WAMU Debuts The New Yorker Radio Hour Amid a Reimagined Schedule

One of many changes for the public radio station.

When The New Yorker Radio Hour debuted on WAMU this past Sunday, it was part of a re-imagined block of programming that WAMU general manager J.J. Yore crystallizes into a one-word descriptor: cosmopolitan.

The program–a joint creation of WNYC’s new podcast studio and The New Yorker magazine–sits within a block of new programming that Yore believes will sustain audience interest across the hours: Freakonomics Radio at 1 p.m. ET, Studio 360 at 2 p.m. ET, The New Yorker Radio Hour at 3 p.m. ET, and Reveal at 4 p.m. ET.

“We tried to create a lineup of programs we hoped would have affinity and consistent appeal,” says Yore of his and program director Lettie Holman‘s efforts to make changes to a previously underperforming space.

While the shows, three of which are produced by WNYC, may at first glance seem New York-heavy, both Yore and WNYC evp and chief content officer Dean Cappello see the Washington audience as a natural fit for its efforts, particularly The New Yorker Radio Hour.

Yore was one of the public radio managers Cappello called on for feedback while the Radio Hour was still in development. “It’s as much an art as it is a science,” says Cappello of creating a show whose appeal would extend to audiences across the country, “so it’s all about the relationship, which is understanding that not only is WAMU a significant station in the system and that matters, but it’s also a place where there’s really smart people you want to hear from, and they represent an incredibly smart, plugged in audience in the Washington, D.C. area.”

And Yore’s sense of his audience echoes Cappello’s. “The New Yorker is a really iconic name,” he says. “It’s an iconic magazine that had done some of the most literary, in-depth reporting and analysis and cultural coverage, and I think that’s very much in sync with what I see as the role of public radio outlets, particularly in a place like Washington, D.C., which has got such a well-educated, inquisitive audience of people.”

WAMU normally makes schedule changes in August, but Yore and Holman held off this year until January so that they could introduce the new shows all at once, and because the timing fell in line with WAMU’s larger transformation plan, as Yore puts it, “of taking a legacy media enterprise and moving it into the digital age.”

Those plans included some major changes to WAMU’s identity when Diane Rehm announced in December her impending retirement from her long-running show, and Kojo Nnamdi wrote that his show would run for one hour instead of two.

Yore plans to focus on expanding local news coverage as well as discovering and bringing to audiences “the best and the most promising of the new programs being created,” which is where The New Yorker Radio Hour comes in. “I want us to be putting on the most successful, the most creative, most interesting shows, new and old, and things that really make sense for the audience,” he says.

For Cappello, the changes at WAMU and other key cities across the country are a harbinger of the shifting face of public radio. “It’s going to change, I think, the way public radio is perceived,” he says. “I think it’s going to generate the next generation of incredible programs. I think to be part of that is really exciting, and I’m so encouraged by what I heard on the record, off the record and what I know those people are capable of.”

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