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KPCC President Bill Davis weighs in on recent program changes (UPDATED)

SCPR President Bill Davis speaks to Airtalk's Larry Mantle about recent program changes here at the station.
SCPR President Bill Davis speaks to Airtalk's Larry Mantle about recent program changes here at the station.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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We’ve come a long way since the early days, broadcasting local news and music from the basement of Pasadena City College, to our emergence as a leader in Southland broadcast journalism.

KPCC has recently made ambitious strides to become a new kind of public media institution. We want to continue expand our award-winning reporting and editorial staff, embrace new media opportunities, engage tomorrow’s multi-platform audiences and find even more ways to serve our community.

As part of our evolution, we've made recent changes to the programming lineup and the addition of a new host or two.

These changes include the cancellation of Patt Morrison's show after six years, though she remains on staff as a special correspondent. Additionally, Madeleine Brand, co-host of our morning show Brand & Martinez and formerly of The Madeleine Brand Show, chose to resign just last Friday.

We understand that these are two huge changes that directly impact our listeners and we've been reading every single one of the comments you've left on our website and social media channels.

KPCC President Bill Davis joined Larry Mantle on AirTalk Friday from 11:40 a.m.-12 p.m. to discuss the changes and what they mean for the future of KPCC and you, our valued listener.

Full Interview:

On the overarching direction of KPCC:
"Two years ago after our capital campaign was done the SCPR board of trustees did a pretty comprehensive strategic planning process, and in doing that, we looked basically at three areas that we wanted to focus on. First was to really strengthen our journalism, not only on the broadcast platform, but also the digital platform and live event platform, as well. We have been, as you and many others are aware, hiring an incredible array of journalists here, and also a very young and ethnically diverse group of journalists.

The second thing we were looking at is, on the broadcast platform, is to focus on news magazine content, because newsmagazines are the strongest provider of audience services. If you look at Morning Edition or All Things Considered, even when it was just The Madeleine Brand Show, they were the highest ratings of the programming that we had, and there's a reason for that. Newsmagazines and co-hosted newsmagazines particularly. It's a smaller filter through which to go if you are interested in subjects because the pacing moves on, and if you want to know more you can get more.

There's a third aspect to that and that is that we wanted to be more reflective of this incredibly diverse community that we serve. At all levels, the board, management, editorial levels, on-air staff and production ranks, that we wanted to have a more diverse group of people to reflect more accurately and report more accurately on what's happening in LA. So those were the three drivers that ended up informing a lot of the decisions we made in terms of programming and other things that we're doing on the digital and live event platforms."

On why Patt Morrison's program was cancelled and BBC and The World moved into that time slot:
"When you're doing a call-in and in-depth interview program in the afternoon, that's a very challenging time slot. First off, it's coming on the heels of your show, so a lot of times there was overlap even though Patt and her staff tried not to, sometimes that recycling of news becomes a challenge.

More importantly, the great majority of our audience was aware that Patt Morrison was on the air, they simply don't listen between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. It is a difficult time to do a news show. We were very pleased with the ratings, but if we're going to make sure Patt is more broadly distributed, having her do some of those in-depth interviews and having her do some in-depth features and then putting them in Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, your show, the 9-to-11 show. That then makes our audience more aware of the things that Patt is good at and the things that she brings to our audience and actually raises the overall profile of what she does."

On criticism that the changes create one less hour a day of local programming:
"One of the things that we looked at and one of the things that we discussed was should we move the show lock, stock and barrel to 7-to-9 p.m. That was something that we gave very serious thought to. Ultimately we decided not to because the cost of producing that for the available audience simply did not make sense. And so again, we have more value created by having Patt appear in multiple locations in the program schedule. Some people may disagree with that and that's fine. I am open to that criticism, but I think over time people are going to appreciate being able to hear Patt in the mornings, in the afternoons, in the evenings and on the weekends."

On the possibility of Patt Morrison having a weekend show:
"Russ Stanton, Craig Curtis and their team are looking at that opportunity and seeing what the cost would be, what the opportunities are, but certainly that is one of the things that's still being kicked around and that was in the press release."

On reasons for putting the BBC on at 1 p.m.:
"First off, we knew from when we had the BBC on in the 9-to-10 slot a couple of years ago that there is a strong audience for that program. It did very well in terms of if you want to just look at ratings. I think there's a more important aspect to this. Los Angeles is one of the most global cities in the world. We have something like 196 languages or something like that in L.A. public schools, etc. There is no other journalistic organization in the world that provides global coverage the way BBC does, so as we focus in on news and information programming, and as we focus in on international coverage as an important part of that, the BBC and providing the NewsHour and also to the extent that they contribute to The World, gives us a real strong lineup there. Not everybody might agree with that but I have certainly seen evidence to suggest that there is a very strong pent-up demand for international coverage."

