:Vocalo – the station/community formerly known as Chicago Public Radio

(via Reclaim the Media)

I don’t normally blog here about projects Optaros has been involved in, but I think this article in the Current is too good to pass up sharing: “It’s public radio, but with nearly everything different, including the name

It describes the new station/site (in which Optaros was involved) from Chicago Public Radio called :Vocalo.

There will be a website, but it would be wrong to say that it’s the station’s website. Really, it’s the website’s radio station.
The name, :Vocalo, is an invention, essentially “Vocal” with an “o” at the end. It rhymes with “Zocalo,” a Spanish word that in Mexico refers to a town plaza and in Colombia refers to the infrastructure that stabilizes a large building. The colon before the “V” is intentional — a trademarked emoticon.

The part that I think is most interesting is how involved the potential audience – not the current CPR audience, but the residents of the area the station could potentially serve – were in the process:

In eight focus groups, we gave special attention to the people who had, for various reasons, rejected us but were potential listeners—people who were committed to the area, who volunteered in the community, who follow the news and use radio. We asked them to listen to WBEZ for a week, keep diaries of what they thought, and meet for two-hour group conversations. Then we took questions that arose in the focus groups and surveyed listeners by mail.
These potential listeners were intensely interested in information and discussion about our shared place, the Chicago area. African-American, Latino and Asian-American non-listeners in our surveys and focus groups placed their highest value on local service. They sought it in our broadcast day and held it to high standards—not of production quality but of accuracy and relevance. They were highly critical of what they heard.

Taking the results of the listener (and non-listener) research, which the article sums up as “Nearly all felt the station was not for them – and was not trying to be inviting,” the CPR team went through a sustained and quite strategic effort to make honest changes – not just to rest on their traditional audience but to reconnect with their strategic mission.

One of the results of that work is the new site and station:

This new station will be built on community radio sensibilities but without the characteristic schedule of special-interest shows. In fact, it will have no shows at all. It will air a continuous, seamless talk-based stream completely devoted to Northwest Indiana and Chicago metropolitan area culture, issues and selected music.

It’s also available as an online stream, for those of us outside greater Chicagoland.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over time as a format and as a concept – reclaiming public media by reconnecting it its core mission.

Involving your community in creating your product has lessons that go well beyond public radio, of course – we all have to be open to reimagining what it is we “do” and how it does or doesn’t meet the needs of current users and prospective users.