Thursday, December 29, 2016

Charlotte Radio: Local News Pays-Off For Non-Com WFAE

With media market shares are dropping, advertising is draining off toward the internet and studies show the nation has increasing distrust of the news industry, there’s one outlet that runs against the outgoing tide – WFAE 90.7 FM, the city’s National Public Radio affiliate, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Things have never been better at the station that launched 35 years ago broadcasting bird calls from a basement at UNC Charlotte. Consider:
  • Its news and public affairs staff has grown over time from three people to 17 and the station is talking of expanding it more.
  • It has passed news station WBT-AM (1110) during some monthly ratings periods in the last two years and lags behind the heritage 50,000-watt giant by only a 0.3 percent share of the region’s radio audience. In early November, around the elections, WFAE saw a spike of 70 percent in total listening hours on its web stream.
  • In fundraising last year, it took in $4 million – four times that of WTVI (Channel 42), the city’s television PBS affiliate.
  • Median age for its listeners is 46 – 12 percent lower than the median age of NPR listeners nationally.
  • Membership, which equates to listeners who donate money annually, had never been above 16,000 in the station’s history. It’s now at 18,000 and on track for 20,000.
Joe O’Connor, who took over as WFAE’s president in February 2015, has some ideas about why.

“We have to maintain relevance in a time of great change,” he said. “We need to be making sure we’re giving people the answers to the questions they have.”

WFAE 90.7 FM (100 Kw) 
O’Connor, 59, is a Philadelphia native who grew up in Bethesda, Md., attended Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and got a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University.

He succeeded Roger Sarow, who was president of WFAE from 1988 to 2015, taking it from a small station attached to UNC Charlotte to its rank as a major player in the city’s broadcasting universe.

“Our investment in local news is paying off,” he said. “We’re delivering local news as good as what NPR does nationally and internationally.”

WFAE has always looked to provide depth in its reporting, but now it is tackling breaking news – not the garden-variety crime and routine urban mayhem that drives the city’s five TV news stations, but finding substance in the big stories of the moment.

Despite its annoying beg-a-thons universally regarded by listeners as ear torture, WFAE continues to post gains. October became the best fundraising month in WFAE’s history when $966,000 came in. At midpoint in the fiscal year, corporate underwriting is at 75 percent of annual target.

“Our audience is telling us,” O’Connor said, “by increased revenues and ratings, to keep going.”

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