NPR Is Beating Commercial News/Talk in Top Markets


While NPR continues to dominate and grow its podcasting business, it doesn’t look as though it is forsaking its terrestrial station base.  Last week Jarl Mohn, President and CEO of NPR laid out a declaration that should alarm many of America’s commercial news/talk stations in PPM markets.

Mohn's goal is to have NPR’s News/Talk stations outperform commercial News/Talkers in all 50 PPM markets.  NPR stations are well on their way as the leading radio news source in 20 of the 50 or so Nielsen PPM markets according to NPR.. 

In those 20 markets, NPR has more weekly cume listeners than their commercial news/talk competitors.  If I were doing this in speech form, I would stop and repeat that sentence.

In 20 markets, NPR has more weekly cume listeners than their commercial news/talk competitors.

Mohn drilled down further to weekly drive time numbers among Adults 25-54 and found NPR stations with more listeners than commercial news/talk stations during Morning Edition in 26 PPM markets and 28 markets during the afternoon show “All Things Considered."

All of this may have seemed unrealistic a few years ago, but several things have conspired to bring us to this point.  NPR’s news delivery has markedly improved. They have, according to Mohn, "doubled down on journalism."  The delivery feels more contemporary in structure and style. Their significant focus on digital and mobile platforms has certainly aided their traction and growth, especially among younger demographics. They are, for example, the default news source on Amazon's hot Echo devices.   The news cycle, of course, has been friendly, but that has been the case for most news organizations.  

At the same time NPR has been focused on building its news assets, many commercial radio stations continue to cut already lean newsroom staff and budgets making them increasingly vulnerable. All of this is with the backdrop of persons-using-radio being challenged and the average age of commercial News/Talk stations on the rise.  

Mohn is a content guy by background, moving effortlessly from commercial radio to cable TV and now public radio. He sees the need to innovate beyond the FM band, which at times has been controversial in public radio, but has resulted in the development of robust NPR assets on many digital platforms.  They lead on time-shifted and original podcast content including the development of NPR One, a mobile app that continues to evolve. They were early into the exploding smart speaker sector.

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NPR has created an enviable culture of innovation and experimentation. Much of this is chronicled at the recent PRRO “super regional” conference, and a deep dive on Ken Mill's excellent Spark blog.  

All of this is in contrast to a frightening complacency in commercial News/Talk. You can listen to many stations and they sound the same as years ago and most have not built a meaningful digital presence. Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers last week urged the expansion from on-air to online platforms as part of keeping the medium pertinent. 

Commercial News/Talk radio is unambiguously in NPR's crosshairs.

Now is the time to for commercial radio to use its formidable assets to build, rebuild, and develop its own culture of innovation on multiple platforms.  


Steven Goldstein1 Comment