Recently, music stations across public radio gathered in Philadelphia for the first-ever convening of the noncomMUSIC Alliance, a new cross-format organization of more than 100 jazz, rock, classical, alternative, Americana, eclectic, and mixed-format radio stations.
The noncomMUSIC Alliance meeting opened with a research report based on a survey of 85 music stations and by aggregating listening data from music stations. The report shows that 734 public radio stations feature music as a primary or significant part of their programming, reaching more than 20 million people weekly. (That’s a bit less than 10 percent of the total number of people listening to radio each week in the U.S.)
These noncommercial stations want to exert greater influence within public radio, which is dominated by news and information stations, and do a better job documenting their contributions to their local music ecosystems. They’ve also decided to work together on policy issues of mutual concern.
The Alliance’s initial focus on music rights reflects the complexity of rights acquisition for noncommercial audio producers. Rights for broadcast, streaming, video, podcasts, and live events require separate clearances and are subject to different regulatory and contractual agreements, making music presentation in the increasingly complex digital distribution era a rights land mine that requires legal knowledge and consultation.
In a panel on local programming, stations shared ideas and examples of ways music radio can be an indispensable partner in community engagement, in the health of local music ecosystems, and in ensuring that diverse and new music—and the artists who create it—are offered exposure and support to reach new audiences.
A clear differentiator for public radio music stations is their continuous focus on local musicians, performances, and music and cultural news. Locally, all three of our largest public radio music stations—Jazz88, Classical MPR, and The Current—invest in local programming, and help point listeners to new local music, concerts and club dates, and ways to engage in the cultural community.
These three organizations (see sidebar) also demonstrate that public radio music stations are evolving from local broadcasters to local cultural hubs, offering programs and services that connect artists, audiences, and communities. In addition to addressing music rights, there are dozens of other ways that local and national stations might collaborate to strengthen their community roles.
This group also could expand to include partners like the lively community of Low Power FM stations (LPFM), neighborhood and community stations like KFAI (Fresh Air Radio) in Minneapolis, nonprofit internet streaming services, and other nonprofit music media organizations that together are working to foster diversity in music and help new artists be heard. Try streaming KRSM in South Minneapolis (www.krsmradio.org) to hear how engaging a grassroots, community radio service can be.
“Music is like air, like water, it’s something we can’t live without,” said WRTI’s Bill Johnson as he addressed the Music Alliance attendees. Through this alliance, our local stations, and dozens of other stations nationally, want to be sure there always will be local and new music in your life—for free.
Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul–based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media, and philanthropic sectors.
Listen on 88.5 FM and stream at jazz88.fm.
Audience: Largest listening share of any jazz station in the U.S.
Ownership: Minneapolis Public School District
Revenue: 44 percent from membership; 22 percent from grants; 23 percent from underwriting, including MN DOT, which supports traffic updates; and 11 percent from in-kind donations.
Signature programs: Daily content delivered by North High School students. Interviews and music from a range of community partners such as chefs and artists. BBC headlines on the hour. Jazz calendar and live performances like Twin Cities Jazz Fest.
Listen on 99.5 FM and stream at classicalmpr.org.
Audience: Slightly larger than Jazz88.
Ownership: Minnesota Public Radio
Revenue: 51 percent from membership and individual donations; 13 percent from grants; 19 percent from distribution of its programming to other stations; 8 percent from underwriting; and 9 percent from other sources.
Signature programs: A focus on educational programming includes the “Classical Kids” internet stream and a program to bring music performances to Minnesota’s schools. Also broadcasts concerts by Minnesota ensembles and produces an annual showcase for high school instrumentalists, vocalists, and composers.
Listen on 89.3 FM and stream at thecurrent.org.