2019 BizLab Summit

Sustainability & Innovation in Public Radio

December 10, 2019

The changing financial landscape of journalism has created an urgency in public radio to identify and test the effectiveness of different funding models. Implementing new strategies and testing new revenue streams can be difficult, but it is possible, and many stations are doing it.

On December 10, 2019, over 100 individuals from media organizations, including many NPR stations, convened for a day of learning. The Summit was a fast-paced day of lightning talks and panel discussions, with invited speakers and station innovators sharing their stations’ new paths to sustainability.

We shared best practices, tools, tips, and real life examples of this work, enabling attendees to hit the ground running at their own media organizations. The Summit covered revenue generation through digital audience engagement, spinning off new brands, event monetization, text-to-donate platforms, and podcast donation strategies.

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The BizLab Method and Tools

As we prepared to work with our 2019 cohort stations, BizLab sketched out our process and identified Discovery Research and Analysis tools and methods that we thought would work within…

Keynote Speaker: Tamsen Webster

The biggest barriers to innovation are often an organization’s culture and leadership alignment. To address this head-on, the second half of the day will focus on what it takes to implement different funding models at your station.

Tamsen Webster, a 20-year brand and message strategist and former TEDx Executive Producer, will be the keynote speaker, explaining how to make it easy for your team to say “yes” to your innovation ideas by creating the right message and presentations.

BizLab Stations

BizLab stations across the country have spent 2019 testing news ideas for revenue at their stations and in their communities. DCist.com/WAMU, Louisville Public Media, WDET, Capital Public Radio, WLRN, and Vermont Public Radio will unpack the past year of BizLab experiments from how to launch a new product and brand to aligning editorial plans with revenue goals.

WAMU, American University Radio
WAMU/DCist.com, Washington, D.C.
Louisville Public Media, Louisville, KY
WDET, Detroit’s Public Radio Station
WDET, Detroit, MI
Capital Public Radio, Sacramento
Capital Public Radio, Sacramento, CA
WLRN, Public Radio for South Florida and the Florida Keys
WLRN, Miami, FL
Vermont Public Radio
Vermont Public Radio, Colchester, VT

Summit Panelists and Speakers

Summit Agenda

Sam Fleming, Interim General Manager, WBUR

Joan DiMicco, Executive Director, BizLab, WBUR

Sarah Bloomer, Experience Strategist, BizLab, WBUR


WAMU, in Washington, D.C., acquired and revived the digital news outlet DCist in 2018, helping to fill a void in D.C.’s news ecosystem. DCist.com has a large and loyal audience, but until now the audience was not directly supporting the website. 

DCist’s project with BizLab aimed to craft a robust and unique membership program, distinct to the brand of DCist: knowledgeable, playful, and engaging. To test the team’s assumptions, their BizLab project invited previous backers of a Kickstarter campaign to join a beta membership program. That group was used to test hypotheses about which membership benefits and offerings would resonate. A few months later, the DCist launched its membership program to the public on November 1, 2019 and has seen a heartening initial response.

Louisville Public Media:
Louisville Public Media’s work with BizLab centered on integrating their new digital property, Do502, into their existing network of stations and membership offerings. Do502.com is an event listing site with a focus on curated lists that help people find new things to do and new places to explore in Louisville, KY. 

Louisville’s BizLab experiments focused on creating and curating events specifically for the Do502 audience. Early research in the project uncovered that Do502 readers crave limited-access engagements and exclusive series, and the team used their project to explore how to engage their audience in this way. The team also experimented with how to launch and promote a membership to Do502, distinct and separate from Louisville Public Media’s existing membership program.

WDET, Detroit’s NPR Station, has identified many local, small businesses who are aligned with the station’s values, but can’t afford typical radio underwriting pricing. Additionally, it is neither efficient nor profitable for a WDET underwriting representative to pursue sponsorship at the level of a small business budget.

WDET worked with BizLab exploring social media underwriting opportunities for small businesses. Through in-person interviews, WDET discovered that small businesses frequently use Facebook and Instagram to promote events and drive traffic. They also learned these businesses care about the local community, telling their unique story and providing a niche service and product. They love WDET’s non-profit mission and its reputation within the local community. With this information, the team tested a WDET-branded social media post product on Facebook and Instagram that affiliated the small business with the WDET brand and halo, reaching a network of potential consumers. By prototyping it as an online, semi-automated process to sell and produce, WDET created an affordable underwriting product.

Capital Public Radio:
Capital Public Radio, in Sacramento, CA, has an existing network of NPR stations across California where in exchange for Capital Public Radio’s State Capitol reporting, partner stations provide weekly underwriting units on their airwaves. The BizLab project was focused on re-designing the function and mission of this network, Capital Public Radio Network (CPRN).

CPRN enjoyed financial success in its early years, through selling these partner station underwriting units, but revenue began to decline in 2009 and eventually fell to zero. Through BizLab, the team explored how to resurrect, restructure, and return CPRN to financial sustainability, by redefining the product in terms of the value it offered to underwriters: a one-stop-shop for reaching NPR listeners across the state of California.


WLRN in Miami has invested in their local coverage of the environment and climate change with a commitment to hosting local events and hiring an environment reporter. WLRN’s goal in their BizLab project was to explore how to generate revenue through this topical coverage and the creation of an environmental newsletter. 

