WABE Sees “Momentum” At Fall Board Meeting

WABE Radio Ratings Slides presented at its Nov. 17, 2022 board meeting. Slides provided by WABE.

Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE celebrated its recent ratings wins over legacy news and talk station WSB at its fall board meeting Thursday. CEO Jennifer Dorian referred to the strategic plan the station adopted last year when summing up the fall status as “momentum.”

Slide showing ATL part of WABE’s Strategic Plan adopted in 2021.

The plan, dubbed Doubling Down on the ATL, called for Audience growth, Transforming the mix of content to be locally relevant, and Leading in local journalism. At the meeting and in answers to emailed questions after, Dorian saw progress on all three letters.

Slides presented at the meeting highlighted the October ratings in which the station ranked number 2 in Atlanta overall and number 1 in afternoon drivetime. The station airs NPR’s All Things Considered in the afternoons with local host Jim Burress and reports from WABE’s own reporters following national headlines.

Midday show Closer Look with Rose Scott ranked ahead of WSB and conservative talk show host Erick Erickson.

How much of the ratings success is seasonal and related to Georgia’s election coverage may be seen in coming months, Dorian even predicted the next ratings book likely won’t be as strong, but an NPR affiliate besting conservative news and talk in Atlanta is a milestone.

It follows WABE’s rebranding to emphasize the radio call letters over PBA and a paid advertising campaign.

Included in its ratings trackers against WSB was Georgia Public Broadcasting’s WRAS. But board member Chuck Taylor joked “We don’t compete with GPB, GPB competes with us. We compete with WSB.”

I doubt WSB considers WRAS a competitor either, especially with Cox-affiliated Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters appearing on it daily.

To that end, I asked Dorian via email about the AJC’s relationship with GPB to which she declined to comment but did contrast WABE from state-run GPB when asked what happens to GPB and to the WABE/GPB competition after the recent state elections:

Multiple media outlets are ideal, but two public broadcasters competing in Atlanta while news deserts grow elsewhere runs opposite to public broadcasting’s public service mission.

Dorian did mention the ongoing efforts of the Georgia News Collaborative.

Related to my concerns about conflicts of interest, Dorian linked to WABE’s policy statements on the independence of its newsroom and disclosures of donors and conflicts as in news coverage of its license holder the Atlanta Public Schools.

https://www.wabe.org/Station-Policies#editorial-independence-policy

The more pressing need for transparency in Georgia newsrooms now involves GPB as a state agency and Cox Enterprises media outlets given its legacy dominance and Cox’s role in both Atlanta and state public policy questions.

Cox Foundations donate to various city and state institutions which may make officials reluctant to criticize it.

Cox has extensive automotive interests, and the state of Georgia has made leading in the electric vehicle industry ongoing policy.

As collaborative news efforts continue in Georgia, I would hope ethics codes and policies will extend to the collaborations themselves. NPR’s promised Work Group on affiliate governance, announced last Jan., suggested promise, but never published ahead of Georgia’s elections.

https://www.npr.org/about-npr/1073766876/public-radio-network-standards-practices-handbook-working-group-announced

Some other meeting highlights included:

— Progress on its capital campaign which Chair Ken Bernhardt said was already near fifty percent of its goal after launching just weeks ago.

— Next year will mark WABE’s 75th anniversary as a radio station which it will commemorate with a docuseries.

Here’s hoping it will be closer to Andreas Preuss’ thesis and radio project 88.50 than WSB’s lackluster commemoration of its own 100th anniversary which didn’t even feature much historic audio.

— The status of Killer Mike’s show is in limbo, not because of lack of interest, in fact several PBS stations have expressed interest, but as its third-party producers are mulling decisions.

— As part of its original content, WABE gets film tax credits that will be part of its accounting in the future.

Potentially, its news division could produce an in-depth look at Georgia’s film credits and receive one in the process.

Schedule for launches of WABE Studio Productions.

This was the first meeting I attended in person having previously watched zoom meetings and attending several GPB Board meetings.

WABE’s building is a one-story brick facility in keeping with its license-holder the Atlanta Public Schools.

Surrounding it are new townhomes and other construction in a rapidly gentrifying intown neighborhood.

Compared to GPB’s large headquarters WABE’s building looks modest.

In fact, judging by the small men’s room in the lobby, it’s almost austere.

WABE has talked about one day wanting a new facility more public facing and pedestrian friendly. Akin, perhaps, to WNYC’s https://www.thegreenespace.org/about/

But GPB’s state-of-the art headquarters was built using Hope Scholarship money in the 90’s and caused financial scandals.

A reminder of the tensions between a public broadcaster’s growth ambitions and its need to maintain public support and justify new expenses.

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Atlanta writer and comedian. Occasional citizen journalist. Diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40. No relation to Steve.

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Brian Bannon

Atlanta writer and comedian. Occasional citizen journalist. Diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40. No relation to Steve.