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KPCC chief dismisses critics of 'Brand and Martinez'

Thumbnail image for brand-martinez.jpgBill Davis, the station's president and CEO, tells a complainer via email that the new Madeleine Brand and A Martinez morning pairing on KPCC checked out in focus groups and audience testing, is here to stay and will be expanding to two hours day: "I know a thing or two about public radio programming --and I like what I hear with these two." He says every change to programming in public radio gets a bunch of complaints at first — he quotes from the complaints he got about Brand when she first joined KPCC. The loss of a few dozen Brand fans will be more than covered by the gain of thousands of new "core" listeners and donors, Davis contends.

Brand posted a comment on the state's website last week asking for listeners to be patient. Here's Davis' email:

Thanks for the note. I'll give you some behind-the-scenes insight into our Brand & Martinez decisions. But first, a little recent history: When we added NPR's "Day To Day" and moved Larry Mantle back to 10, my in-box was filled w/email complaints not dissimilar to yours complaining that Madeleine was "shallow," "insipid," "an intellectual lightweight," and "completely lacking any chemistry with Alex Chadwick." Then, when we launched TMBS, replacing the BBC Newshour, I got another round of emails complaining about Madeleine's "lack of intellect," stating she couldn't hold a candle to the intelligence of Robin Lustig and other BBC hosts, and describing her as everything from an "adolescent schoolgirl in love with the sound of her own giggle" to "a silly, stupid cow."

If I'd heeded those emails as you'd like me to heed yours, TMBS would have died in its infancy. But I didn't heed those notes. We've done extensive research into the audience potential to expand the station's reach and audience service; the search to find A took months and we did extensive focus group and randomized audience testing (n = 1,500+, so it's statistically significant). But, more important, I know a thing or two about public radio programming--and I like what I hear with these two. I know Madeleine and A will make an excellent complementary pair of hosts for a newsmagazine. I know that A will bring an audience to public radio that Madeleine can't reach on her own, and vice versa. And I know neither of them will alienate the audience the other brings. I know that A's strength as a live interviewer complement Madeleine's more produced set pieces. I know they have complementary interests and passions that will hold the audience's attention over the course of a daily two-hour show.

Now, does that mean that everybody's going to be happy about the changes? Of course not. These kinds of negative anecdotal responses are to be expected. We might lose a couple dozen TMBS listeners, but the overwhelming majority of listeners will keep on listening--and listening longer--plus we'll pick up thousands more who aren't tuning in right now. And these new listeners will start to listen to other programs; then they'll become what we call "core" listeners; and, eventually, they'll become donors.

The simple fact is that every single public radio news program in history has been met with initial responses similar to yours. This was true when "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" replaced classical music on most public radio stations. It's still true today. Every program change we've made at KPCC has faced larger and more vociferous complaints than what's showing up on the TMBS page now. Some have been front page news in the LA Times, some were even on the front page of the NY Times Arts Section. If our programming choices were driven by these kinds of responses, then we'd still be the fifth most-listened-to public radio station in LA rather than the second most-listened-to public radio station in the country.

So, while we appreciate your concern and we thank you for listening to and supporting SCPR, we're going to give this effort more than a week to assess whether it's working or not. Programs usually need at least a year--sometimes two--to work out all the kinks/bugs. So, please check back with us after a year or so. By then we'll be able to see whether Brand & Martinez achieves its potential.

Thanks, again, for your note.


By the way, the comments at the KPCC website are getting a bit nastier.

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