On Media: Reynolds brings first public radio changes

Donovan Reynolds says he knew what he was getting into when he took over the reins  of Louisville’s Public Radio Partnership.

What he didn’t expect was that during the Fall Fund Drive, the PRP’s computer and e-mail functionality would fail, and that weather factors and other local events, including two University of Louisville football games, would impact how many people were listening to the radio during the fundraiser. The Fund Drive, he says, raised $189,000. That’s up 10 percent from the spring but down 10 percent from last fall.
It’s hard to paint a rosy picture after coming up $30,000 short of your goal in your first two weeks on the job.

But Reynolds is a pretty upbeat guy. He says that within the numbers, there’s good news: WFPK-FM beat its goal by 7 percent. He’s ordered a new computer system that should prevent future glitches. He’s getting used to his new environment, and staffers say morale is higher that it’s been in two years.
The chair that’s been empty since Gerry Weston’s resignation in January is now a hot seat of activity.
The first programming changes at WFPL-FM under Reynolds’ leadership are bound to be popular. Louisville’s own Bob Edwards, absent from local airwaves since his departure from National Public Radio in 2004, is returning with a two-hour weekend version of his daily XM Satellite Radio program. Though the “Bob Edwards Weekend” program has been marketed to public radio stations around the country since January, and Louisville is a natural choice for airing it, the turmoil at PRP stood in the way of a sensible and popular programming choice.

“It was a no-brainer,” Reynolds says of bringing Edwards’ show to Saturday afternoons on WFPL. “It’s hard for an organization to make changes when the CEO position is vacant. Generally, they’re trying to maintain things until new leadership arrives.”
Edwards, in a telephone interview from his Washington studio, said he’s more than thrilled about the Louisville clearance, though he too understands the recent challenges at the PRP.

“With management in turmoil, people are afraid to do anything,” he said. “It’s not the time for bold decisions. I don’t fault anyone. Nothing gets done when there’s turmoil. When there’s chaos, it’s not time.”

That said, Edwards vowed he can be counted on to help the Louisville organization with promotions and fundraising, and without doubt he’ll boost WFPL’s weekend ratings. His XM show is similar to the “Morning Edition” program he anchored for 30 years at NPR (he even recruited 10 staff members to XM), except that some interviews run up to an hour in length. The first Louisville broadcast, which aired last Saturday, featured comedian and commentator Al Franken, U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall and blues musician John Hammond. The weekend program began airing on a dozen public radio stations in January, and is now up to 70.

“I believe in the stations,” Edwards said. “XM has no apparatus for assembling listeners. I felt we could pull our audience from public radio, so we’re trying to blur the lines .”
Edwards, a member of the board at St. Xavier High School, said he already comes to town three times a year for board meetings. A U of L graduate, he said his next scheduled trip is in mid-November for the school’s Brandeis Sesquicentennial, but he’s itching to make the Nov. 2 football game with West Virginia.

“Just ask” seems to be his requirement for making a trip to his hometown. Reynolds, who has worked in public radio for three decades and known Edwards for about that long, says he’ll be eager to use Edwards in station promotions.
The other programming move announced by PRP is the return of “The Diane Rehm Show” to the weekday lineup at 10 a.m. Reynolds says the show, which last aired on WFPL in 2002, was the most requested program the station didn’t carry. The change means that “News and Notes with Faria     Chideya” moves to 8 p.m. and “As It Happens” leaves the schedule.

Reynolds says the programming decisions he makes will be based on ratings, how shows affect fundraising and information from other markets. Edwards’ weekend show, for example, helped WEKU-FM in Richmond triple its audience in its time slot.
“I’m not going to force programming into the schedule,” he says. “It’s not the cod-liver-oil school of programming.”

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