Since its inception, the leadership of KNPR, the NPR public radio affiliate in Las Vegas, always wanted to find a way to use the station to help the community. “I have always thought that this station should be a service to the community in every way that it could,” says Lamar Marchese, KNPR’s founder.
In 2004, The Harwood Institute released a report about Las Vegas entitled, On the American Frontier, which detailed the sense among people in Southern Nevada that they had too much of a good thing: while the community enjoyed a “can do spirit” the people there felt isolated, disconnected and unable to come together to address common challenges. KNPR wanted to focus their programming and efforts on the community – to strengthen it. The question was how to do that in a way that responded to the challenges people expressed?
- KNPR became not just the only all-news radio station in Las Vegas, but the most-listened-to talk radio station in Las Vegas. It improved relationships with non-profits and commercial broadcasters, made already strong programs more relevant and impactful, and raised more money. All of this occurred during the height of the Great Recession, when most public-spirited organizations were losing money.
- In 2000, before the shift, visits to KNPR website to link to other non-profits were 9000 visits per month. After the shift in 2008, this rose to 15,000 visits per month.
- The audience for KNPR’s State of Nevada grew by more than 20% after shifting its focus. The award-winning program now performs as well as popular network programs, such as Fresh Air, and has a loyalty higher than is typical for locally produced programming.
- Adam Burke, a KNPR producer at the time, won the Bronze World Medal for the Be-Longing Las Vegas series at the 2009 New York Festivals Radio Programming and Promotion Awards.
- KNPR was tapped by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help lead the nationwide public broadcasting initiative called ‘Facing the Mortgage Crisis during the Great Recession.’ This initiative helped 32 of the hardest-hit communities affect genuine, measurable community impact by connecting people in need to trusted resources and by helping communities recognize and understand the impact of the mortgage crisis.
- When during the recession and mortgage crisis of 2008, local grantees of the Wells Fargo Foundation were told to expect funding cuts, KNPR received a funding increase– due to the relevance of a new approach to programming that helped the community weather the crisis.
The Harwood Role
- When Flo Rogers, KNPR’s general manager, first saw the Harwood report On the American Frontier, her response was immediate: “This is it. This is our navigation map.” Rogers still refers to it this way. The report caused Rogers and the station to pause and discuss, “What is it that we do that is most important to the community?”
- From 2008-2010, the station participated in a two-year partnership between Harwood and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting called the Community Engagement Initiative (CEI), designed to help public radio and television stations discover how they could become more vital to their communities. It is through this effort that KNPR made many of the shifts in programmatic and work in the community that led to increased credibility and resources.
- Through the Harwood-led CEI, KNPR participated in a series of workshops where staff learned the Harwood practice of Turning Outward; worked closely with Harwood coaches to apply what they were learning; and came together periodically with other stations for intensive two- or three-day workspaces to innovated together and share promising practices.
- Community Connections, a program that showcased worthy local non-profits, was changed to a program that identifies community needs and highlights ways those needs are being met by area groups. KNPR then went on to revamp its website so that listeners could find new ways to engage these issues, with these different groups, and with one another.
- KNPR retooled its flagship program, KNPR’s State of Nevada, to focus more intently on locally relevant issues.
- To elevate examples where people were coming together to help combat the sense of isolation, KNPR launched an ongoing series called Be-Longing Las Vegas.
- Using Harwood-designed tool and frameworks, KNPR restructured job descriptions and staff performance evaluations. Staff members are now expected to identify how they are contributing to improving a set of community impact indicators as part of their annual review.
KNPR found that participation in CEI gave them a better understanding of what it would take to become the kind of trusted community leader that On the American Frontier indicated was so needed.
Underlying all KNPR’s efforts after CEI was a very strong sense that what they were doing was not merely about serving the people who listened to public radio. It was about meeting an information need that expands to the whole community.
KNPR wasn’t focused on if the people who looked up a resource about a non-profit or were able to find what they need on foreclosure ever listened to KNPR. That was not the point. The point was that KNPR was able to offer a trusted source for vital information, or to showcase an example of how people and organizations in the community could work together.
For More Information
Read the book Why We’re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward. You can get a copy at http://www.theharwoodinstitute.org/bookstore/