Current Conversations: Dick Pryor on Public Media's Future
What is the future of radio? Current Conversations host Robert Con Davis-Undiano talks with KGOU's new General Manager Dick Pryor, whose career in radio and television in Oklahoma spans 40 years.
Join us for a fascinating discussion about radio–past and future.
On beginning his career at KGOU as a student at the University of Oklahoma:
"I began at KGOU, in sports, and did sports broadcasting as a freshman, beginning in 1974. I went forward in my career, first at KGOU, then at KNOR, also in Norman, and then other places. I spent the first 15 years of my career doing sports in radio and television."
"I started out as an accounting major–that was my plan–but I found out, along with other friends, that there was a radio station on campus that would allow students to go on the air. That sounded pretty interesting, so we showed up one day and watched a football-scoreboard show being done. The two hosts of the show said, 'you think you could do that next week?' and we said, yeah, sure, with no idea whether we could do that or not. That's how it started, because it was an inviting place, and students could work, we could make mistakes, we could learn, and a lot of people came out of the University of Oklahoma, whether they were in broadcasting or other fields, because of their experience there."
"I went to law school later, just because I wanted to have something else I could do besides broadcasting, but I stayed in broadcasting for 25 years after that, at OETA [public television] doing news."
On how radio has changed:
"Radio was always a lot of fun, because you can do it on the fly. It's theater of the mind. You create a picture in the listener's mind with your words and your inflection, and it really teaches you how to communicate, even more than television. And then it's a natural progression to go from radio to doing television, adding in pictures"
"Radio gives you room to innovate, and you should innovate, because you're going to be doing it again in another hour, or another week. You try something, and maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but it's important to try to innovate as much as possible. Radio gives you the opportunity to do that and your failures are not as costly. We don't want to fail, but it's good to try those new things to try to grow."
"Don't get me wrong–I love television, and have done that for most of my career. But there's something magical about radio because of the way you communicate and how [listeners] receive the message. Think of all those times when you're driving–those "driveway moments"–when great storytelling pulls you in and you have to hear the end of the story. It doesn't happen so much in television unless you have extremely compelling pictures."
On KGOU becoming an NPR member station:
"I've been an NPR listener for many years. I think the reporting is well done. There are high standards. It is real reporting, fact-based storytelling, enterprise reporting, interpretive reporting. Some people may be wondering if we should do interpretive reporting, but that's where the critical thinking comes in and tells the stories in a way that communicates with people and makes an impact in their lives. I think NPR does that better than any other organization. The way [NPR has] evolved has indicated that this is the model for how we should tell stories."
On NPR being among the most trusted news sources in the U.S.:
"I think it's about being vigilant. I think it's about being ethical. I think NPR–and PBS–have dedicated their operations to integrity. One of the great things about public media is that we really 'walk the walk' with integrity, because they are not driven by commercials as much as other media."
"I think NPR is realizing it's more important than ever to reach out beyond the Beltway, beyond the traditional media centers, into different parts of the country, and hear voices that they've never heard before. I hope that, especially in public media, we will be providing more locally produced content that appeals to a broader audience, and hopefully that audience can see the value."
"Local is very important. People want to hear local stories that impact their lives, but they also want national stories. I think it will be very important for NPR to hear some voices that traditionally aren't heard. This last election cycle taught journalists some lessons: You have to listen to more than the usual people to find out what's truly going on. The polls were not off that much, but we weren't listening to the voices that we needed to hear on what was going on in the country."
On modern methods of delivering content beyond terrestrial radio:
"We're 'media' now. We have to be ready to provide the content in a way that people prefer it. Portability is critical, the fact that you can take it with you makes a difference. In radio you can be a little more creative, you can take some risks. You can reach out to niche audiences a little more, and especially in public media, we can be a little more targeted, more focused, and we're serving different segments of the audience and a more diverse audience with different kinds of programming."
On what the future holds for radio:
"At some point, terrestrial broadcast will be less important. People will be carrying around their news sources in their pockets, just like we increasingly are doing now. And we won't even think about it being something for young people. I think everybody will be a more active news consumer and I think that's exciting! We need people to be engaged. We need civic involvement, and we need people to take advantage of that great news source in their pocket."
"In my work I've seen the power of the spoken word. I think that's always our challenge–to find new ways to communicate with people and to inspire them, by the words we write and how we say them."