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W.Va. Public Broadcasting tracks listener tastes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An informal survey conducted online and at 12 locations around the state this summer reached four key conclusions about West Virginia Public Broadcasting, executive director Scott Finn said Wednesday:

* "Mountain Stage" is beloved by radio listeners and television viewers -- even though public television hasn't had regularly scheduled "Mountain Stage" telecasts for several years.

* TV viewers can't get enough documentaries about West Virginia history and culture.

* Other locally originated TV programming is "failing to make an impression" on viewers.

* On public radio, listeners who want more classical-music programming and those who want more news and public-affairs coverage continue to wage their battles.

"We're trying to see, 'What do you want? What do you like?'" Finn said of the survey, which drew more than 575 participants.

In 2001 and again in 2010, legislative auditors called on West Virginia Public Broadcasting to conduct statewide surveys to determine programming interests -- particularly for residents who do not watch or listen to the current programming.

"With this knowledge, we want to chart a path," Finn told members of the state Educational Broadcasting Authority on Wednesday.

When asked an open-ended question to list their favorite public radio and public television programs, "Masterpiece Theater" was, by far, the most popular TV program, with a number of people also citing the popular Masterpiece series "Downton Abbey" separately.

That was followed by the "NewsHour," science series "NOVA," West Virginia documentaries and "Sesame Street."

Finn said viewers' "bottomless desire" for West Virginia documentaries far exceeds public television's ability to produce that programming.

"We love the West Virginia documentaries," he said. "We air and re-air them, but we just need more."

Finn said public television currently has in production a biography on Jay Rockefeller, and a documentary on child poverty in West Virginia -- but he noted that they will fill just two hours of a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule.

Least cited as favorite programs were the locally produced "The Law Works" and "Doctors on Call," each cited one time, and the children's series "Abracadabra," with no citations.

Likewise, when asked to give their opinions on each of a number of public television programs, a large majority of those surveyed said they were not familiar with those local programs.

Finn said that shows Public Broadcasting needs to do a better job marketing its locally produced programs.

Also receiving only one citation in the survey was "The Lawrence Welk Show," which is one of public television's higher-rated programs.

"We know a lot of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who don't do online surveys who watch this show," Finn explained.

Top public radio programs in the survey were the "Morning Edition/West Virginia Morning," newscasts, the quiz show "Wait, Wait <t40>...<t$> Don't Tell Me," and "Mountain Stage."

Least-cited programs in the survey: "The World," an international news program; the long-running quiz/variety program "Whad'ya Know?" and "Marketplace," a daily newscast focused on business and the economy.

Noting that broadcast rights for each of those programs are expensive, Finn said the survey could help influence programming decisions.

He said Public Broadcasting is working with the Marshall School of Mass Communications to follow-up with a quantitative state survey on programming next year.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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