< The Listeners of National Public Radio


Friday, December 29, 2006

BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. This is the time of year when we like to take stock of our selves, our show and you, our listeners. And lucky for us, a few months ago we managed to get hold of a document that purported to tell us everything we wanted to know about you but were afraid to ask. Brooke reported on it then and we’re going to replay it now, in case you missed it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: 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.