At last, you can avoid the public radio pledge drive

San Francisco-based NPR affiliate KQED has unveiled its "pledge-free stream," an effort that would allow donors to listen to an uninterrupted stream of its programming during pledge drive season.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
San Francisco public radio station KQED has unveiled its pledge-free stream, which allows subscribers to skip annoying pledge breaks. KQED

For anyone who listens to public radio, there may be no greater annoyance than the semi-regular pledge drives that seem to go on for weeks and constantly interrupt your favorite programs.

Of course, these stations have little choice but to conduct the pledge drives, but if you've already given money, it can be doubly frustrating to continue to have to listen to the pleas. Well, if you're from the San Francisco area, local NPR affiliate KQED may have just the solution.

Starting today, anyone who ponies up a donation of $45 will be given access to a special online stream of KQED's programming that is entirely free of interruptions during its upcoming pledge drive.

"We had to build a better system for people to donate," said Don Derheim, KQED's executive vice president and COO. "And maybe this is it. We think it's part of the evolution of on-air fundraising."

According to Derheim, people who sign up for the initiative will get a unique user code that will allow them to access the pledge-free stream on up to four different devices. That means that KQED listeners will be able to run the stream on a computer, and also mobile devices like iPhones, Android gadgets, or other smartphones and tablets.

The stream will be accessible through KQED's Web site, said Yoon Lee, the station's director of digital media fundraising, and not via a special application. Those interested must donate before May 5.

Derheim said KQED ran the pledge-free stream as a small test experiment a couple of years ago, giving about 50 people access. And while he suggested that the testers liked what they got, the station wasn't ready to roll it out to everyone.

Now, however, technology has progressed, and perhaps more important, there's a much wider understanding of what streaming media is. And that means that KQED won't have to work as hard to explain to listeners what it is that it's offering. "There's extraordinary new pressure to continue our innovation," Derheim said. "The other week we recorded our largest weekly radio audience in our history, and that just tells us that when you're at your top, you'd better make sure you're ready to change."

For media observers, KQED's move may be just the thing to help loyal listeners--especially those who regularly donate--get their public radio fix without having to endure the endless pledge breaks.

"I think it's a great idea," said Mark Glaser, the executive editor of PBS' Mediashift. "One of the things about public media that's always been annoying is that you give money...but then you still have to hear them asking for more. This idea, where once you've given...money you get access to the stream, is great. It makes a lot of sense, and it's rewarding people who have paid."

Or as NPR journalist Chris Amico tweeted yesterday, "I think KQED just saved (public radio) journalism. Been wanting this for years."

Other stations

One of the biggest questions about this effort is whether other public radio stations around the country will follow KQED's lead. Derheim said the technology behind its effort was built in-house, but that the station would be happy to help others build their own version or replicate KQED's. But he knows that before any of that happens, it will be vital for KQED to show that listeners responded to the offer.

"Given the feedback already from other stations and interested parties and public media," Derheim said, "there's going to be a lot of eyes" on the project.

Glaser, who works for PBS but who has no connections with KQED, agreed that the idea could easily catch on elsewhere in the country, saying it makes a lot of sense for many public radio stations. "If KQED can show that it's going to bring in more money," Glaser said, "or make people giving money more satisfied in some way, then I couldn't see why it wouldn't work in other places."

Of course, for those public radio listeners used to getting gifts like KQED-branded coffee mugs, free DVDs, or other swag, paying the $45 for access to the pledge-free stream means none of those other free gifts will be arriving in the mail in six to eight weeks. Clearly, KQED thinks the pledge-free stream is gift enough.