Photo Courtesy of WAER Twitter
Mary Evans proudly unfolds the banner sitting beside her desk: WAER 88.3, “Your local NPR Station.” Focus, being the word local. And that’s what WAER is, the local NPR station for Syracuse since 1947. The station is licensed to the university, but is a public station. It airs many popular National Public Radio Programs.
Jennifer Weekes-Osada’s voice is heard outside the door and is conveniently called into Evan’s office when asked about WAER’s assets. Weekes-Osada, like Evans, a Development Director with a focus on corporate support comments on WAER’s technology first. The station has updated equipment, which allows for high quality output at 50 thousand watts. Second is its staff of 12, volunteers and SU student base that assists with sports programming. Third is WAER’s business sponsors, who, in addition to other donors, allow quality programming to be purchased along with local talent.
WAER’s demographics are currently listeners in age range of 35 to 65. According to NPR’s Public Media Audience Profiles, most are educated with 240% of listeners having a post-graduate degree. WAER acquires a majority of its programming from NPR. It also obtains programming from the British Broadcasting Corporation among others.
Weekes-Osada states that, according to her most recent numbers, WAER has a cumulative audience of about 36,000 weekly with a 2% share. It is noted that this does not include streaming, which Weekes-Osada said she would like to calculate and combine with WAER’s current numbers in the near future.
WAER’s financing comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, grants, underwriting, membership fees, donations and Syracuse University.
It is an interesting time for radio: as stations grow, supposedly its audience dwindles. According to Nielsen in a report from “Media Daily News” on September 1st.
Nielsen brought six years worth of data to the table showing that the younger demographic tuning into radio (ages 6 to 24) have not changed since 2011 and though Nielsen’s methods are not made public, its confirms itself as a reliable source for ad revenue as most media companies have been using its data for years.
If this is the case and new listeners are added into the rotating fold of information seekers that donate towards the station, this revenue model may continue to be beneficial. Mind you, some tweaks may still have to be made in regards to content and distribution to appeal and reach more of Generation Z. Generation Z will be 40% of all listeners by 2020. The advantage terrestrial radio currently has is coming through one’s car stereo, but 75% of new cars will be outfitted with digital services in the next three years. Digital services also pay royalties, which record companies and artists prefer. Also, this is where listeners are finding new music and information. This, according to an August 2017 study by Larry Miller of NYU’s Steinhart Music Business Program.
The above models pour into how the station is marketed.
When I wrote to Pamela Levine, President of Galaxy Events, she stated that she and her team organize booths for various radio stations in the area as well as other Syracuse events such as the Bacon Fest.
At WAER, Evans said that its marketing booths for events are all done internally. The main booth WAER sets up is for the Strawberry Festival in July. However, Evans noted that the time is not ideal as most of the students are gone and that’s the listener the station wants to attract more of. The students like college programming, including sports. The station allows young musicians to come into its state-of-the-art studio and put down studio-approved music to showcase on the airwaves. If students are listening to their friends they may stay to listen to more programming and in the future start donating.
Other ways WAER gains and maintains funding are through two fundraisers a year, usually done through live pitching. The one this fall will run October 14th to the 20th. The pitches usually run seven days on average and the station is adding one more this year in December.
Unfortunately, WAER is confused with competing stations from listeners that also carry NPR programs and so listeners will give money to competitors thinking that they financed WAER when they have not. Evans is working on clarifying WAER’s slogan that it is, in fact, a different station unlike one in Oswego that has a further reach.
The one show that will not be interrupted though is the Grateful Dead Hour. A program Evans thought dormant and made an announcement to pull until she got a huge pushback. Apparently the “dead heads” are more passive listeners, but there are many and it includes a significant amount of membership. She knows though with this particular group not to put pitches mid-program but do it rather at the beginning and the end of the broadcast, otherwise those listeners will tune out.
Another lesson learned was a duel format: news to start; jazz following and then back to news. It lost listeners and donations. When WAER went solely to the news format listeners picked up. Jazz got moved to their HD channel.
With the current state of politics and natural disasters, WAER is obtaining more listeners to get a balanced sense of the news, which the station prides itself in. Yes, there are a few extreme or cruel commenters who call in, but those comments are usually shut down rather quickly to keep the format of the station balanced for all listeners. Most write in and are communicated with behind the scenes.
Evans does admit it hired a separate marketing firm to come up with its logo and tag line, but everything else is done in-house holding true to its local branding.
She ended as its website begins in the About section, WAER states that it means to Enlighten, Engage and Entertain through multimedia experiences and everyday is proof that it does so.
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