Their BizLab experiments tested different newsletter content, styles, and format, and then expanded into a technology integration project: the team brought in News Revenue Hub to integrate their newsletter, payment and CRM platforms. The final environmental newsletter product combines journalism and community engagement through the delivery of specialized content on a significant community issue. The newsletter is driving new membership, increasing current levels of giving, and is a vehicle for targeting specific underwriters for this newly developed product. 


Vermont Public Radio
Vermont Public Radio’s vision is “exploring the whole Vermont story, together” – no small task when you consider VPR is a statewide public radio service in a rural state with few concentrated population centers. In 2018, during VPR’s 14-county listening tour, listeners consistently asked for more coverage of their local communities. VPR’s BizLab project centered around the idea of making the station “feel more local” in Windham County, located in Southern VT, to determine if this would increase loyalty, engagement, and ultimately, revenue. 

To accomplish this, in partnership with VPR’s dedicated Southern Vermont reporter, the team worked to raise the visibility of regional content and the reporter’s profile in the community via social media and a new email newsletter. They also increased engagement with the community by soliciting story ideas and planning a “News & Brews” event to involve residents in the news gathering process. They are now also exploring the possibility of geo-targeted underwriting opportunities that would allow local businesses to reach their local customers.


Three BizLab stations are launching products positioned distinctly from their public radio station’s identity: WAMU’s new monthly membership to the DCist is separate from a membership to WAMU; Louisville Public Media similarly launched a do502 events membership; and Capital Public Radio is about to launch an agency that sells state-wide sponsorship and underwriting.

In this panel each station will discuss their reasoning behind keeping the product distinct from existing station offerings, how they made the case internally, and the pro’s and con’s of launching a new brand. 

Moderator: Candice Springer, Assistant Director of Community Engagement, WBUR 


Rachel Sadon, Editor in Chief, DCist, WAMU 

Tracy Karem, Corporate Marketing Representative, Louisville Public Media

Lisa Cooper, Underwriting Specialist, Capital Public Radio

For all media organizations, striking the balance between the desire to diversify revenue streams and the need to maintain high standards of editorial integrity is an urgent concern. In this panel, we will discuss how three of BizLab stations successfully navigated a sustained collaboration between editorial and business-oriented teams at their organizations. 

Moderator: Adrian Ma, Bostonomix Reporter, WBUR


Brendan Kinney, Senior Vice President for Marketing and Development, Vermont Public Radio

Giselle Reid, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Friends of WLRN 

Meta Stange, Digital Producer, WDET 

The biggest barriers to innovation are often an organization’s culture and leadership alignment. To address this head-on, the second half of the day will focus on what it takes to implement new funding models at your station

Tamsen Webster, a 20-year brand and message strategist and former TEDx Executive Producer, will be the keynote speaker, explaining how to make it easy for your team to say “yes” to your innovation ideas by creating the right message and presentations.

The stage where most innovation projects fail is not at the beginning or middle, but at the end, when the project’s findings are integrated into the main operations of an organization. No matter how promising the experiment results are, changing priorities to accommodate a new idea or product takes agility and strong leadership. In this panel, executives from BizLab stations will reflect on what they learned from assigning one of their teams an innovation project for for six months. We will discuss how to support innovation efforts, measure the ROI of innovation, and their challenges in integrating new projects into existing priorities. 

Moderator: Joan DiMicco, Executive Director, BizLab, WBUR


Andi McDaniel, Senior Director of Content and News, WAMU

Ellen Oost, Director of Development, Louisville Public Media

Paul Adams, Director, Corporate Underwriting, Capital Public Radio


There are more technologies than ever that are specifically designed to make the donation and engagement process more streamlined for listeners. In this panel, three stations that have effectively integrated text messaging tools into their existing donor strategies will discuss best practices in different contexts. 

Moderator: Joan DiMicco, Executive Director, BizLab, WBUR


Tina Pamintuan, General Manager, KALW, using Give Lively for donations

Katie Lepri, Engagement Producer, WLRN, using GroundSource for audience engagement

Kathleen Moura, Membership Manager, WBUR, using Hustle for donor engagement

When it comes to capturing and converting donations through podcasts, there are multiple ways to achieve success. This panel will feature three successful case studies, as well as outline best practices and tips for engaging this unique audience.

Moderator: Charlotte Cooper, Director of Audience Growth and Marketing, PRX 


Rebecca Lavoie, Digital Director, NHPR

Kjerstin Wood, Digital Fundraising Officer, KUOW 

Amira Valliani, Co-founder & CEO, Glow.fm

Joan DiMicco, Executive Director, BizLab, WBUR

About BizLab

WBUR’s BizLab is an innovation lab developing and testing new models of support for public radio. Operating as a lean startup, BizLab is a team of product managers, experience designers, and business analysts. We work with public radio stations to uncover new avenues for revenue generation, distinct from traditional approaches including on-air drives, direct mail, and underwriting.

WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, created BizLab in 2015 believing it is critical that public media invest in innovation and experimentation to identify new revenue channels to sustain public radio into the future. Given the changing landscape of journalism, media consumption, and digital advertising, there is an increasing urgency to test and measure the effectiveness of different funding models.

Funding provided by

BizLab’s work with stations and the Summit is funded through the generous support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Knight Foundation.

CPB / Knight

Additional promotional support for the 2019 Summit provided by Greater Public.