IowaWatch is on a race against time to secure funding to keep its experimental radio program going beyond its original run.
At issue is the sustainability of the IowaWatch Connection radio program, which has aired 18 episodes on 18 commercial and one non-commercial radio stations throughout Iowa since July. The series covers topics including farm safety and safety regulations, the stigma of depression among college students, and coverage of the political climate in Iowa.
The experimental project—funded by the INNovation Fund in April—was proposed as a 13-episode series. It was supposed to serve as a new business model to generate revenue. And one of its goals was to secure funding from enough underwriters to continue the program. Funding to keep it going is running low, but confidence in the quality of the series is at its highest.
Radio executives at the stations like the program and are willing to continue airing future episodes, however, the majority are neither able or willing to pay for it, says Lyle Muller, Executive Director of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.
“IowaWatch is in a critical phase of trying to keep its IowaWatch Connection program going in January,” Muller said. “A decision on whether or not we do that will be made later this month. We came up with a way to extend the program beyond its original 13-week run so that we could follow up on sales calls potential funders were willing to entertain but after that original run expired.”
Muller recently conducted a survey among 17 participating radio stations to draw observations and feedback that could be attractive to potential underwriters, he says. Of those 17 stations surveyed, only 14 responded.
Muller says that the stations gave the program an average score of 9.31 for content and technical quality, using a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.
“This is significant because market researchers consider respondents who give 9 or 10 on a scale like this to be willing to promote an entity to others in positive terms,” Muller says.
Respondents also said the radio programs’ strongest aspects are the timeliness and depth of the reports by knowledgeable experts as sources, and having a variety of topics that are “close to home.”
“Yet, the stations overwhelmingly are not interested in paying for the program, or for sharing advertising revenue if we give them time midway through the program to sell ads,” Muller says.
Of those 14 responding to the survey, two said they would pay for the program but Muller says that would not sustain the program.
The silver lining to this survey is that it provides a positive story for underwriters, Muller adds. He says the conclusions of the survey are encouraging and reinforce the value of the program. Here are some of those conclusions Muller has drawn out:
- Radio stations want to air the program over a long period of time. This means an underwriter can rely on stability and commitment from the media platform to deliver the underwriter’s message.
- We run this program in a professional manner and have in a short time established a good reputation and good relationships with affiliated stations.
- The show is appealing because it is timely, in-depth, has good and knowledgeable experts as sources, and covers a variety of topics of interest to local audiences.
- Radio stations heavily promote the IowaWatch Connection during the week.
- Decisions about the program’s foreseeable future are financial. From a programming point of view, alone, the program should continue.