Sunday, March 29, 2009

The future of your public radio station

KUNR, the public radio station serving most of northern Nevada and northeastern California, devoted its Friday morning Nevada Newsline program to soliciting feedback about the station. Given my roots are in Reno, I enjoy listening to the program to keep up with some of what's going on in the area. And I couldn't resist the opportunity to provide my own feedback to David Stipech, the General Manager.

I just finished listening to the podcast of Friday's Nevada Newsline. I enjoyed hearing the discussion of how KUNR is serving the community and the programming trade-offs the station has made in the past year. Also, I appreciate your willingness to do a show soliciting feedback and the spirit with which you took constructive criticism.

This e-mail will add to your feedback. My perspective reflects a different yet, I believe, growing segment of your audience.

First, a bit of background: Born and raised in Reno, I left the area for college and career. Now living in New Hampshire, I still have family and property there and feel a strong connection with my roots. This leads me to want to stay abreast of what's going on in Reno and to relocate back there one of these years. That explains why I listen to Nevada Newsline via podcast.

I am also a long-time listener of NPR and currently support New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR), WBUR, KUNR, and KCFR — the latter since I regularly listen to their podcast of Left, Right, and Center. Historically, my listening was via radio. With the advent of the iPod and podcasts, though, my public radio consumption has shifted largely to podcast. Podcasts also allow me to find and consume programs that are not available on my local radio stations, such as Left, Right, and Center and Nevada Newsline. In addition, I have the freedom to access programs that are not on the radio: NPR's Planet Money, the New York Times World View podcast, the Washington Post's Post Politics Podcast, and EconTalk.

While my listening habits are probably atypical for my over 50 demographic, they likely reflect the preferences of the under 30 and, perhaps, even the under 40 media consumers. It's certainly the trend. The question this begs is if I can access NPR programs via podcast, how does KUNR remain relevant, and why should I remain a member? Arguably, the time and geographic limitations of radio, contrasted with the unlimited bandwidth and time offered by the Internet, will increasingly limit public radio's reach and success.

The solution to this conundrum lies in the same rationale used to advocate free trade between countries, i.e., let each do what it does best. KUNR cannot compete with NPR in delivering national and international news. Thankfully for KUNR, NPR cannot compete with KUNR in understanding Reno, Northern Nevada, and Northeastern California, nor in transforming that understanding into programs that inform local citizens. To survive and thrive, KUNR must increasingly focus on unique programs that address the needs of the community. And KUNR should offer multiple channels for people to access this programming, i.e., the Internet in addition to traditional FM.

Thanks for reading through this, which is offered in the spirit of building upon the good work you and your staff are doing for so many listeners. Hopefully, my points aren't new to you or the KUNR board, and the topic has generated thoughtful reflection and discussion, including even revisiting the fundamental mission of KUNR. You have a few years to respond, as this trend will take the next decade to play out, even though the direction seems clear.

Having spent my career in high tech, I often observe how technology improves our lives, usually by disrupting the "old order" and business models. In this case, I hope KUNR will be one of the change agents and not a casualty.

Best regards,

Gary Lerude

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Do Mexican trucks endanger American drivers?

One of the items tucked into the 2009 budget bill was a provision to end a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways. In response, the Mexican government is moving to impose tariffs on 90 American products imported into Mexico, valued at $2.4-billion according to an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News.

Enacted as a result of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), the pilot program was one step on a path to establish “freer” trade by allowing Mexican truckers to transport goods throughout the U.S. and American truckers the right to deliver freight into Mexico. Before Congress moved to end the program, the outcome of a successful pilot would likely have been the permanent presence of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways and American trucks in Mexico.

Canadian truckers currently have no restrictions that prevent them from driving on U.S. highways.

Voicing the argument against the Mexican truckers, the Teamsters Union claims that Mexican trucks and drivers do not meet the same safety standards required of U.S. truckers and, therefore, threaten American drivers. The Sierra Club takes the position that Mexican trucks do not meet U.S. emission standards and will degrade America's air quality and contribute to pollution-induced illness and disease.

Contradicting the Teamsters' claims, former Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has stated that the Mexican companies in the year-long pilot are required to comply with all U.S. safety regulations and standards and to carry insurance with a licensed U.S. firm. Drivers must hold a commercial drivers license, carry proof of medical fitness, comply with the hours-of-service rules, and be able to understand questions and directions in English.

While I agree with the Teamsters that imposing uniform standards and regulations is only fair, I doubt this is their only motivation in opposing this provision of NAFTA. Competition from Mexican drivers who make a fraction of the Teamster's pay will cause some U.S. truckers to go out of business and their Teamster drivers to lose their jobs. The Teamsters, understandably, want to prevent this to maintain their standard of living.

The benefit of allowing competition will be a more efficient industry with lower costs for shippers, leading to lower costs for consumers. Competition leads to what economists call creative destruction, which benefits society. I favor competition over protectionism, having developed this belief from the perspective of my career in the high-tech semiconductor industry, where the competitive race never ends. Another good perspective on this topic is found in Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat.

So let's establish common standards for all truckers, hold them accountable, and open the highways.

Sources and Additional Information