Monday, July 14, 2008

NPR kills off the Bryant Park Project

Well, I sort-of-called it back in January, when Luke Burbank bailed on BPP for greener pastures in Seattle's powerhouse AM talker: KIRO. But today NPR officially announced the end of the Bryant Park Project.

I would imagine the biggest reason for the euthanasia was that NPR is not in good financial shape right now. I wouldn't call it a crisis, but the extended Democratic primary battle...while possibly good for the country...was a giant strain on NPR's resources. Not to mention the overall concept of an 18 month Presidential race (ugh!) was daunting enough from a financial standpoint.

Couple that with fewer than two dozen affiliates (no doubt many of which were on HD Radio multicast channels - and therefore with very small audiences) and it's not surprising that NPR claims they spent $2 million over nine months with nothing to show for it.

However, allow me to be among those that give a giant dope-slap to NPR. No crap you didn't get much'd only been on the air for nine months! You're trying to convince stations to not air Morning Edition which is, by and large, the biggest moneymaker for every NPR affiliate out there. That's going to take YEARS, not just nine months.

However, as I said in January, Luke Burbank himself also deserves a lot of blame here. Well, okay, I shouldn't pretend to know all the reasons why he left BPP. But the reasons given in the Seattle Times article published at the time sure point to a massive egotistical a**hole. And I have no doubt in my mind that his departure spooked a lot of potential affiliates - who wants to risk your most profitable daypart to pick up a show that's so personality-driven when the host just quit after only two months? I think that skittishness eventually doomed BPP due to lack of affiliate stations.

Frankly, Alison Stewart's (the remaining BPP host) maternity leave didn't help. Is that sexist? (Alison honestly wanted to know) Perhaps, but I think in this particular case it's more of a perfect storm. The bottom line is that Stewart was going to be away from the show for at least several weeks...and frankly, I think that's as it should be. Dammit, are we all such wage slaves that we can't spend time with our newborns? I certainly feel we shouldn't be.

And in an ideal world, it wouldn't have been a problem for BPP because the other established host, Luke Burbank, would be there to pick up the slack for a few months and then Stewart would've returned and all would be well. But Burbank's ill-timed departure (Stewart went on leave barely three months later) meant that you had what was supposed to be a world-class alternative to a flagship program that had no permanent host, right at a time when a lot of news was happening and budgets were also being drained rapidly because of that news. That equals uncertainty and stations' program directors HATE uncertainty.

No wonder nobody else wanted to pick up the show. Hell, I didn't at WEOS...and for all the reasons I just outlined. I was pretty sure that NPR would eventually dump the show and I was right. Damn shame, but shame on NPR for giving up so quickly. Or for not having a plan that could deal with these problems.

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