We Were Just Getting Warmed Up | Letters | Chicago Reader

We Were Just Getting Warmed Up 

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To the editors:

We appreciate Reader's attention to Heat with John Hockenberry, but I'd like to correct a few misperceptions in your September 28, "Hot Type" column.

1) Among the four dozen stations that carried Heat were 14 stations in the top 20 markets, where more than 50% of the US population lives. On those four dozen stations, Heat could be heard by more than half of the American radio audience.

Before NPR even committed to carrying Heat, we at Murray Street and KQED chose to start with these major media markets, and got commitments from 13 of the top 20. Over the past few months, it showed an impressive gain of medium sized and smaller markets and success with audiences in places like Cedar Falls, IA; Huntsville, AL; Madison, WI; and Buffalo, NY.

2) The price tag. Heat is the least expensive of all national programs, coming in under $3000 per program hour. The nearest competitor costs about twice that amount. Other national series cost up to $50,000 per hour. Heat was designed to be a vehicle that, once established, could live within the revenue limits of the public radio system. What it needed was the time given other vehicles like All Things Considered and Morning Edition, to become established and known to the audience.

Mr. Miner's comparison of a seven-month programming budget to a twelve-month programming budget is misleading. The first year of the program included startup and seven months of broadcasts, and came within 5% of the estimated cost. The second year budget funded a larger staff in order to make the show more consistent, by putting more pre-production into each program hour.

3) The audience. The late night audience was--in our view--largely untapped, and the time period had the potential to bring light listeners back and make them members. Heat's appeal to these light listeners was borne out by CPB's own research. Of all the programs tested, Heat showed the greatest potential to convert occasional samplers of NPR news programs into longer listeners (and members) of NPR stations. "If I were advising commercial radio," said the researcher, "Heat is exactly where I'd start if I wanted to add to my core audience."

4) Luck: It's true: we could have used a couple of breaks. But we've been on the right track, and the ideas will live on. Younger producers at stations or even listeners, will come up with ways to build on what we've done.

It is too bad that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which could have kept Heat going for a while) is headquartered in the District of Columbia, where there are few incentives to take real programmatic risk, and plenty of reasons to bet on things you already know will work.

Even now, ATC, Morning Edition, Fresh Air and Marketplace are planning to bring elements of Heat in to their shows. The ideas--and plenty of the Heat regulars--will be turning up in lots of places. That's the only thing that could make this long and arduous expedition worthwhile.

Steve Rathe

Executive Producer

Murray Street Enterprise

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