Fostering new ideas from concept to reality brings rewards, but it's not without risk.
We talked to Dean Cappello, Chief Content Officer and Senior Vice President of Programming at WNYC about how the station has become a leader in innovative storytelling on multiple platforms.
Cappello spoke at length about the vernacular of audio and how WNYC is creating on-demand listening experiences that more closely match the "job" that audio is doing for on-demand listeners. Todd Mundt shared his five takeways from the conversation in a separate post, but you can also read through an edited summary of Cappello's remarks beneath the recorded video.
Watch the recording:
Highlights Time Stamped to Video
Introduction (00:00 - 06:17)
Dean Cappello's main mission is to find where the really great talent is, how to be in business with them and how can he serve it up, without dramatically changing what WNYC already does.
Q: How is the sound changing as other platforms come into form? Is it really changing that much? (06:18 - 19:32)
Dean: My goal is to narrow the gap between what we talk about in the newsroom to what we talk about on air. When you carry audio to other platforms the dimensions of it change but the questions for program directors remains the same – how are people using their time, what are they doing and when are they doing it and how can I be part of that?
Q: On the idea of vernacular radio, how do you decide what is appropriate? (19:33 - 24:39 )
Dean: I think you have to return to what is distinctive about what you are making. You have to back yourself up and think about the audience - what is it that that someone wants from you?
Q: Is the ratio of foreground and companion for radio different digitally than on the terrestrial radio? (24:40 - 30:14 )
Dean: The nice thing about the digital space is it allows you to expand and contract as you want to, you are not restricted by length or clocks.
Q: How does WNYC use its listener survey to inform programming decisions and monetize content? (32:48 - 43:19)
Dean: The way we use listener surveys is to discover if people actually want or will use something – understanding people’s habits will help inform these decisions.
Q: Can you talk about your evaluation process – how do you know if your content is doing well online? (43:20- 46:49)
Dean: The most complicated part is that we don’t have integrated metrics between online and on air. We have to up the volume of the stuff we pilot. There should be two modes – we should super serve our audience and then identify the places we can make a lot of noise and be very successful.
Q: It sounds like you are talking about niche audiences? (46:50 - 48:47)
Dean: I think about them as a mosaic, there is some overlap but you can hitch people together to build a constituency around something. All these things that feel like discrete audiences will connect up somewhere.
Q: There is something implicit in trying many things, rather than the one big bet. We have to become comfortable with the idea that many things will fail – but we begin with the idea of understanding that many of these projects will be ephemeral and more about learning than succeeding. (48:48 -52:06)
Dean: Yes, this to me has become a very valuable way of thinking about it. We need to change the dynamic about what it is we do. No one can afford to wait the 10 years that public radio shows take to be successful. Putting shorter timeframes on projects helps limit risk and creates a sense of urgency around a project.
Q: How do you know when it’s time to call it quits? (52:07-56:04)
Dean: There’s an opportunity cost to keeping anything going – you have to constantly challenge yourself - 'is what I am doing now worth more than what I could be doing?' In a world of limited resources, you have to ask yourself, 'am I doing the right thing with my time, with the talent, can I really make this successful?'
Q: From a managerial perspective – what is the kind of person you are looking for when you are hiring someone at WNYC (producer, on air) – are there certain personality traits in an organization that is nimble and tries lots of things? (56:05-1:01:06)
Dean: We ask for staff generated submissions for projects and also look outside our own shop for ideas and staff. Ask yourself how can I create a more complete picture when staffing. I look for complementary pieces to fill in where there are gaps or opportunities.
This is the third webinar in our audio series. Leaders and innovators in public radio are taking smart steps to leverage the boom in mobile traffic and audio listening – and seeing audience grow as a result. We'll hear from some of those pioneers in a series of conversations about the latest in audio storytelling.
Questions we'll explore: What does this mean for audio in the digital space? Will the sound of that audio change? Are there underutilized platforms?
If you missed the previous webinars, you can watch them here: Visualizing Sound with 99% Invisible's Roman Mars or The Podcast is Dead. Long Live the Podcast! with Slate's Andy Bowers.