Last month, National Public Radio sent out a press release boasting that its audience had grown to a record 23 million listeners weekly. Pretty impressive.
But it left me wondering: How does that translate on a local level? Is our dominant public station, WFYI-FM (90.1), seeing gains? You'd think a quick call to WFYI would answer those questions, but no. Due to an agreement with Arbitron, the radio-ratings company, public stations can't release specific data - like how Morning Edition and All Things Considered stack up against commercial stations.
But I did some digging, found someone willing to share the information and I can now provide the answer: WFYI ranks 13th among all listeners, but it rockets to fifth place among adults 25 and up.
From 6 to 7 a.m., Morning Edition is a top five show among all listeners, behind only The Bob & Tom Show (WFBQ-FM 94.7), The Morning Show (WFMS-FM 95.5), The Russ Parr Show (WHHH-FM 96.3) and Jeff Pigeon (WIBC-AM 1070).
From 7 to 8 a.m., Morning Edition actually surpasses Parr's show and comes in fourth.
In the afternoon, the results are similar. From 5 to 6 p.m., All Things Considered on WFYI trails only WFMS, WHHH, WRZX-FM (103.3) and WNOU-FM (93.1). From 6 to 7 p.m., All Things Considered surpasses WRZX for fourth place.
You've never heard this before because the numbers generally aren't publicly available and "because public broadcasting in general does a lousy job tooting its own horn," acknowledges WFYI station manager Richard Miles, who could only talk about the most recent radio ratings in their most generic sense.
"When you start breaking it down into different demographics, public radio does quite well. I think it's a testament to the quality of the product. If you want serious national and international news, we are your choice."
And soon, WFYI will be adding a local news presence. Miles wouldn't release details, but he confirmed that in the near future you can expect local news breaks during All Things Considered and, eventually, a full local newscast.
Of course, WFYI won't be out there bragging about that because the money goes into programming, not advertising.
"We don't have the kind of budget to be able to put billboards up around the city," Miles says. "I'd love to be able to do that. I don't have enough money to buy advertising time on commercial television like Hank [97.1] and Jack [104.5] are doing. Emmis and Susquehanna are pouring huge bucks into that at the moment. I think if we had the kind of promotional budget those companies did, we could get the word out. As it is, we are Indianapolis' best-kept secret."