Interview: Michael Krasny

With the looming merger of Sirius and XM, the radio industry is clearly undergoing a quiet revolution. PRWeek talked to radio veteran Michael Krasny about the future of the medium, and whether NPR is going to ever get funny.

With the looming merger of Sirius and XM, the radio industry is clearly undergoing a quiet revolution. PRWeek talked to radio veteran Michael Krasny about the future of the medium, and whether NPR is going to ever get funny.

Name: Michael Krasny
Outlets: Sirius, NPR
Title: Radio host
Preferred contact method: forum@kqed.org 
Web site: kqed.org

Krasny is host of Forum, a news and public affairs program that concentrates on the arts, culture, health, business and technology that airs on San Francisco’s NPR affiliate KQED and Sirius.

PRWeek: Where do you see the future of radio going?

Michael Krasny: The one direction is digital – and we’re already there. There is a whole revolution going on in radio specifically though, in what they call time-shifting.  So people will listen to my program, for example, on iPods, not at the time of the live broadcast. Or they’ll listen to it on the Internet because they can go to the archives. 

PRWeek: What is the impact of players like Sirius and XM?

Krasny: I predict both of those might be merging. A lot of people have gone non-terrestrial – we broadcast on Sirius – and we have a lot of listeners who hear us on Sirius. I still think they have an uphill battle and the final verdict as to how they are going to survive and whether they’re going to make it [is still not clear]. Many people compare them to cable TV, but I don’t know that’s as appropriate of an analogy as many people think. 

PRWeek:  What do you think about commercial radio?

Krasny: Commercial radio – which I have worked in for many years – has continued to be more of a conservative medium politically, more of a medium for sensationalism. It has gone the way of political ideology. [Rush] Limbaugh was the gold standard for a long time and now he’s had a lot of imitators and a lot of people who have tried to out-right-wing him.

PRWeek: How does public radio fit into the media landscape?

Krasny: I think what you’re also seeing is a greater success of the kind of radio we do, which is more in-depth, more analysis, more thoughtful -- more light than heat.

And [Joan] Kroc – the widow of Ray Kroc of McDonald’s -- gave millions of dollars to NPR in her will that has put a lot of new blood into NPR, and enabled it do just the opposite of what the newspapers have been doing. The San Francisco Chronicle is laying off all these people because they can’t get subscribers and they can’t sell advertising. We don’t have to sell advertising, so we’re in a pretty good and positive position. 

PRWeek: What about attracting new listeners?

Krasny: The difficulty in radio is – the same with newspapers – how do you attract the younger demographic? We do youth radio programs, we do programs about hip-hop, we do a lot of things that are supposedly going to be more appealing to younger listeners. But a lot of young people get their information straight off the Internet, and they don’t avail themselves [of] newspapers. And if they listen to radio they want to listen to shock-jocks.

PRWeek: What else can public radio do about that?

Krasny: We’re not in the infotainment business. We are more in the business of information, analysis, and we like to go light occasionally. There are people who say – critically – that National Public Radio needs a humor infusion or something along those lines.  But the truth of the matter is, it’s not what we do. 

PRWeek: What is your experience dealing with PR professionals?

Krasny: One of the things that is disconcerting in this business is, you have people who are programmed. I’ll ask them a question and I’ll be given an answer that has to do with one of the points that they think will sell the book.
I’ve never been dictated to – except once – and that was when Cat Stevens, a famous rock and roll singer in the 1970s, was on the show.   We booked him and the publicists said you cannot ask him about [Salman] Rushdie - because [Stevens] had allegedly made some very inflammatory remarks about him. And I said OK because I knew the first caller I put up would ask him about it. And that’s exactly what happened.

PRWeek: What sets radio journalists apart from print or online?

Krasny: Sound, mainly. We can often be covering similar content but we can play with the stories in a different way and create a theater of the mind. There is an intimacy to it that is unusual and unrivaled in any other medium. It’s interactive. Radio has the immediacy of sound.

PRWeek:  Who has been your favorite interview?

Krasny: A lot of compelling interviews have been with people who have really been in the trenches -- by which I mean people who have put their lives on the line for human rights or for civil rights or for a cause greater than themselves. These are some of the more inspiring and extraordinary interviews that I’ve done.

PRWeek: What makes a good interview for radio? I would think it’s different than what print or broadcasts journalists would consider a good interview.

Krasny: I agree with you. I think, again, it has to do with sound and a lot of it has to do with personality, which doesn’t necessarily come through in printed page or on the Internet. You want somebody who is engaging, thoughtful, controversial, lively, vital – what you want in life is what you want on radio. People who engage you, who can command your attention and say things that are original. Funny helps too.  

PRWeek: Have you ever had a moment during an interview that you thought could only happen on the radio?

Krasny: The writer Joyce Carol Oates was on the air with me and she had been kind of emotional before.  Right before the conclusion of the interview, I asked about [the late] Billy Abrams, who had been her literary agent and a close personal friend of hers. And she just froze and started sobbing, and was shaking. And we had something that people claim we always avoid in radio – dead air. But it was such a pregnant moment of emotion because it was fairly clear to the listeners that in the silence, that there was a whole story here.

 

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