NPR launches “Up First” morning news podcast, hoping to cross over audiences

up first crop

We received word today that National Public Radio (NPR) will launch Up First, a 10-minute, 6:00AM podcast news bulletin drawn from its widely distributed Morning Edition syndicated radio show. In starting an online-only podcast that seemingly competes with the live daily radio show which spawned it, NPR intends to address a discrete audience that might not be familiar with NPR radio programming, and possibly drive that audience into a deeper involvement with the NPR ecosystem.

Up First will take the top story section from the 5:00AM hour of Morning Edition (the “A segment,” according to NiemanLab), will add some original content, plus some promotional material which guides listeners to NPR broadcast listening. The show was under discussion last year in the NPR offices, and has been under more serious development since December.

NiemanLab reports that, according to NPR data, more than half the audience which listens to NPR podcasts is between 18 and 34 years old. The broadcast audience of Morning Edition spreads more evenly across age groups. As a general point, the NPR broadcast audience is older than the online audience, according to Neal Carruth, General Manager of Podcasting: “We know from surveys we’ve done and some other data that the on-demand audience is younger than the core terrestrial radio audience.”

Carruth noted that Morning Edition‘s audience has grown to its largest footprint ever at nearly 15-million listeners. “We wanted to do something different – something that would appeal to podcast listeners but also enrich the sound of Morning Edition,” he said.

Up First will, naturally enough, be available in the NPR One listening app, which feeds users algorithmically driven, clipped audio stories from the listener’s local station and the network at large.

NPR One, and online distribution generally, might seem to collide with local network stations, which pay for syndicated programming such as Morning Edition. While maintaining its business relationships with local stations, the NPR network which needs to grow and retain new audiences which have adopted non-linear listening such as podcasts and time-shifted radio shows.

That push-pull might have delayed the launch of Up First, and certainly contributes to the show’s effort to inform its listeners of the broadcast radio side of the NPR content brand. Naturally, NPR execs are highlighting the promotional part and its expected result. “It’s a win-win,” said Neal Carruth. “This podcast will attract digital audiences who may not have yet discovered public radio.”

Or, more elaborately: “There are a couple examples of where we’ve seen the interplay between on-demand and our newsmagazines,” Carruth noted. “Take the NPR Politics Podcast, where a vibrant, dynamic conversation in the on-demand space spilled over into the newsmagazines and special coverage. We have seen it with Kelly McEvers, who hosts Embedded and All Things Considered. The work she does for the podcast enriches her on air work and vice-versa.”

Sarah Gilbert, Executive Producer of Morning Edition, calls Up First “an onramp for the day’s news.”

The new podcast drops its first every-weekday episode on Wednesday, April 5.

Brad Hill