Despite being limited to a handful of new shows without live audiences, Mountain Stage has experienced a major jump in listeners nationally, according to spring ratings reports, executive producer Adam Harris told the state Educational Broadcasting Authority Wednesday.
Mountain Stage listenership grew by 24% over the spring 2019 ratings book, and the number of stations carrying the weekly broadcast increased 9% to more than 270 stations nationwide, he said.
That’s bucking national trends, as ratings for radio programming has plunged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic sharply reducing the numbers of Americans who are commuting to work or school.
Harris said Mountain Stage’s audience growth is not strictly driven by listeners starved for entertainment options during the pandemic, however. Since 2015, national audience numbers for Mountain Stage have grown by nearly 70%, and the number of stations carrying the broadcast has increased by more than 50%.
Those who tune in to Mountain Stage listen for an average duration of one hour and three minutes, according to the ratings surveys, and as Harris noted, “One hour, three minutes in radio is an eternity.”
Harris said Mountain Stage live-streamed virtual shows on Nov. 1 and Nov. 8, and while the broadcasts were free, viewers had the option of buying a “pay what you wish” ticket to receive a Mountain Stage face mask or bandana.
The two broadcasts raised more than $7,700, with an average ticket price of $24, he said.
“We almost made up for one sold-out show with these two efforts,” Harris said, noting that a sold-out show at the Culture Center theater brings in about $10,000 in ticket sales.
Harris said that while Mountain Stage does not rely on ticket sales as a primary source of revenue, the loss of 10 to 12 live shows this year will amount to about $100,000 loss.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting:
- West Virginia Public Broadcasting executive director Chuck Roberts said installation of a new high-definition digital antenna for WVPB-TV has been delayed, since work to install the antenna on the station’s 1,000-foot antenna requires the use of a helicopter, and no helicopter services in the state are licensed to perform such work.
He said Public Broadcasting continues to piggyback on WOWK-TV bandwidth, meaning that the West Virginia Channel and PBS Kids channel will continue to be unavailable over the air in the Charleston-Huntington area, but are still available on most cable systems in the area.
- EBA members voted to create a Diversity, Inclusion and Equity subcommittee to study ways to assure diversity in Public Broadcasting staff and management, and in broadcast programming.
- Shauna Phares, with Friends of Public Broadcasting, said the organization is looking at hiring a lobbyist for the 2021 legislative session.
“There’s going to be a lot of new members,” she said of the new Legislature. “It’s going to be necessary for us to talk with them about the good work Chuck and the team are doing.”
She said that will be especially critical with pandemic-related restrictions for the session, which is expected to include invitation-only in-person access to committee meetings, and meetings with legislators by appointment only.
- EBA members paid tribute to longtime member Ann Brotherton, who died in September.
“Ann probably was the strongest supporter Public Broadcasting has ever had in its history,” EBA chairman Bill File said. “She fought all our battles for us.”
Members met for about an hour in closed-door executive session to discuss a personnel matter, but took no action when the meeting reconvened.