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Trumpeting its greater commitment to information programming, KPBS’s radio station is dumping its overnight classical music format and replacing it with news shows. But it’s also cutting an hour from the daily “These Days” public affairs show, its only program that focuses on San Diego.
As of May 23, news from PBS and the BBC will fill late night and early morning hours during the week, replacing nationally distributed classical music programs. KPBS has aired classical music at night since 2001 in an effort to appeal to both the ears and the wallets of upscale listeners.
“These Days” is also getting a new name and a new time. It will be called “Midday Edition” and Friday’s “Editor’s Roundtable” will just be “The Roundtable.” They will air from noon-1 p.m. on weekdays. “These Days,” which now starts at 9 a.m., has been two hours long for about about 19 years.
KPBS, which provides much more news than any other local radio station, is not cutting any staff as a result of the changes.
The move means that the radio station will now air just one hour of local news programming a day outside of its regular brief news reports.
Slicing an hour off of “These Days” may not seem to fit with the station’s new focus on more news. But the move will allow the station to offer the program in a noon time slot with more listeners and focus on the morning’s events instead of those of the previous day, said Tom Karlo, the station’s general manager and top boss.
“We wanted to have more quality and less quantity” as KPBS’s TV, web and radio operations work toward a vision of being the “premier source” of news in San Diego, Karlo added.
Until now, KPBS has been trying to embrace two missions: fill the hole in local radio news programming left by cutbacks at commercial stations and offer nighttime classical music to listeners who don’t have many other options on the dial. The only full-time classical music station serving San Diego is based in Tijuana, and it doesn’t have regular on-air hosts.
KPBS will only offer classical music programming through a 24-hour website stream and two subchannels on HD Radio, which is just available to listeners with specially equipped radios. The station will offer local classical music programs on some weekend evenings.
John Decker, KPBS’s programming director, said the station doesn’t expect to lose the wealthy listeners who like the classical programming and contribute donations. “They have money, they’re older, they’re upscale, yeah, but they also listen to news programming,” he said, predicting that they’ll continue to do so.
KPBS is making other changes to its schedule. “A Way with Words,” the weekly show for language lovers co-hosted by Grant Barrett, voiceofsandiego.org’s engagement editor, will now air once during the weekend, on Sundays, instead of twice.
“I wanted to add other shows, and we didn’t need two hours of it,” Decker said. Karlo added that people can listen to the show on demand through services like podcasts.
Meanwhile, the television arm of KPBS plans to finally debut a nightly news analysis show in September. The long-delayed half-hour show, to be called “Evening Edition,” has been in the works for several years; Karlo said KPBS has been working through a number of changes over that time.
KPBS has been in transition for more than two years since the departure of Doug Myrland, its longtime general manager. After laying off six workers in 2008 and killing its monthly “On Air” programming guide, the station has beefed up its radio news coverage with five new staffers, including journalists assigned to cover border issues and the military.
According to the Arbitron radio ratings company’s latest report, KPBS-FM reached an estimated average of about 4 percent of local radio listeners in March — 293,000 weekly. That’s out of the 2.6 million people older than 12 in the county.
The ratings placed KPBS in ninth place in popularity out of about 50 radio stations that reach the county. While its overall audience is fairly small (the highest rated station was KHTS-FM/”Channel 933,” a teen-oriented station, with 980,900 weekly listeners), KPBS-FM’s listeners tune in for a long time, boosting its overall ratings.
Only one non-music station, news-talk KOGO (a voiceofsandiego.org partner), had higher ratings than KPBS.
KPBS’s budget was $25.2 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year and spokeswoman Nancy Worlie said it shouldn’t change for the 2011-2012 year, which begins in July.
Disclosure: I write on occasion for KPBS’s culture and arts blog.
Correction: “These Days” has been two-hours long for about 19 years, not two years as the story incorrectly stated. The error occurred because of confusion over the station’s plans to expand the show by an hour two years ago — to three hours — which never happened. We regret the error.