Public Radio and the New Media Challenge

Public radio matters in the United States. Each week, 29 million people tune in to 700+ member stations for quality non-commercial news and information with a unique public service mission. In recent years, the rise of the Internet has created an unprecedented opportunity (and challenge) to engage listeners like never before.

While well-funded commercial media enterprises have quickly employed Internet trends like online communities, blogs and online video to grow and serve their audiences, public radio stations have struggled to go beyond the usual on-air fundraisers. Weary of pledge drives that don’t seem to deliver visible service or program improvements, listeners are turning away, jeopardizing public radio’s capacity to continue providing this critical public service.

Recognizing the need for public radio to better engage its audience via the Internet, NPR convened hundreds of public radio leaders nationwide in 2005 with the “New Realities” project. All agreed that public radio must do a better job of promoting itself and responding to listener needs, but the large, federated system of stations has struggled to design a single approach to meet the challenge.

Public By Choice is designed to bridge the gap between public radio’s present and its future. Using short, entertaining online videos the project aspires to assist stations in answering common questions and complaints that often prevent listeners from fully engaging with their local stations:

  1. “Why are stations constantly fundraising if my tax dollars support public broadcasting?” (Public Radio’s Funding Structure)
  2. “Why can’t I listen to my favorite program(s) on this station/at a convenient time/on my iPod, etc.?” (Program Creation and Distribution)
  3. “What do I get from public radio that I can’t get from TV news and newspapers?” (Public Radio’s Value to the Community)

The videos will be available free to member stations to embed on their websites. Each station will have the option to customize the videos to solicit feedback about programming and community service, invite listeners to participate in community initiatives, or encourage donations and membership.

For example, stations can opt to:

  • Include a special text message and hyperlink at the end of the video like “click here to make a donation in support of WXYZ now.”
  • Include a contact form that will enable viewers to send in their feedback or find out how to get involved in station-community initiatives.
  • Include a link to additional resources.


Public By Choice (PBC) is an innovative online project that will strengthen the network of public radio stations across the country through listener education and engagement. The project will provide short, online educational videos that demonstrate the value of public radio and provide support for stations’ existing community outreach initiatives.