WABE aims for audience growth, content distribution by 2025.

Fresh off a rebranding campaign that included a city-wide scavenger hunt for swag the day before, WABE’s board met via Zoom Thursday with CEO Jennifer Dorian giving an update on the strategic plan the public broadcaster approved last year, soon after her hiring.

With the slogan Amplifying Atlanta and a goal to “Grow WABE into a Top 10-Ranked Radio Station in the next Four Years,” the plan includes hopes to enter the competitive landscape of content distribution.

“The strategic plan is to, in the next four years, double down on the ATL with the A being audience growth, T being transforming our content mix to more digital and more local, and L leading the region in journalism,” Dorian said.

After comparisons to other cities across the country Dorian gave reasons why they feel “bullish on our audience growth potential.”

“We’re in the number seven DMA in the United States. Huge market to address and two million more new residents moving here in the next 20 years.

“Atlanta also has many big stories that will grab people’s attention.”

The pandemic affected audience size, but Dorian sees potential for growth in digital listening and the help of fresh marketing initiatives and paid advertisement.

“We need to get back to the 400,000 weekly cumulative listeners on radio per week to achieve a number seven rancor across the US in our public media performance. Digital reach will help us grow. So, when we say radio reach, radio ratings it includes streaming through our website, through smart speaker. We do feel that we need to pursue ratings stabilization and growth. The pandemic and new commuter patterns have not been helpful. We’ll see how that also evolves.”

“The composition of our audience that is digital today is about 6%. We want to grow that to at least 15% by 2025.”

In Atlanta, WABE at 90.1 FM is the dominant NPR affiliate outranking state-run GPB’s controversial daytime programming of Georgia State University’s WRAS 88.5

Students program Album 88 evenings and during the day on its HD-2 stream.

Clark Atlanta’s WCLK 91.1 FM is also an NPR affiliate airing national jazz and music programming in addition to their own local hosts and content.

But on television, GPB’s Channel 8 beats the Atlanta Public Schools-licensed PBS affiliate Channel 30.

Long a second-run PBS affiliate, previous Public Broadcasting Atlanta CEO Wonya Lucas rebranded the TV station from PBA30 into ATLPBA and upped it to a full-service PBS affiliate, though at considerable expense.

A billboard branding battle with GPB over which one is PBS for ATL commenced.

But Dorian believes the new rebranding of Channel 30 into WABE TV along with a new website and digital content could elevate its video audience.

“On television, there are three reasons why we’re feeling we can boost our performance. Number one, we’re carrying the full PBS national feed on their schedule of premiers. We have the new opportunity for cross promotion from WABE radio to WABE TV, and … we have a pipeline of original show ideas and items that can get more PR, more social buzz and more viewership.”

An interview show hosted by Atlanta rapper Killer Mike debuted last year and the station’s newly announced monthly concert series will be filmed and converted to later video programming.

On content distribution the goals are modest, but the very idea has long been a concern of some board members, according to chair Andrew Feiler.

There’s also a concern within public media that too much of its content now generates from the Northeast and DC and lacks diversity overall.

“This is an opportunity for a southern, large market of Atlanta with a lot of production capabilities to be a presenting station for television and radio,” Dorian said later adding they wouldn’t pursue big budget projects.

“… the content assumptions we have are to partner for production and to generally have lower cost productions.

We’re not making Downton Abbey; I just keep saying that.”

GPB has much larger production capabilities but devotes them to coverage of the state legislature and broadcasting high school football.

With growth comes growing pains and the largest public radio affiliates, from WNYC to WAMU to WBUR, have all seen labor disputes, management controversies, or intense scrutiny over news coverage in recent years.

WABE’s plan does anticipate expenses growing and Dorian addressed staff listening in.

“I want them to know that we are … extremely aware of the pressures for salary and the importance of having adequate staff for capacity to avoid burnout.”

“We are also as a management leadership team really focused on making sure that we keep growing the newsroom. The number of people in the newsroom, the diversity in the newsroom. As well as our employee satisfaction.”

There was more information in the meeting, with implications for Atlanta media in the year ahead.

I hope to write about that later.

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