The Public Radio Talent Quest could have been the public radio gong show. In round one, users upload an audio clip of up to two minutes to show their "hostiness." The goal is to give the audience and judges a sense of their personality and style.
Visitors to the website have the opportunity to leave feedback, and for the most part, people seem willing to leave positive comments or constructive criticism. That's great, because people are putting themselves out there to compete for the chance to do a pilot national radio program. And while some ideas are a bit obvious (travel, arts, literature, and music programs), other would-be hosts are sharing quite personal stories.
While the contest is widely being as American Idol for public radio, it's really all about finding fresh new voices and perspectives. The last show to totally change the way people think about radio is arguably This American Life, and that's been around since 1995. While NPR has been focusing heavily on hard news and international reporting since 911 on its flagship programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, these programs are classic news and information sources in the BBC model.
American Public Media's Weekend America is attempting to shake things up a bit with a more conversational tone, a bit more first person narrative, and a general sense of reporting on news that's happening right now.
But in a world with 6 billion people, there've got to be a few ideas that can really change the way we get our news. Of course, sites like Digg, Newsvine, and today MySpace, are trying to change the way we think about the news online. But there's still a huge audience for radio programming. And even if radio one day fades into oblivion, it's a medium that's well situated to transition online. I already download some of my favorite radio shows as podcasts every week and listen to them on my own time.
Anyway, just a few days after the Public Radio Talent Quest began to accept submissions, dozens of folks have uploaded entries. They include audio clips from podcasters, public radio reporters and producers, and a decent number of them are from people I know and respect.
I'm not sure I've heard anything so far that will shake public radio to its core just yet. But this is just phase one of the contest. Those selected to move onto the next phase will have new tasks to complete and they will likely be much more complex than uploading a two minute introductory clip. Resorting to the obvious and unfortunate American Idol reference, we're still at the open audition phase where thousands of people will try out, but only a small number will move on to Hollywood.