New things considered

As National Public Radio (NPR) struggles with a changing technological landscape, a Sacramentan will help ensure that programs such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered remain the thinking person’s standard for radio journalism.

Michael Lazar, president and general manager of Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio (CPR), begins a three-year term on the NPR board of directors at a time of unprecedented change.

“NPR is facing some critical choices on how to serve audiences in a rapidly changing new-media environment,” Lazar said. “These decisions will affect both listeners and NPR member stations.”

The most immediate change Lazar anticipates is satellite radio. Much like satellite television, satellite radio will offer subscribing listeners hundreds of channels not available on the standard dial. High-end cars such as Jaguars and Cadillacs will soon come equipped with satellite radios, and eventually, satellite radio will be available to the masses.

Two companies, Sirius and XM, have acquired the rights to the new satellite radio frequency bands, and Sirius plans to launch its satellite to distribute the signals in coming months. To take advantage of this new technology, Lazar said, NPR will broadcast two channels on Sirius, and Public Radio International will broadcast on two XM channels. To prevent NPR member stations from being hurt by this new competition, Lazar said, NPR’s satellite stations will frequently publicize the standard dial stations in advertisements.

According to Lazar, yet an even bigger threat to NPR’s pre-eminence in radio news comes from the ever-expanding Worldwide Web. With people becoming more dependent upon the Web for news information, public radio managers want to become more competitive with other major news sites.

Lazar said that both CPR and NPR need to continue expanding their news coverage. Plans are already in the works for NPR to increase its national news coverage in the first half of next year, a trend that it will have to continue to compete with the Web’s technological advances.

“Before long, you’ll be able to listen to distant Web channels through a Walkman-type device or your car stereo,” Lazar said. “NPR has to decide how [it] can best be a part of these new technologies.”

There are some features of NPR Lazar expects will remain a constant. Listeners will continue to be the most valuable source of revenue for the stations, with more than half of CPR’s funding coming from listener pledges.

To continue receiving that needed financial support, Lazar said he and other public radio executives will need to keep NPR a must-listen, because “people have more choices for their leisure time today than ever before.”