media relations, journalism

Stewart Vanderwilt, CEO of Colorado Public Radio and Peggy Gonder at Rocky Mountain Texas Exes.

Stewart Vanderwilt, President and CEO of Colorado Public Radio, is expanding news coverage. He has added 17 new programs to CPR, including Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. He announced to Rocky Mountain alumni of the University of Texas that he plans to hire a Washington, DC-based reporter and move his 70-person newsroom to downtown Denver.

“We are moving closer to the State Capitol and City Hall and people are paying attention,” he noted. “More people in Colorado are getting their news from CPR than anyplace else. People want to get the facts in a civilized place.” But listeners can burn out on all the negative news out of Washington, too. “The most-listened time to classical music is at 5 p.m,” he observed. The two days in 2018 with the highest listenership: the Ford-Cavanaugh hearings and the classical station. “People want an antidote to the news.”

The state’s largest daily newspaper formerly had a reporter in DC and its 200+ reporter/editor newsroom was based near the Capitol. As the flagship newspaper suffered huge layoffs due to its non-journalist-all money-focused hedge-fund owners, all Post reporters were moved to the paper’s publishing plant in Adams County.

“We had a leadership responsibility to step in,” the new head of CPR explained.

New Initiatives

The station is launching a five-member “Climate Solutions” team to cover innovators at the Colorado universities who are working to address climate change. The station is launching an investigative journalism unit to cover the legislature and other units of government. The DC reporter will be covering federal agencies, which receive less attention nationally.

Vanderwilt came to Denver after 18 years at the University of Texas.  He transformed KUT and KUTX as public radio innovators and among the highest-rated public radio stations in a market its size. One innovation the CEO has brought to Colorado is the purchase of Denverite, a sassy electronic news source that sends multiple emails a day filled with humor, animated gifs, original stories and links to other news.

“It’s been an interesting melding of cultures,” Vanderwilt said or the merger of Denverite and CPR reporters. He described many CPR reporters as good print journalists who formerly had multiple days to report and publish, while the young Denverite staff churn out multiple stories a day. All reporters are learning new techniques of storytelling and how to bring “a human narrative to tell data stories.”

The CEO had two criteria for selecting the 17 new shows: 1)” Our core is covering the news,” but CPR also wanted to introduce new voices, like Latino USA.

2) “Who would work with us?” Vanderwilt wanted to make sure CPR reporters’ stories were carried on these other programs.

Expanding Statewide

Vanderwilt created a far-reaching signature program, “The Texas Standard,” whose goal is to report the news from a Texas perspective. The collaboration with public radio stations in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas promised: ‘No matter where you are, you’re on Texas standard time.”

There are many public radio stations in Colorado – some part of CPR, some independents, and others affiliated with KUNC. Vanderwilt said he has offered all 20 non-CPR public stations the opportunity to carry CPR’s news content for free in an effort to build stronger ties. “It’s a long road to build collaboration,” he explained.

Evaluating the Changes

The new CEO plans to evaluate programming every six months. “Are people tuning in? Engaging? Another strategy is the schedule at a “non-optimal time” and see if the show over-performs. When asked about Nielsen ratings, Vanderwilt noted that Nielsen measures a sample of people who carry the device.  Digital devices provide a better metric, which is great for radio, he said.

When asked about Open Air, he said that this program geared to younger music listeners in “an under-realized opportunity.” A focus on the alternative music station is his third priority.

I am grateful to Rocky Mountain Texas Exes for offering this opportunity to hear from CPR’s dynamic new leader.