IowaWatch Final Report: Experiment Continues to Grow

The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch launched the IowaWatch Connection as a 13-week experiment in July 2014.

The Connection is a statewide audience engagement program that takes in-depth investigative and community affairs reporting to Iowans via a weekly statewide radio program and IowaWatch-based public forums in cities where the program is aired. That experiment, with what they hoped would be a handful of radio stations, completed a one-year run at the end of June 2015, supported by creative programming and fund management and an assist from one underwriter, the Iowa State Bar Association.

The program has won critical acclaim — four first-place and two second-place Iowa Broadcast News Association awards in April for broadcast journalism excellence. It has won favor with radio stations airing the program: In October 2014, Iowa legacy station KGLO, in Mason City, joined the network. In January 2015 another legacy station, 50,000-watt clear channel KXEL of Waterloo, joined.

In May 2015 the granddaddy of Iowa’s radio stations, legacy 50,000-watt WHO of Des Moines, joined. An estimated 100,000 to 120,000 listeners in Iowa and seven other states hear IowaWatch’s in-depth reporting on 19 radio stations, all but two commercial stations, in 15 markets 22 times every weekend.

The IowaWatch Connection is not immune to market pressure facing any innovative startup. The largest battle remains having a strong opportunity to make regular sales efforts to attract underwriting sponsors for the program. Sponsors have wanted time to understand the program and to make spending decisions. Gaining WHO radio was a huge victory because of its audience reach.