Anya Grundmann Is Reinventing Public Radio For A Post-Radio Generation

From Fast Company:

If you’ve recently streamed an NPR Music program online, downloaded a podcast, or watched a concert on your iPad, you have Anya Grundmann to thank. Charged with creating a multiplatform experience to encompass and build upon the music programming produced by NPR and its local public-radio affiliate stations, Grundmann has encouraged both artistic and technological experimentation. As a result, while commercial radio has become ever more consolidated and conservative, NPR Music has become ever more eclectic and innovative, broadening its offerings and its audience: Every month more than 2 million people visit NPR Music online and on mobile devices, in addition to the millions more who tune into local stations. Here, Grundmann talks about the importance of an open mind–and a growing team of creative multi-taskers–in confronting a media landscape in flux.

FAST COMPANY: How did you get started in public radio?
ANYA GRUNDMANN: I was an English major in college and graduated during the last recession when there were not a lot of opportunities out there for a liberal arts person. After school, I moved to Flagstaff with friends, where I taught music in elementary school and gave private piano lessons. I was also taking graduate classes and studying piano at Northern Arizona University, and the local NPR station, KNAU, was housed in the music building there. I volunteered, and they asked me to cover a press conference at the Indian reservation on my first day. Yikes! In the summer of 1994, I came to D.C. as an intern at NPR in the cultural programming division. I left NPR for a while after that, but came back again.

NPR Music is far more than just classical. How is the music mix evolving?
Classical music is a core part of what we do at NPR, and my colleagues are really pushing ways to present this music to connect beyond radio, doing really inspired work with technology and the concert experience. But the whole thing with NPR Music is to push the boundaries of the kinds of music we’re known for. That’s one of the great things about the digital space. With radio, you have to define your playlist and your brand. For many years, NPR has been associated with classical, jazz, and singer-songwriters. But those aren’t the only genres our audience and our staff care about and are curious about. With the NPR Music platform, we’re able to broaden the tent and bring in all kinds of programming from the stations throughout the public radio system. In public radio, there’s sort of an embarrassment of riches in terms of content.

What have been some of the major challenges in creating a platform for NPR Music platform that goes beyond just radio?
The original thought was that all we had to do was bring together all the radio programming. All Songs Considered was getting a really strong audience and connection to people–we thought we could do more with that. That was pretty much true, but we also quickly discovered that the things that a lot of the beautifully crafted work being created for radio wasn’t what resonated on the web. To really connect with that digital audience we had to go through an incredible thought process, figuring out what are our values, and how do we take that core and make it resonate in another medium.

One of the big problems of newspapers is that they saw they had text, bylines, and photos and thought, “Hey, we’re ready for the web.” But they missed some essence of what the web can do in terms of sharing and tone of voice, and so lots of other folks were able to step in. We’re always asking what opportunities we have, and not assuming that something created for one medium is necessarily going to work on another platform. Each output demands a little different point of view, and we’re thinking about that across all NPR.

NPR was never doing text before, so one of the core things we needed to figure out was how to make something to resonate on the web in that way. In addition, public radio didn’t have any visual identity. We’ve brought on fabulous product people to develop multimedia and video. We also know there are a lot of young people who don’t have radios–how do we create a connection with them? There’s such a glut of information out there–so many ways to connect, with the ubiquity of broadband, connected cars, and an astronomical increase in mobile. We already have great audio that travels to all these devices, and we’ve been really focused on creating new digital products–initially with podcasting, and now developing our own apps.

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