Media World: Why public radio's Marketplace is happy not to be CNBC

A listener to public radio's business show "Marketplace" might get the impression that the quirky half-hour program is an anarchic affair held together with rubber bands and chewing gum. But people who know Executive Producer J.J. Yore say the truth is quite the opposite.

Yore, 52, was one of the creators of the program. He has been executive producer for 13 years. It's not an easy job. First, business news is difficult to make compelling to a mass audience on radio where people can't see graphics that illustrate points being made in a story. Then there are the challenges of managing the newsroom, which can be like herding cats on a good day. Finally, there are the time zones. Marketplace is produced in Los Angeles, making it one of the few, if not only, national business programs produced on the West Coast. That means the people doing the Marketplace Morning Report are in the office by about 1:30 a.m.

But Yore, who before joining Marketplace was the editor and associate publisher of Current, the newspaper for the public broadcasting industry, has figured a way to keep the whole enterprise humming.

"J.J. has solved one of the most elusive puzzles in the science of leadership: how to manage creative people effectively," said David Brancaccio, the former Marketplace anchor who now hosts "Now" on PBS. "He gives his folks room to explore new ways to engage their material and the audience while still running a remarkably tight ship."

Marketplace, whose three shows attract a combined 9.36 million viewers, has no aspirations to be the radio version of CNBC. The program, which debuted after two other public radio business shows flopped, is designed to appeal to both expert investors and those that don't know the difference between a stock and a bond. In fact, there is a section on the show's website that answers the question about why stories that seem unrelated to business and economy were on the show.

From the very start, Marketplace did not want to be like other business programs.

"We literally debated whether we would do the markets every day," Yore said in an interview. Eventually, he said Marketplace decided to the markets with a "twist" of having lively or depressing music played as the figures are read depending on how trading closes. Marketplace, according to Yore, is the "business show for the rest of us."

Marketplace's approach appears to be working during these uncertain times. Like public radio programs, it has seen an uptick in listeners, even as the for-profit media companies scramble for audience and advertisers. Marketplace also has not had to lay off any employees (though its parent company American Public Media has ).

"National underwriting is down some," he said. "Underwriting overall has held steady."

Yore is a stickler for organization and detail even outside the show. When he married his producer partner Mary Beth Kirschner a few years ago, Brancaccio recalled, "They were on a conference call with the fellow who would be officiating. Both J.J.and Mary Beth each had their own laptop computer running an Excel spreadsheet showing the timings for every last element of their wedding service. The takeaway point: they were producers first, bride and groom second!"

Cash Peters, a well-known Marketplace commentator, said Yore's organizational prowess can actually be a little unnerving. "When you talk to him in meetings, he whips out a pad and keeps notes of everything," Peters said. "I've often wondered where those notes go, he makes so many. He's always done that, kept records of conversations. So when I'm with him, I make sure I talk very fast. That way he can't catch everything."

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