Public Radio – Televison Intellectual Capital Interruptus

I, as other listeners acquire intellectual capital…by listening to NPR (National Public Radio) and viewing PBS (Public Broadcasting System) array of ‘news and talk’ programming and podcasts. I am an avid listener of and contributor to NPR, since August 1982, and don’t expect either will change.

However, there is one small, but persistent (intangible) annoyance…having to do with the obvious time constraints and/or criteria associated with the length of real time – on-air (news) interviews which I presume for production and continuity purposes, interviewers, producers, and technicians are obliged to adhere, i.e., those charged with…

  • responsibility for programmatic content, continuity, and queuing, i.e., what topics to address, when, and whom to invite and schedule as subject matter experts, and
  • the allocation of (on-air, live) ‘interview – speaking time’ to reflect a program’s schedule and (mission) expectations.

My annoyance is that…‘news, talk, story telling’ program hosts routinely discontinue – suspend an on-air interview or discussion with variations of the following phrases, i.e.,

  • …in the 30 seconds we have left.
  • …with the few seconds we have remaining, there’s another issue I would like for you to address.
  • …very quickly, can you describe.

I do get it, public radio’s news and talk programs, like any FCC licensed entity, are obliged to adhere to strict allotments of time, i.e., schedules they must attend to.  So, on one level, this annoyance I am endeavoring to describe here, could be comparable to what other print and visual (media) platforms are obliged to adhere, e.g., readers-viewers felt attention span, time, word character limitations, the acquisition and editing of visuals, or the number of words per column in a newspaper, etc.

But, through my lens, as a routinely interested listener, those words uttered by a radio program host…which I find most annoying, translate as ‘let’s speed this up’!  The guest-interviewee, now being obliged to conclude with as few words as permissible, which potentially may be converted intellectually or electronically, to contextually challenged sound bites.

As a listener, usually while driving or late at night…lying in bed with my ‘npr radio’ in easy reach, I an observe clocks ticking off the minutes-seconds of an on air interview, which, on numerous occasions I too sense, probably not unlike the host, being ‘at the ready’ to utter one, or a combination of the phrasing repertoire noted above.  My simple awareness of why this occurs does not mitigate it’s personal annoyance.  That said, public radio and television programming time allotments, by far, surpasses the ‘around the world in 80 seconds’ and other closely modeled segments on network and cable news outlets.

However, I must admit, that…occasionally, for some presumed ‘subject matter experts’ being asked questions on air by a host, an allotted 3 minutes and 12 seconds is far too generous.

In that regard, its not particularly challenging for listeners to…distinguish (public radio – television) guests, who perhaps, out of personal – professional unfamiliarity with the subject matter, hence the rationale for booking them, and the implied obligation to ‘hold to a political party’s’ already focus grouped and approved narrative materializes from the same ‘talking points’ likely uttered by colleagues minutes or hours earlier on other broadcast mediums.

So, in numerous instances, the interviewees remarks, without much imagination, will appear…choreographed, shallow, and produce no new or substantive insights or perspectives relative to the issue – subject matter the host is endeavoring to glean.  To this, I am confident there are various and respectful strategies which hosts may apply to quickly reframe, one interview mode to another, to influence a guest to move away from merely regurgitating language previous uttered numerous times in a news cycle.

I am confident public radio-television listeners recognize that in many instances…on-air guests, particularly ‘the elected or appointed ones’ are obliged to inform superiors regarding the topic – subject matter of a pending public interview in which an interviewer and their organization have editorial control.

Presumably, many, if not most politician guests find it prudent least on political matters, stick to the focus grouped ‘talking points’ which are intended-designed to frame an interview favorable to their prescribed position and otherwise deflect or thwart a host’s questions that reach beyond those parameters.  This should come as no surprise, right?

Routinely though, it appears…the individual whom a public radio program segment producer – scheduler has secured for an on-air (real time) interview, is a current or former (elected) politician, employed by a previous administration or a ‘think tanker’ who happens to reside in the same time zone.  This is especially evident for early morning programming.

The invitee, often at ease with media interviews, may have reason to…assume an invitation was extended and will manifest as an opportunity (responsibility, mandate) to either find fault with or advocate for a specific (recent) political action, event, or revelation. No need for pretense otherwise, right?

Presumably then, this-is-why listeners – viewers…routinely hear hosts – anchors apprising program guests about time, i.e., ‘in the 30 seconds we have remaining’, or, more disconcerting, are instances when program hosts essentially ‘finish a guests sentences’ which routinely, the guest succumbs (agrees).

In these circumstances, my ability to acquire – grasp…new intellectual (content) is not always geared to a prescribed segment lengths of 2:51...especially, when its likely my ‘grasp span’ will be interrupted, commencing at the 2 minute, 15 second mark, with 8 second interval reminders thereafter, about how much ‘on air’ time is remaining for a specific segment, and for me to learn!  This is particularly frustrating in those instances when a guest is not merely regurgitating ‘day old, focus grouped, talking points’, instead, is adding previously unaddressed substance to a subject of national import.

This personal frustration may elevate…when I go to or to read the transcript of a previously aired segment and find (a.) it too, is peppered with time reminders from the host, and/or (b.) its length (compared to other segments aired on the same program, was longer compared to stories I sensed more substance, perhaps, human interest’ story aired on the same program.

Admittedly, I am not a listener – viewer analyst, demographic or otherwise…with respect to understanding how to sequence or deliver continuity to programmatic deliverables, i.e., human-interest stories vs. current news activities. Examples of the former may manifest as (a.) a surfer incurring shark bite in waters along Australia’s coast, or, (b.) an unusually large – long alligator resting comfortably in the mid-day sun on a Florida golf course, or (c.) a passenger ejected from a commercial airline flight for uttering a phrase or engaging in a behavior that offended – alarmed passengers and flight attendants.

I am given to believe such ‘human interest’ stories may have some bearing on…viewer – listener retention in the context of conversation starters, i.e., ‘did you hear about’, whereas, other segments highlighting a national – international issue with substantially greater potential impact may not.  Again, I get it!

I sense, correctly, or not…once a radio host commence time remaining signals to their on-air guest, the guest, in most instances, responds by attempting to comply, i.e., a noticeably faster paced speaking mode.  Presumably this occurs to bring their comments (talking points) to a crescendo and conclusion, preferably in advance of the host issuing…

  • a second warning and/or the proverbial thank you….that’s all the time we have for now…we look forward to having you back again!

Of course, the presumably ‘curmudgeonish’ issue I have presented here…does not appear to be applicable to ‘hosted’ (previously recorded) stories which have been edited for time and inserted into a program’s que.

Michael D. Moberly January 30, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] Business Intangible Asset Blog since May 2006 ‘where attention span, business realities, and solutions converge’!

Readers are invited to explore other posts, papers, and books I have published at

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