Last October, a single message flashed across Rhode Island computer screens: “We’ve changed our name at RIPR,” it said, “because we’re not just public radio… we’re The Public’s Radio.”
This name change wasn’t mere rebranding: WNPN, the state’s primary public radio station since 2006, has choreographed a massive expansion. In a short time, WNPN has acquired WUMD from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, retooled a 850-foot TV tower in Tiverton to broadcast the signal, and laid the groundwork for a brand-new news team.
At the heart of this expansion is Torey Malatia, the legendary public radio director and co-creator of This American Life. Malatia moved to Rhode Island and became CEO of RIPR in 2016.
“When I came here,” says Malatia, “the board was very interested in local journalism. We have a small newsroom – good people, but there aren’t many of us.”
Until recently, RIPR was regarded as an “outpost” of WBUR, the acclaimed public radio station based in Boston. Most shows and reportage were produced elsewhere, its web presence was primitive, and the broadcast signal was patchy; even listeners in College Hill struggled with static.
Thanks to an aggressive fundraising campaign, listeners can expect a lot from The Public’s Radio in the coming year. The station plans to hire a host of new producers and investigative reporters, who will develop original news segments and long-form series. Rhode Island will feature prominently, but the additional station in Dartmouth will buttress reporting across the southern New England coast.
“We have an obligation,” says Malatia. “We have to get our reporters out there.”
The Public’s Radio will remain headquartered in downtown Providence, in the former Union Station building. While the offices are confined, the staff will grow considerably, as will its subject matter: Malatia envisions in-depth local stories about economics, justice, arts and culture, and the environment. He wants to introduce more live programming, encouraging call-ins.
Such bold steps are sometimes hard to describe, since they will take months and years to develop. Says Malatia: “You want people to hear what you’re hearing."