips Charney, “you’re listening to us–and if you’re not, your neighbor is.”
The program, development, and marketing directors attribute their local success to several causes. “Public radio listeners are correlative with higher educational and income levels,” says Charney, “which makes Ann Arbor a fabulous market for us.”
“Plus,” pipes in Jonas, “there’re decreased sources to get state and local news from these days, and not just radio but other sources, too: look at the [closing of the] Ann Arbor News.” “And we’re very consistent,” adds Chrypinski. “Timing, delivery, and style: everything says ‘we’re a trustworthy news source.'”
About 40 percent of the gifts in the spring drive came from new donors. “We practiced it a lot and performed it well,” says Charney. “Remember when fund drives used to be more relaxed? People would crack jokes and fool around, and there was this ‘anything goes’ attitude. We’re a lot more focused now.”
To avoid irritating listeners, pledge requests are more strategic. “They hear the message during Morning Edition,” says Chrypinski. “The same audience doesn’t need to hear it again during Talk of the Nation.”
“We show respect for the listeners,” concludes Charney. “They’re intelligent, and we remember that.”