Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doesn't like WMUB's pledge drive

A listener sent us this reaction to the member drive which concluded October 10th. The name is being withheld for reasons indicated below. To respond and to hear more on this topic, listen to our "Ask the General Manager" special on WMUB Forum, Friday 10/19 at 9 am ET, repeated at 7 pm.

“I truly do appreciate your station 50 weeks out of the year. Though I realize that it is vital for you to conduct your twice yearly pledge drive, I must tell you that you lose my patronage during that time. I find the personalities that you use for the event very annoying and unprofessional. The on air banter is trite and annoying. I also do not appreciate the interruption it causes to programming. I find it interesting that public television stations for example can re-work their programming so that programs are not interrupted, yet you cannot. Your cut ins disrupt the flow of information within the programs and diminish your value to me. For example, I attempted to listen to the Diane Rehm show with former president Carter. I feel that I lost a lot of valuable information in that hour, as the programming was cut short by your pledge drive activities. I feel I missed a very informative program at your hands. Thank you for your time.

--"A loyal listener 50 weeks out of the year" [name withheld]

General Manager Cleve Callison replies:

Usually we prefer to use forums such as this for listener comments rather than our own. But this letter politely raises issues which go right to the heart of some of our key activities, and I feel it deserves a response.

First of all, I recognize the validity of the concern. We do try to be careful about how all our programming (including pledge drives) strike listeners. I know that this listener is not the only one to have a similar reaction. And I'm not about to defend every single thing we do or say on the air during a live program. Since I am one of the frequent voices on in the morning, I am very aware of how often I fail to hit the standard I should meet.

Like other public stations we always try to find the most effective ways of raising funds while keeping valuable programming coming to listeners. But as we say during the drive, we are a non-commercial station and we must receive contributions. While we can alway do better with any aspect of the drive, off-air strategies (for example, direct mail and telemarketing) generate only a fraction of the revenue of an effective on-air drive.

Of course, these other strategies have their critics too. And for the most part they can only reach our existing listener base. Try as we might, no public station has ever devised a way to recruit NEW members that's more effective than an on-air drive.

Given that, how to proceed? The writer objects in part to the frenetic sound of our morning "pitches". If we characterize our fundraising messages along a continuum of 'quiet' to 'exuberant', there is absolutely no question that by and large the exuberant hours are far more successful at bringing in pledges. We have years' worth of data to support this assertion. Of course, sometimes we make mistakes and exuberant slides over into frantic, which can backfire. But a first scan of data from this drive supports the contention above.

So then the question becomes, when we are being asked by Miami to raise more and more funds from listeners -- how much are we willing to forego in order to have a drive that will not offend some in our audience; or more starkly, should we plan to have a successful drive or an unsuccessful one?

Given that reality, what can a listener do who doesn't like the tone of the drive, or parts of it? My answer would be that if you listen to the station a lot (in the case of the listener above, 50 weeks seems like a lot to me), then you should support it during times when we are NOT being exuberant -- in the pre-funder mailing, or in overnight hours, or (most effective of all) during a time when we are pitching in a quieter way. I read these charts carefully, and if I can begin to see that the quiet hours can be anywhere near as effective as the exuberant hours, you'll see a shift in emphasis.

Which leads me to the reason I'm withholding this listener's name even though he OKed our using it. Despite his avowed fondness for the station (50 weeks a least), our loyal listener who "gives us his patronage" 50 weeks a year has never made a pledge to WMUB. I say this not to embarrass him, but to indicate the uphill fight that public stations have to raise money from people who can receive all of our services for free.

Which brings me to public television. The writer says that we interrupt our programming while public television "re-works" their programming. If we were to follow the public television model, we would not just cut into Morning Edition and Diane Rehm two weeks a year, we would take them off the air for a month at a time 3 or 4 times a year. I just can't imagine that.

When speaking privately, most of my public television colleagues will acknowledge that their way of fundraising is counter-productive and probably ruinous to sustained audience growth. But they see no way out because their core programs do not raise money for them and the infomercial-type specials do. For all its faults, the public radio method at least acknowledges that these are the programs listeners want, and our method challenges listeners to pay for them. That's the way it should be, and I for one am glad that so many of our listeners accept this challenge.

--Cleve Callison, WMUB General Manager


At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last comment aired this morning on Friday Feedback did a good job of voicing dissatisfactions I have with the local on-air personalities and programs at WMUB. I will try to specify both the particular annoyances that apply year-round and during fundraising, and to say where the improvement could be made short of hiring people with more polish, poise, and depth.

I have difficulties with
1) immature and personalized banter --at a new high this pledge drive, but clearly there in other comments made by the hosts of Interconnect, Sound Health, and Help Desk.

2) a tone of frantic excitement (particularly hard to take when someone's voice grates on me anyway)

3) nearly all the efforts to plug local programming--what I would call "commercials" for the station--when they go beyond the mention of the topic, the guest, the day and the time. In particular, please cease your repetitive hype over Fourth of July coverage. I would be happy to have a mere hour of informative or bland programming on Independence Day and 23 hours of silence rather than having to hear about the wonders of fireworks for days or weeks ahead of time. I am guessing that coverage occurs more because it provides staff an interesting break from the daily grind than because the listening public gets anything of value from the outing.

4) sound collages. Just because you can produce a high-tech ad doesn't mean you should. I yearn for silence, music or a few simple words every time I have to listen to a collage of clips the folks at the help desk think are entertaining. Instead introduce the program with a word or two about emails you intend to address, or keep it short and simple: Answers to questions from computer users, coming up next.

5) faling to address any political or environmental stories of local interest accross the border in Indiana.

Constructive criticism

Perhaps the messages about pledging could at times be provided in calm tones over pleasant music. Better yet, invite local performers on to play their instrument, sing, read poetry, or whatever, and pledge drive in between segments. Their friends would be listening! If we knew to listen for that the last 20 minutes of the hour, maybe we could enjoy the rest of the hour without interruption and the staff could relax a bit more during this exceptionally taxing time.
How about a forum that considers regional issues or introduces us to public servants across the listening range of WMUB?

Thank you for making high quality national programming available. I have gained a great deal from the national shows you air, particularly the serious talk shows & news shows. I would urge your interviewers to study up on and learn from great models such as Terry Gross, Diane Rehm, Krista Tippet (Speaking About Faith), and the guys on Science Friday and This American Life. Aim to ask REAL questions--things you don't already know but want to know, and then to listen so that you don't ask what they just answered. I have been hoping that practice would bring improvement, but it looks like more concentrated learning may be needed.

If there's 20 minutes of interesting material, fill the rest of the show with music rather than stretching it out until it gets dull and repetitive. This might be especially nice when Sound Health is returning to a topic already covered within the last year or so. Or pair new tape with old tape, if anything aired previously was especially well done.

Thank you. This pledge season I heard less of something that has annoyed me in the past--the assumption all of your listeners enjoy a level of disposable income to allow for regular purchases at coffee shops, candy machines, news stands, etc.

Thanks for hearing me out. I depend on stations like yours wherever I live. Please do not discount my comments simply because I lack the funds to help pay your salary.

Marie Vandenbark of Richmond IN


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