My local public radio station, WNYC, is in the midst of its winter pledge drive. You know, that all too familiar time of year in which they interrupt “Morning Edition,” “On the Media,” or any of my other favorite radio programs to ask for financial contributions from listeners — over and over and over again.
Ever since I was a kid, when I was watching “Sesame Street” on PBS, I’ve lamented the necessary but irredeemably boring nature of public broadcasting’s pledge drives. I find them incredibly difficult to listen to, and I often turn off the television or radio entirely during the weeks when they’re on the air.
A while ago, I had this brainstorm: once a viewer or listener makes a pledge, the station ships out a special gadget that tunes into a members-only frequency — one in which the station broadcasts without the interruptions of its pledge drive. Parallel programming, in essence. If that option were available, I’d pledge money on the first day of the drive, for sure, and I bet lots of other people would, too. The ability to forgo the tedium of a week’s worth of nagging shouldn’t be underestimated.
A physical gadget distributed to thousands of audience members is unrealistic, of course, but now we have something much better than a single-purpose widget, and it’s called the internet. It may be impractical still to provide this kind of service for broadcast television, but it’s well within reach for radio. Stations like WNYC are already providing high quality streams of their content through the net, so most of the groundwork is already there.
What else would it take to provide an alternative stream, available only to members? WNYC and its public radio peers generally assign unique identification numbers to their members, which could easily serve as the basis for authentication. The rest would be a relatively straightforward matter of workflow, I think, splitting the broadcast into two streams — one with the pledge drive, and one with the standard NPR content — at the appropriate times.
Notwithstanding the fact that the annoying persistence of pledge drives actually works — there’s a good reason they’re hard to avoid — there’s a compelling reason to implement this idea: it minimizes customer frustration. I’m a big fan of public broadcasting, but it’s hard to describe how thoroughly irritated I become when pledge drives are on, and I suspect lots of other listeners feel the same way. It can’t be a good thing to regularly provoke your customers’ ire in this way, surely, drive after drive, year after year. C’mon, WNYC, give it up.