< The Listeners of National Public Radio


Friday, September 01, 2006

BROOKE GLADSTONE: No matter what they say, when a newspaper elects to add a perfume column, it's hoping to pull more of that attractive upscale demographic. Now, I don't know if the average NPR listener likes perfume, but I do know that you drink more Sam Adams than the average Joe.

Some 25 years ago, I worked for Public Broadcasting's industry newspaper, called "Current." One story I remember fondly was about one of NPR's earliest comprehensive demographic surveys of its listeners. The headline – "Now It Can Be Told: NPR Listeners Don't Bowl." This summer, NPR released its latest survey, more than 500 jam-packed pages with data on consumption, attitudes and behavior, from personal politics to the purchase of laxatives. And that got me thinking of linguist Geoffrey Nunberg – the politics more than the laxatives. Nunberg often appears on public radio, and his new book is called Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising. Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving Left-Wing Freak Show … Sounds kind of like the classic stereotype of the NPR listener, doesn't it? Or so conservative Congressional budget-cutters like to imply when it's time to reconsider public broadcasting's funding. So I thought I'd check out the new report. Now, it's a big tome, and I could have missed the sushi, the body-piercing and the lattes, but NPR News listeners really do like Starbucks, and yes, you are 173 percent more likely to buy a Volvo and 310 percent more likely to read The Sunday Times. And you do go to the movies, but not substantially more than other Americans.

Now, as far as left-wing goes, you are more likely to live in the coasts, which tend to be blue, and you definitely liked "The West Wing" more than average, but then again, you were 13 percent less likely to watch "Will and Grace," so go figure. You're more likely to drink more soy milk, which always seems kind of lefty to me, but since you're slightly more lactose-intolerant, that may be what you put in your lattes. And you're more than twice as likely to drink French wine, which could suggest that you hate your own freedom. And, oh, yeah, you are more likely to describe yourself as liberal. Obviously, the average NPR listener is not the only listener. Some of you are broke, plenty of you are conservative, quite a few of you are young and 20 percent of you are not white. A few of you even watch "Fear Factor," though not many, and probably because of the ontological implications.

But one general impression you get reading through the survey is that you're more curious than average, more eager to spend time in other countries. Thirty percent of NPR News listeners are more likely to want to, quote, "understand how the world works." But what I was struck most by was your self-esteem. For instance, you're 25 percent less likely to treat wrinkles. I think NPR's marketers could do something with that. And, most important, since I saw that survey back in the early '80s, you've nearly caught up to the national average - in bowling.

BOB GARFIELD:: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo and edited – by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer, ad we had more engineering help this week from Rob Christensen. We bid a fond farewell to our youngest-ever intern, Noah Kumin. Good luck with your senior year, Noah. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcasts at onthemedia.org, and e-mail us at onthemedia@wnyc.org. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD:: And I'm Bob Garfield.