Will these changes affect coverage of breaking news in the afternoon?
"Great question, but the answer to that is no because we can always cut in. We have great talent, not only you and Patt and A and Alex, but a whole host of people who can step in and go to live coverage should we need to, but that is a great question."

Why did a local public radio station make programming decisions without consulting the public?
"In fact, we did quite a bit of research into the expanding, particularly, of the morning news magazine and we did online surveys with donors, online surveys with non-donor populations, we did survey research and focus group research. We did quite a bit of it. But ultimately, programming decisions are not a democratic process. If we did that we would never have made the programming decisions we made 12 years ago. We tried to be responsive and anticipate some of these and some of the criticisms showed up in the survey research, so it wasn't entirely surprising that some people would feel the way they feel. Ultimately, we have to look at not only what we are doing to serve our current audience, but how we can innovate to improve the audience service and the community service that we provide to a larger group of people in L.A. and Orange County and the rest of Southern California."

On Madeleine Brand's departure:
"To quote Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Larry. Madeleine Brand has no greater personal fan or professional champion than yours truly. I hired Madeleine in Buffalo straight out of college. I've known her for half of her life. When we worked at NPR I promoted her there, when NPR dropped…actually during Day To Day we ran it all the way through we didn't drop it like some other stations did. After they dropped the show we were able to hire her, bring that program on over the protests of people who liked the BBC on at the 9-to-10 hour. Madeleine made a decision here to pursue these opportunities because she is a prodigious talent. She's an incredible talent and clearly some people are stepping up to make an incredible professional opportunity for her. I could not wish her more success. I thank her for everything she's done, she knows this. We've known each other a long time. I hope that she absolutely kicks ass and takes names. I hope she absolutely has incredible success there."

On whether he was disappointed due to Brand's departure:
"Is there some personal disappointment? Sure. Throughout this process have Madeleine and I and the rest of the team been exactly on the same page the whole time? No. If you look at Current magazine, she absolutely agrees with the direction we're trying to take the program, how we're trying to expand the audience. All of those things. Madeleine understands that that's the right thing to do, but in terms of what was the correct opportunity for her and her family, whatever she's contemplating and my guess is we're going to hear about that in the very near future, is going to be a huge opportunity and so again, I could not wish her more or thank her more for the things she has done."

On the decision to add a Latino co-host to Madeleine Brand's show:
"Perfectly understandable question. The first half of the answer, as I mentioned before co-hosted news magazines are the strongest performing programs in all of public radio. I think there is a tendency to assume that if you segregate the hosting, that's somehow going to just appeal to a Latino audience. Our core values, I don't want to extrapolate to all people in Southern California, but the notion of a co-hosted, multiethnic program that is looking at Los Angeles across a range of lenses it’s more of a statement of what we believe in at Southern California Public Radio and I think most Angelenos believe that. I don't think that making this the Latino hour or the Asian American hour is not the right way to go. We live in a multiethnic city and we should be trying to reflect that more throughout our programming and throughout our staffing."

Did Madeleine have input on the choice of her cohost?

How does the negative feedback compare to other changes in a past:
"The decade-ago change, again this pales in comparison, that was across the whole schedule, that was front page New York Times art section kind of thing. In terms of, the most recent example, when we brought Madeleine back and replaced the BBC, we’re at about the same level. I need to go back and check, but in terms of my inbox and the people who have responded to me personally, we're about that same level currently. In terms of overall percentage of the audience, fairly small, BUT, every person who is frustrated, those feelings are genuine and that's why we have the forums and why we monitor and why we keep up on it. In terms of membership renewal rates and all those other non-anecdotal feedback measures are up not only year over year, but within the current year."

On rumors that the CPB money dictating programming changes:
"180 degrees opposite. There's this notion and this meme that it was the CPB funding tail wagging our programming dog. We came to CPB after we finished our strategic planning process and said, 'These are the things we want to do: We want to deepen our journalism, we want to diversify our staff, we want to build this co-hosted, multiethnic news magazine in the mornings. Is that something you'd fund?' They said yes, so as I said the meme is actually 180-degrees opposite from what the actual facts are."


What’s behind the decisions to cancel some programs and expand others? Why the shifts in schedules and on-air personalities? What do you like about the new changes? What do you think should have been done differently? What would you like to see more of?


Bill Davis, President and CEO of Southern California Public Radio