The challenge to doing local NPR talk radio

Story by Chris Graham

How do you gauge how well you’re doing if there’s nobody out there to compare yourself to?

That is the issue that the people who bring WMRA’s “Insight” to the airwaves have to face on a weekly basis.

“I think because there isn’t any other show like ours in that region trying to do anything similar that we never have a way to show that we’re doing good enough – there’s nobody to compare ourselves to in the market, so the only thing that we have to compare ourselves to is national NPR shows, and that sets the bar pretty high,” said Graham, the host of the local news-affairs program that debuted on the Harrisonburg-based NPR station in January.

“So we are constantly saying, We need to do even better. And maybe if there were other local shows that were doing OK for just a regional market, maybe the bar wouldn’t be set so high,” Graham told The Augusta Free Press.

And that is a key reason why the show airs three days a week instead of five, according to Bingay, the show’s executive producer.

“There’s more that we could do if we had more resources,” Bingay told the AFP.

“As it stands right now, we’re only three days a week. We could be five days a week – but that would, I’m convinced, require another full-time position. We’d really need two producers to do that. Tom right now acts as a producer for the show. So in essence, right now, we have two producers putting together three shows a week. To do more than that with what we have available in terms of resources right now would be to risk sacrificing quality,” Bingay said.

One view on this isssue is that if there were more locally produced programs of this nature competing with “Insight,” then it could be easier to find the resources – the money, and more importantly, the hired help – needed to get that job done.

“You could say that if there were more of this in the market, it would be supported well,” Bingay said. “The market would have more money for it. There would be more skilled labor. You would have people who if they weren’t working out in one place, they might work out in another. You wouldn’t have to look outside the market as much. So your hiring expenses go down, your searching expenses go down.

“Also, each local component would drive the quality of the next – so that you’d have the expectation that if you’re going to do this, it has to be at least this good,” Bingay said.

“That’s the subtle but strong deterrent to producing something locally – that if you don’t do it right, you damage your station. People will not only say, That’s no good, I don’t like it, but they will extend that to their opinion of the station. And anything local stands out – whether you do it well or not. So you’ve got to make sure that your quality level measures up to what you’re doing everywhere else – and yes, that means the national NPR programming that we air here every day,” Bingay said.


(Published 05-31-06)

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