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WXPN’s Black Opry Residency is a Project to Emulate

Podcasts, video features, and performances from African-American Americana artists earns kudos…

By Paul Marszalek

There’s considerable talk within public radio about lackluster ratings, lack of growth, and soft revenue.

While the advertising slowdown is partly to blame on the revenue side, lackluster ratings and lack of growth have other causes. Among them, stagnant programming. Stagnant programming also leads to lackluster membership support.

Coming out of COVID, stations were keen to get back to where they were pre-pandemic. Only problem is, in a “Who Moved My Cheese” moment, the world has moved on. Too many stations still seem to refuse to acknowledge that it’s not 2019, and fail to make adjustments.

This year it is almost impossible to create a list of fresh, new programs launched at public radio — whether that be on the music side or the news side.

Black Opry Residency Artist: The Kentucky Gentlemen

A notable exception? WXPN’s Black Opry Residency, debuted under the flag of the station’s Artist to Watch series. If you missed it, it’s well worth visiting.

The project focused on five African-American Americana artists with content that included five John Morrison-hosted podcasts, video features, and live performances. XPN settled on five artists after reviewing more than 100 submissions.

Considerable funding for the project came from a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage — to the tune of $250,000. And before you get all snarky and say, “anyone can do big things with funding like that,” ask yourself why your station hasn’t done it. There tends to be a truth that great ideas find money.

It can take considerable time and effort to land the funding, but the idea has to come first.

The Black Opry Residency project is a great example of and enterprise level project that can keep audiences engaged while delivering on mission.

After all, even public radio listeners ask the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

And if your station can’t answer that question, it might be why you’re treading water.

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