What a Year in Public Radio Has Taught Me (+Happy Birthday, New Tech City!)

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"Happy Birthday, New Tech City! You are 1 year old this week. Your daddy, Charlie Herman, and I are very proud." 

This week marks one year of public radio for me. Last September, the first New Tech City segment aired on WNYC during Morning Edition.  We featured a visit to one of the first software-centric high schools in the city.

We were pleased to find that listeners responded to our take on tech: looking at how technology is changing the way we live and work; the “hearts and minds, not just bits and bytes” of tech, as Collin Campbell* put it.

Feedback was good.  So good, in fact, that we were encouraged to develop New Tech City into a longer podcast in the hopes of growing the brand beyond New York .

We always posted our episodes on the WNYC website and as podcasts on iTunes.

But since I came aboard WNYC full-time in July, Dean Cappello and Jim Schachter, the station’s Chief Content officer and VP for News, respectively, have pushed our team to think of the on-air segment as a portfolio for our now longer podcast.  The podcast is now our top priority.

It’s been an interesting trajectory for our little show.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my year at one of the top public radio stations in the country:

1. Don’t underestimate the platform.

Launching our segment on Morning Edition immediately delivered us all the New Yorkers who trust their mornings to Soterios Johnson and the WNYC newsroom. Those listeners accepted us in part because of that time slot…and maybe because they couldn’t be bothered to turn the dial as they got in the shower. But we'd also like to think our treatment of tech spoke to them. 

On iTunes, being listed alongside WNYC big hitters like Radiolab, Freakonomics, Studio 360, and On The Media immediately gave us cred too.  Obviously we are striving to live up to the precedent that these ground-breaking shows have set.

Having said that…

2. The audience is very split.

I was shocked to learn recently that my tech-savvy brother-in-law doesn’t know what podcasts are. He switches between two stations during his 45-minute drive to work: ESPN radio and his local public radio station. His habits are a reminder that podcast listeners can be a select group and potentially skew under 40.

It was also a reminder that subbing for John Hockenberry on The Takeaway, as I did earlier this month, is a great way to reach radio listeners across the country who would never hear of New Tech City otherwise.  (It was also very fun to work with the awesome Takeaway team.)

But I also remember a young tech investor I met while waiting to board our plane home from South by Southwest in April. When I told him I was in Austin for WNYC and asked if he’d heard New Tech City , he told me, “Sorry, I don’t listen to local radio.” But when I asked him if he knew Radiolab, he answered, “Of course!” and pointed at his iPhone.  He had no idea Radiolab comes from WNYC.

Which brings me to…

3. Your tone is your brand.

Radiolab and Freakonomics are KILLING IT on iTunes. I love that WNYC appeals to the New Yorker in everyone, even if they live in Montana . But for New Tech City to even get near that territory, we realized we needed to change up our tone for the podcast.

Our newsy presentation works on-air; people are getting dressed, taking in the day’s headlines, knowing that they are part of a huge listening community.

But that tone doesn’t work for a longer podcast.  Who knows when someone is listening to a podcast? It could be while riding the C back to Brooklyn or in bed at night. It’s a quieter, more intimate relationship between host and listener, as Dean Cappello points out.

And so...

I’ve adjusted my delivery, writing, and storytelling for our podcast. The weird, silly, and nosy part of me that used to occasionally surface on-air now has more space to breathe...and rock out.

We’ve** worked hard this summer to turn our show into a podcast about technology that sounds like nothing else you’ll find on iTunes, I Heart RadioStitcher, or the app of your choice.

Our “point-of-difference” counts more than ever in this crowded market.

We have a very long way to go, but last I checked, New Tech City was in the top 20 tech podcasts on iTunes.  We'd love to know what you think of the new podcast.  Leave a comment on iTunes and I'll embed a secret, silent message to you in the next show...or something :)


*Campbell,  formerly Freakonomics' Executive Producer, was brought on to help us transition into New Tech City 2.0. He’s now Managing Editor at Southern California Public Radio.

**A big shout out to producer Dan Tucker and reporter Ilya Marritz for all their hard and stellar work.